Ethics of Parasocial Relationships

In Monika Betzler & Jörg Löschke (eds.), The Ethics of Relationships: Broadening the Scope. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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In this chapter we analyse the nature and ethical implications of parasocial relationships. While this type of relationship has received significant attention in other interdisciplinary fields such as celebrity studies and fan studies, philosophers have so far had very little to say about them. Parasocial relationships are usually defined as asymmetrical, in which a media-user closely relates to a media-personality as if they were a friend or family member, and where this connection is mostly unreciprocated. We focus on the most typical form of this kind of relationship, between fans and celebrities. We argue that a parasocial relationship between fan and celebrity is a distinct kind of personal relationship, constituted by three basic structural asymmetries: attention, communication, and epistemic. These asymmetries give rise to a more substantial asymmetry concerning the way in which celebrities and fans have ‘directive’ or ‘interpretative’ influence over each other’s identity. This can lead to a failure of recognition respect, and generates ethical responsibilities for both fans and celebrities. We conclude by noting that the structural asymmetries we find in parasocial relationships are present in many other types of relationship, especially those in which one person holds a position of power. As such, it is valuable to pay attention to the way in which asymmetries point to forms of parasociality in these other relationships, and the extent to which they give rise to distinct ethical responsibilities.

Author Profiles

Catherine Robb
University of Essex
Alfred Archer
Tilburg University


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