Apr 25 2008
Parasocial: something beyond social norm. From Latin where para can have the meaning ‘beyond normal’. One example of this phenomenon is that someone who watches a soap opera over a period of time creates an illusion that s/he has a relationship to the television persona. These relationships can significantly influence and change people’s lives. This is generally perceived as an unconscious event, as the subject does not realize what is happening.*
It’s kind of fun being a micro nano B-List celebrity, especially if you don’t take it seriously. Social TNT Author Chris Lynn and I had fun with this at the Love 2.0 Engage web 2.0 party on Monday (see this 20 second video).
Yet, attendance at Web 2.0 parties this week in Silicon Valley and SNCR’s NewComm Forum reminded me of how strange this cultural phenomena is becoming in social worlds. Watching other relatively to extremely well known bloggers and executives get worshipped, hit on, and in some cases mocked and/or stalked, gives one reason to pause.
Social media lowers the bar for stardom, at lease within microcommunities. And as a result, people that may naturally be inclined towards becoming groupies, stalkers and trolls find themselves empowered. Identities are stolen, attacks occur, and mayhem ensues.
Perhaps the most hilarious of these was this week’s hijacking of Shel Israel’s Owl named Hoot on Twitter. This comes after the whole (and pathetically continuing) puppet thing from Loren Feldman. The plastic bird’s fowl representation really shows the hilarious and absolutely silly nature of social media “stardom.”
There is no worse example of the absolute pathetic nature of parasocial than Valleywag a shameless virtual tabloid that chronicles the rise and fall of Silicon Valley rock stars. Having spent some significant time in Silicon Valley since the book was published, it’s easy to see how this rag serves a certain part of the population, both locally and from afar.
Living in a town where the Washingtonienne (a.ka. Jessica Cutler) and the Monica Lewinsky-inspired impeachment happened, where scandal rocks national and global governance, this seems so… Little League. At the same time, it’s very real and needs to be taken seriously.
In a fractured media environment, a certain percentage of the population in any micro-community will become parasocially attached to A, B and C-list stars in an unhealthy manner. It’s best to accept it, and start talking about what to do, if anything.
Some may say, “That’s the price you pay for fame and success.” This made sense to me when millions of dollars were being doled out to athletes and Hollywood stars. But most bloggers and social media successes don’t make more money.
So should we really tolerate parasocial behavior just because someone has a achieved a little nano success? Conversely, is it simply a part of the human condition? Or do we just love a success, and some take it way too far?
Sidenote: I actually saw Feldman at a party this past weekend, and at the behest of several friends, decided to put aside my original feelings expressed here and other places and say hello and a possible handshake. This was promptly dismissed with a snarl.
I’m not sure if this Tweet was a response, but it really doesn’t matter. Principles must supersede personalities. While I still strongly and openly disagree with Feldman’s continuing and unnecessary attacking of Shel Israel, civility matters more in the big picture.
* American Psychological Association (APA): Parasocial. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved April 24, 2008, from Reference.com website: http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Parasocial