Letter from the Editor on 09.07.2021
On parasocial relationships, Taylor Swift, and the durability of obsession
The only lesson I remember from any of my communications classes is the one about parasocial relationships. An academic term, it really boils down to one thing: being a stan. Parasocial relationships are one sided, intense affairs, where you love a character or celebrity so much you project onto it. Two parts escapism and one part obsession, parasocial entanglements feel normal, mostly because they are—to an extent. Everyone loves something a little too much.
Funnily enough, my healthiest relationships are my parasocial ones. When I was six and lacked the vocabulary to describe the acute loneliness that would follow me into adulthood, I latched onto Taylor Swift. Over the past 14 years, she’s been a stand–in for a friend and a sister, but also a yardstick to measure my coming of age. How kismet it was that she released Lover during my first real relationship, and how apt it was that I had evermore to soundtrack my first real heartbreak.
Swift’s oeuvre holds the weight of unmet expectations for me, each song a reminder of moments that don’t feel the way “Enchanted” sounds or people who discarded me like the girl from “august.” Though silly, it’s nice to have something almost tangible to hold my problems. It means they don’t have to follow me forever.
All that to say, if a parasocial relationship is little more than a survival mechanism for today’s depressed Gen–Zer, then we can also have them with ideas. I think my generation has the tendency to become the things it likes, to use fluctuating aesthetics as a placeholder for personalities we haven’t yet formed. Today I am “that girl” and militantly organized, armed with a pastel planner and some productivity software an influencer told me to buy. Tomorrow, I am gorpcore, obsessed with functionality, puffer jackets, and looking like someone who loves nature without ever having gone on a hike.
Yet, underneath these categories is a hollowness and uncertainty, a personality half–defined by what the clothes in their closets and the music in their playlists confer. There’s nothing wrong with a penchant for labels. But I often wonder what happens when those labels don’t live up to the expectations we place on them.
This week’s issue explores what happens when you go through a parasocial breakup—or when the abstract has failed you. We examine faulty power dynamics of Kanye West’s Donda and what happens when the wellness industry topples under the weight of colonized consumerism. We criticize billionaire worship and look at what being a cowboy means in 2021. But mostly, we’re asking, “Is obsession durable?”
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