The complete glorification and idolization of public figures, artists and characters is perhaps the most widespread type of modern fandom around. These parasocial relationships, which can be described as “one-sided relationships, where one person extends emotional energy, interest and time, and the other party, the persona, is completely unaware of the other’s existence.” This might sound familiar if you have ever spent time on Twitter or Tumblr, but recently this trend appears to be focused on the political sphere. More and more, as the actions of politicians become more public and it gets harder to escape the public eye, politicians are idolized or fetishized to an extent that is almost scary.
Take Barack Obama, for example. Certainly deserving of his popularity with the youth, due to his humor and his progressive policies, many nonetheless formed a parasocial relationship with him. From the Obama and Biden memes to the strange reverence held for the former U.S. President, many believe that they know the man on a personal level, despite never having interacted with him and having seen only his public persona. The affective heuristic, a psychological principle wherein people allow their emotion to cloud rational judgment, knowingly or not, plays a large part in the formation of parasocial relationships, especially with politicians. The negative effects of a politician’s decisions or policies, like the Obama Administration’s dramatic increase of foreign drone strikes, are ignored in favor of the idealized version of the politician that the public has created.
While it is certainly fine to like someone in office, it is both very easy and very damaging to advocate a politician based solely on an image rather than actual merit.
Sometimes these one-way relationships can get a little… weird, like in the case of Justin Trudeau, the current Canadian Prime Minister. Although the tone of the media, and how a politician is portrayed obviously affects the public’s opinion of a public figure, it is undeniable that sometimes, the Internet-at-large can take things a little too far, like when a picture of Trudeau was released and Twitter went crazy over his butt. Trudeau has even been made into an evil-fighting action hero and put on the cover of a Marvel comic book.
While parasocial relationships might be one-sided, there is nothing inherently unhealthy or dangerous about them. As long as you don’t have a literal shrine to a politician in your attic, and you’re able to think critically about a politician’s policies and actions without letting their charisma get in the way, go crazy!