Pitfalls of a Parasocial Variety.

Aside from a passing glance at Those Magazines near the grocery store checkout, or seeing the occasional news feed headline, I generally don’t follow celebrity gossip. I don’t watch housewives or socialites. What I do get, I get incidentally.

Nevertheless, it pains me to say that, as relentlessly logical and evenhanded as I try to be, I am not immune to the odd fit of parasocial fixation. Even creepier, on the rare occasions I do fixate, I do it with a private investigator’s silent intensity. I find myself straying down the darkest, grimiest internet alleys to find information I can piece together to form a coherent, believable narrative. Don’t get me wrong, I can easily abandon these ventures at the drop of a hat if a pressing responsibility (or an appealing diversion) crops up. But I shock myself sometimes with the fervor of my dirt-digging.

As a first-year in college, taking introductory creative writing courses, one of my favorite poets was Ai: a multiracial woman with the extreme cojones to challenge power structures by inhabiting the bodies of fraught public figures and delivering incriminating dramatic monologues through their mouths. Her narratives were riddled with devastating speculations that seemed to border on libel; even then I questioned the ethical boundaries of her undertakings. That notwithstanding, I found her brash assertions, her acts of bold armchair psychology, enthralling. I began writing dramatic monologues myself to come to terms with the complex motivations and moral ambiguity of certain real-world characters.

I have to think that this and my occasional laser-focused acts of celebrity gossip-chasing are related. Something about trying to get all up in the infuriating nuts and bolts of humans – their contradictions and self-deceptions, which often feel unacceptably absurd – and doing so using people that by virtue of their high visibility become symbols, representations of certain types, certain phenomena. All to force myself to sit with these uncomfortable inconsistencies, perhaps in the interest of pushing toward something like acceptance or peace.

There is also the matter of my simply wanting to test my people-reading skills – to form a hypothesis and be right and flex about it. For more years than I like to admit, I tormented myself by questioning my own gut instincts about people – though they often turned out to be right, which ultimately made me wish I had trusted myself all along.

I was probably always too cynical to really have teen idols. But my parasocial tendencies first reared up back in high school, well before internet culture was in full swing. I narcissistically imagined myself and certain charismatic classmates as peers of a sort with Tori Amos and Trent Reznor: if they both put music out around the same time I’d tell myself it was time for me to create something, and if they were particularly dickish with an interviewer who didn’t appear to deserve it, it would disappoint me as if a friend had just revealed themselves to be an asshole. I suppose this sort of self-importance seems pathetic if one embarks on a life of mediocrity (think: insurance call center job) but ends up looking prescient if one manages to rise to the level of hobnobbing with the old masters.

Selective as I am, I have to ask myself what determines whether I get invested in a certain famous person or situation. To that point I can only list certain hot buttons about myself that dictate what sort of person feels titillatingly familiar to me (incidentally, this list also explains my past failed romances):

-I’m kin to a smattering of Greeks up and down the East Coast. My immediate family passed me impressionist hints of midcentury New York and New Jersey, and I also absorbed certain essences from my proximity to NoVA and DC.
-I grew up hearing crackling vinyl from the 50s and 60s. I also got Groucho Marx and Shari Lewis, Ralph Kramden and Archie Bunker, despite having squeaked under the millennial limbo stick.
-I’ve always been indifferent to my womb and thirsted after boyish, waifish, generally non-heteronormative men.
-I was once in love with a mercurial addict and liked to prod my own sore spots because it made me feel profoundly alive.
-For years I loved not being loved back, and this toxicity was the coal I shoveled into my artistic furnace.
-As a kid my make-believe was all sordid theater and pageantry.

I’ll leave it to you to extrapolate what celebrities (B-list and below, never was much for the megastars) I just might feel an outsized affinity for :smirk:

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