By Yechiel Amar, Staff Writer
What do you do when your favorite content creator is anti-Israel? This is a question I was unprepared for, though I should have seen it coming. The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas has reached all sectors of the social-cultural consciousness, and it would be foolish to think that the area of my personal entertainment would be any different. That thought I would be spared having to reckon the image of the creators I enjoyed with the reality of who they are was my mistake. After all, this is the inherent fallacy of a parasocial relationship.
First, a definition: a parasocial relationship is a one-sided relationship a person engages in with someone they do not know. This can be expressed in a variety of ways and in different formats. The most basic example perhaps, is the average sports fan. They do not know the players personally, and yet they feel a connection to them. They follow their careers, celebrate their triumphs, and lament their defeats. Of course, this is but one of a variety of arenas where this type of relationship occurs. It can happen with singers, actors, even politicians. The parasocial relationship has been a part of our culture far longer than one would realize.
However, there is a reason this term gained more ubiquity in today’s cultural climate. The reason for that is quite simple: the advent of the internet. As the information highway expanded and new forms of communication were introduced, the ways of connection to those figures w e were only para-socially connected with only grew and deepened. Before the internet all someone could know of their favorite celebrity would be the media they produced, the publicity and press they did to promote said media, and if they were lucky, the chance to see them live. Now anyone can read their thoughts directly on Twitter, see their lives on Instagram, and even experience them in real time through a livestream. The windows through which one would see their idols are wide open.
Now, naturally, when the Israel-Hamas war broke out everyone had an opinion. And in the social arena known as Twitter, opinion is the sword with which one can clobber their enemies into submission. From every sector came a stance, a quote, a message of some sort. Everyone had to say something.
And yet I wasn’t looking at that. The people I follow on Twitter and watch on YouTube aren’t political pundits, they are comedians, commentators, and reviewers on media and the like. In a word, they are not my source of information for what is happening overseas. So when I checked their Twitter feeds and liked tweets, I have to say I didn’t know what to do with what I was seeing. This was antithetical to my positions on these matters, and yet I had supported and followed these creators for a long time and enjoyed their content. Could I reconcile these positions?
This is the parasocial fallacy at hand. We love our heroes, we relate to them, we treat them as though they are our friends. From what we see of them through the crack in the door we construct an image, and we worship the image without question. But one cannot control what comes through the open door and one day perhaps something unsavory will slide in. One may try to deny it, try to discredit it. But it is the truth and the truth cares nothing for how they may feel on the matter. It shatters the image built and leaves them there to pick up the pieces.
I am not the only one who has grappled with this quandary. Many Kanye fans when he revealed his anti-semtitic statements had to face the same ethical dilemma, a dilemma that is at the heart of the cancel culture movement. Once revealed for who they truly are, can someone separate art from the artist? Can one still enjoy the material they once enjoyed with a clear conscience?
This question, in and of itself, can be the subject of its own entire article. To give a brief breakdown, some would say that as long as they are not directly supporting the harmful figure, whether by monetary means or allowing them to expand their platform, and the material itself doesn’t support the harmful views, they’re in the clear. These rules can be used as justification for enjoying a multitude of art by controversial figures, such as the music of the Nazi supporter Richard Wagner. Yet many would suggest that the artist has an irrevocable effect on their works, one that stains them with what they caused, and it is immoral to experience media from such harmful figures. The children’s author Roald Dahl was an antisemite who is quoted saying “Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.” Should we still read his works?
This is not a debate I will be able to solve now. In fact, I have no easy answer, not for others and certainly not for myself. Though the content these creators put out is not focused on condemning Israel, the fact that it is part of their personality, the very personality that produced said content, will indeed weigh on my conscience. Some might see it as a weakness to say that I do not know whether or not I will still enjoy their content, and to that I turn the finger back and ask those people to examine those they admire. The sports players, the singers, and even other online creators; they all have lives and thoughts that lie beyond the veil, hidden so the world can’t see how ugly they might really be. Remember, all you have of them is the image. And the fallacy, in one way or another, comes for them all.