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Social Media And Celebrity Worship: When Does Fandom Turn Toxic?

Celebrity gossip isn’t a novel phenomenon – it has graced tabloids, news outlets, and reality TV for years. Speculations surrounding pregnancies, family dynamics, and even their choice of hairstylists have transformed the most trivial details into headline-worthy news. We have closely followed their lives through various mediums – books, films, magazines – and now, the most pervasive platform: social media.


The immediate access to our favourite celebrities and the availability of even more candid, personal snippets from their daily lives have fuelled an intense obsession. In some cases, this obsession has escalated to following and even stalking our beloved A and B-listers. We’ve delved so deeply into their lives, and nowhere is this more apparent than in their relationships. Whether it is Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce or Kylie Jenner and Timothee Chalamet, we spend hours scrutinising the details of their romances. We analyse soft launches to deduce whose hand is in the picture, and we meticulously match locations on two celebrities’ Instagram accounts to ascertain if they are together.


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While it’s enjoyable to revel in others’ love stories and listen to tales of enduring romance, the level of investment in celebrity couples can become excessive. Phrases like ‘Blake [Lively] and Ryan [Reynolds] make me believe in love. If they break up…’ are common, even though most of us only see a curated highlights reel of their best moments. Individuals go to great lengths, creating fan pages and edits, dedicating their free time to couples who likely aren’t aware of their existence. The emotional response can be significant, with some experiencing something akin to heartbreak if the celebrity couple decides to part ways.


Moreover, people readily pass judgment and immerse themselves in the scandals of others’ relationships. In the aftermath of cheating rumours and two divorces, social media was flooded with individuals expressing their disdain for Ariana Grande and her purported new boyfriend, Ethan Slater, allegedly involved in an affair after meeting on the set of the upcoming film Wicked. However, the public’s knowledge of these events is minimal, and becoming excessively invested in such stories or scandals only inflicts harm on individuals and exacerbates already sensitive situations.


Judgements are frequently made, and while some individuals limit their opinions to personal reflections, many others voice these thoughts, whether maliciously or not. Celebrities often become recipients of death threats and hate mail, originating from individuals who have scant knowledge of their personal experiences and perhaps engage in such behaviour for no apparent reason. Ironically, hate can emerge even in response to ostensibly positive events. An example is Ariana Grande receiving hate and backlash for headlining Manchester Pride in 2019, despite the event being intended as a celebration of love and acceptance.


Our fascination with celebrities often originates from genuine love and admiration for a star whose work may have helped us through tough times or left a lasting impact. When coupled with the instantaneous access to them through social media, featuring personal accounts, live streams, and candid YouTube interviews, this admiration can transform into a toxic and intense parasocial relationship.


While on the surface, engaging with one’s favourite stars in creative ways seems like harmless fun, it can quickly take a threatening turn and become uncomfortable for celebrities. Fans, often teenage girls, have been known to create explicit and detailed fanfiction, stalk potential girlfriends of their celebrity crushes, and even ‘ship’ characters or celebrities with no real evidence of a romance. While these activities may seem harmless, the escalation to death threats, fake social media fights, and bullying celebrities off social media has unfortunately become the norm. This behaviour can lead to toxicity and hatred, not to mention the potential problems that may arise from stalking or obsessive behaviour.


This hate can also stem from casual consumers, as evidenced by the toxicity directed at Taylor Swift when she attends NFL games to support her boyfriend, Chiefs player Travis Kelce. This negative sentiment is equally obsessive but is rooted in jealousy and malice. The problem lies with individuals, rarely true fans, who berate Swift or express dissatisfaction with the NFL’s coverage of her attendance at a game. It’s disheartening to witness those who sit behind their keyboards and criticise the life of a woman who has done nothing to provoke such animosity, simply because of her choice to date someone.


This obsession is primarily fuelled by the media, with tabloids prominently featuring unverified claims of romance, affairs, and heartbreak on their front pages to boost paper sales. Although our online activities like Insta-stalking and TikTok edits occur in the digital realm, the compulsion and fascination extend to our offline lives as well, permeating conversations, magazines, and even books.


However, Natasha, a charity worker and self-proclaimed member of various fandoms, from being a Swiftie to a fan of the Sleep Tokens, offers a different perspective. They contend that this obsession and the blurred boundaries of fandom emerged during the pandemic. According to Natasha, the pandemic led people to become excessively parasocial and entitled with celebrities, as their lives underwent significant changes. This sense of entitlement now extends to expecting everything from personal information to discounted tickets and even the unauthorized release of birth certificates.


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While much of this preoccupation is commonly attributed to women, with numerous articles, posts, and edits targeting a female demographic, the obsession can be equally prevalent among young boys and men. Strikingly, this aspect tends to be demonized and discussed far less frequently. Men often find themselves at the forefront of complaints about the media coverage of figures like Taylor Swift at NFL games, engaging in stalking behaviours directed towards female stars, and fixating on their celebrity crushes. It appears that women tend to obsess over relationships and narratives, while men fixate on individuals and their sexuality. Nevertheless, both manifestations are equally toxic and warrant attention and discussion.


Enthusiastic fan bases like Swifties, Little Monsters, and Ariannators generally indulge harmlessly in their hobbies. However, our increasingly deep parasocial connection with celebrities, influencers, and stars is blurring the boundary between genuine admiration and unhealthy obsession. Passing judgment on celebrity relationships, particularly with the limited information available, should be reconsidered. Just as we wouldn’t insert ourselves into a dispute between a couple we encountered briefly, why do we become so invested in the relationships of public figures? We dissect and unravel these personal aspects based on stories and public opinions, actions that may never reach the celebrities themselves but can be detrimental to our own well-being.


 


This fixation does not contribute to the perfection of our relationships, enhance our personal lives, or promote better mental health. Perhaps it’s time to refrain from meddling in the romantic affairs of others and instead channel that energy toward self-reflection and personal growth. 


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