Being a part of a fanbase is a lot of fun. There is truly nothing better than being at a movie premier, concert or convention with people who love the same things you do. Because you are surrounded by people who like the same things, you can be as obsessive about your interests as you want with little to no judgment. Fandoms can be a safe space for those who feel like outcasts in real life or have no other ways of expressing themselves. But, while fan spaces may be fun for fans, fans often become toxically obsessive over the celebrities at the center of their fanbase. It can be extremely problematic when fans begin to voice their opinions on celebrities’ lives, especially their romantic relationships. While being an obsessive fan is okay, a star’s personal life is none of our business, and fans shouldn’t involve themselves in celebrity relationships.
The first example that comes to mind is Harry Styles’ fandom’s dislike of his relationship with Olivia Wilde. Fans made it a habit to harass Styles and Wilde online. They made fun of their age difference, her previous relationship and even her dancing at one of his shows. According to Buzzfeed News, Wilde was told “she should be ‘ashamed,” accused her of “stealing” Harry and told her relationship was “embarrassing’” when news of their relationship became public. There were many things to be critiqued about their relationship, such as the unprofessionalism of their entanglement on a movie set, but it is not up to fans to decide who is fit to date their favorite celebrity. This is extremely intrusive! It is disruptive to celebrity lives and often causes both breakups and family drama. For example, Camilla Cabello had to tell her fans to leave her ex-boyfriend Matthew Hussey alone during their breakup. While fans assume that they know everything about their chosen celebrity, they only see images that celebrities have carefully constructed. They may be an extremely nice and open person, but their true personality and behavior are unknown to fans who only get to see them in public appearances and paparazzi photos. Harry Styles is an entirely separate person than what appears in music videos, and fans shouldn’t insert themselves into his relationships. He does not belong to them!
Another disturbing example of fans becoming too involved in celebrity relationships is the extremely public breakup of John Mulaney and his ex-wife Anna Marie Tendler. During their dramatic separation, fans took sides and claimed their divorced parent all over the internet. I’ve read hundreds of posts shaming Mulaney for his addiction issues or Tendler for not having children with him. Both of them took to Twitter to beg fans to let them handle their split in peace. It was a disgusting accumulation of fan behavior that should have never happened. It’s important to think about how damaging this may be to Mulaney’s addiction recovery, as well as the self-image of his children once they mature and are exposed to this offensive discourse. Regardless of Mulaney’s fidelity, fans do not have the right to insert themselves into his relationships and judge his behavior.
Fan culture in the United States is unlike anywhere else in the world. It surrounds us every second of the day. You can’t go on TikTok or watch television without being informed about a celebrity’s life. This has led to unhealthy attachment and involvement from fans. Fans constantly obsess, often avoiding our own lives by worrying about what’s going on with our favorite celebrities. This leads to strong emotions like anger and sadness among fans when these celebrities’ responses don’t live up to fans’ expectations. It may cause people to isolate themselves from their real relationships and even develop unrealistic expectations of the people around them. Not only is this damaging to our personal relationships, but it’s also actually a sign of something even more problematic — a parasocial relationship. A parasocial relationship refers to a psychological reaction experienced by an audience in their encounters with celebrities in the media. By constantly concerning ourselves over who Taylor Swift is dating or inserting ourselves into Zayn Malik’s relationship drama, we create fictional one-sided relationships with celebrities. This is harmful because it makes us believe these famous stars have some responsibility toward us when they really don’t. By investing themselves in fictional relationships, fans are damaging celebrities’ natural relations.
Overall, fan behavior is fun, but there are boundaries and fans cross them way too much. Fans do not have the right to ruin celebrities’ lives just because celebrities’ actions don’t meet fans’ expectations. Celebrities are people too, and they have the right to personal freedom. Thus, while fan relationships with them should remain fun, they should also remain distant enough to avoid being parasocial. Take a step back, enjoy their content and leave the relationship drama to the people involved.
Nicolette Cavallaro is a senior majoring in psychology.