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Be mindful of one-sided relationships, especially online

Earlier this week, a member of a relatively popular Japanese boy band announced he was leaving his group. He will remain with the same talent agency, but he’s going to pursue an acting career instead of focusing on singing and dancing. He had been an original member of the group since it began in 2007.

This news came as no surprise to me. The guy had taken a “hiatus” from the group more than two years ago to earn a degree in acting from a university in the United States. After spending all that time and effort to achieve his goals, I can see why he would rather pursue his new career choice instead of returning to juggling his previously busy music career.

Not to say that I wasn’t a bit sad he won’t be with the group anymore. I’ve been a fan for more than a decade, and he was one of the most entertaining members, in my opinion. But I’ll get on with my life just fine without hearing him sing anything new.

I quickly discovered, however, that many other fans were not as cool with the decision. Reactions I saw online ranged from devastated to outraged. From some fan reactions, you would have thought the agency announced his death. Others complained that this was a “betrayal” since he’d previously said he wouldn’t leave the group. (People aren’t allowed to change their minds, apparently.)

Some of the things I read were deeply unsettling, and these kinds of reactions are generally why I don’t interact much with fans of pop groups anymore.

Celebrity adoration in general can easily skew into extremely unhealthy obsession. Sometimes fans forget that the people they watch onscreen are not fictional beings who only exist for YOUR entertainment. They are real people who deserve to make whatever decisions they want about their lives, and to keep parts of their personal lives private if they choose.

I happened to stumble across another unsettling example this week of strangers being too invested in the lives of public figures. I saw a link to an article written by freelance politics writer Laura Bassett. I had never heard of her before, but Bassett’s words accompanying the article were too strange to just pass by: “I found the man who’s been screenshotting my feet and posting them to a foot fetish website. For some reason, he agreed to an interview on the record.”

Apparently, there is a website out there where anyone can post feet photos of “anyone with an IMDB page.” A website solely dedicated to feet! (For the record, I’m making a disgusted face just thinking about this. To me, feet are gross.)

To summarize the article, a guy in New Jersey who really, really likes feet takes photos that several celebrities and public figures (including Bassett) post online and adds them to this website. People browsing the website can even “rate” the photos. The guy didn’t seem to think there was anything odd or concerning about this.

Technically, since they’re all public photos, there’s probably nothing illegal about adding them to the website. But—just like the fan reactions I described earlier in this column—this seems like the kind of thing someone would do if they’ve forgotten that the celebrities are real people.

Can you technically take a celebrity’s public photo, crop out everything but their bare feet, and then repost it on some fetish-y website? Yes. But should you do that? No, I definitely think not!

It just seems rude and disrespectful.

Both of these instances reminded me of a term I’d heard about a couple months ago. “Parasocial” means “one-sided” and it is how scientists describe these kinds of interactions. Viewers, listeners, and fans start to feel like they’ve developed a relationship with the person as they learn more about their lives. They feel invested, like they’re friends, even though the person on the other side of the screen has no idea who any of these people are.

It’s common, and apparently a source of comfort for some people. But it can also become something unhealthy if there’s too much focus. Like, for example, feeling as if someone’s withdrawal from a pop group is a personal betrayal or thinking that it’s okay to take someone’s personal photos and redistribute them on a sketchy website.

My suggestion is that we stop putting strangers on pedestals, especially when we are navigating interactions online. Singers, writers, politicians, YouTube stars, artists, whoever. Enjoy the content, but remember that the people creating it are just regular people too. They’re deserving of common courtesy and decency, just like you and me.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.