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They Did What?!

How To Get Over Parasocial Heartbreak In 6 Simple Steps

Text: Marc Burillo Michó

Image: Evita Belegri

Hello, and welcome to the first edition of Surviving the Internet with Marc, your favourite corner of Cul magazine where I, Marc, will help you overcome all obstacles of modern life, on the internet. For this very first edition we have for you a very special article with a very special topic: parasocial heartbreak. Buckle up as I take you on a path of spiritual healing, away from bigoted opinions and into the realm of positive art consumption. Come on in!

It is fair to say that most people who have existed in today’s internet climate have faced the reality of being disappointed by a famous artist's misstep. A tale as old as time: you like some art, follow the artist for a while, even get attached to them. When suddenly, one day out of nowhere they stab a dog or turn out to be part of a cult. You decide you like the art too much; you will not pay for it, you will consume it illegally as God intended, but it’s too late: the stench is everywhere, the crimes too upsetting or so obvious now that any attempt at enjoying the art just ruins it further.

The five steps of grief: the ever-ending cycle

It is easy to quickly fall into the five steps of grief while suffering from a case of parasocial heartbreak. Of course, denial comes first: ‘how could they?’, quickly followed by anger, ‘no, actually, how could I have fallen for it?’ Then comes bargaining: ‘I’m sure it’s not as bad as it looks, let’s look at the facts’, depression when it all sinks in: ‘why does listening to my favourite song now makes me feel terrible?’, and finally, acceptance: ‘actually, it’s okay, I’ll just find something else to enjoy!’. Even though any path of healing is to be embraced, for us, the seasoned heartbroken, this constant emotional rollercoaster can get quite exhausting. That is why I, your chronically online guru, have compiled six simple steps on how to overcome and break free from the Eldritchian nightmare that is, therefore breaking the cycle of disappointment.

1. 10 Things I Hate About Everyone

We start off by the root of the issue, the sanctification of artists as higher beings, locked in pedestals they don’t belong on. Listen, I too am unsure how we got here, but it is true that we tend to perceive certain groups of people as separated and superior from everyone else; at least better than us, the anonymous commoners. Repeat it to yourself as many times as you need to: artists and celebrities are simply people, and people tend to have terrible takes from time to time. People doing or saying awful things are everywhere, and while in some cases the platforms they have access to can become dangerous, most of the time the disappointment we feel is because we had expected them to be better than, well, everyone else.

2. 50 First Faces

No, you were not crazy to not have noticed your favourite actor was homophobic, you simply did not know that about them. We are exposed to so many details of artists’ daily lives that it is easy to forget we are only seeing one side of their personalities, highly edited and thought through. How many times has a friend surprised you by acting completely different when that <i> one <i/> person joins the conversation? Everyone acts differently when switching between social groups, sometimes becoming a radically different person. In the case of people in the spotlight this is further intensified, as they know they are being watched, scrutinised and judged, so the side of them we see is very limited. Wishing it to be a different way would not only be unrealistic, but invasive and hypocritical.

3. To All the Artists I’ve Loved Before

Following the same argument, we need to understand it is not the audience’s fault to have gotten invested in the carefully crafted vision of the artist that was shared with them; in fact, I would argue being highly invested serves as an indicator of the high quality work being done by the artist’s marketing team, as well as their social abilities. If you like someone and they do something that does not sit right with you, feeling disappointed is natural. Yet, that has nothing to do with you or the vision that you perceived. I know things have changed now that you know, but try to remember how you felt before knowing, and how you appreciated it then.

4. No Lies Attached

In order to properly break the cycle the first step is to reevaluate how we consume artists. Listen, I know they’re entertaining, but we really cannot keep watching Vogue’s Youtube videos asking every single celebrity to list their three favourite meals as our main source of entertainment: our focus needs to shift. You buy the art, not the artist, and everything else should remain as a side dish to the main course. When you consume a finished art piece there are no surprises, it can be reinterpreted, but it is enclosed within its medium. When you consume the artist, a human being, or alternatively a 10 minute interview of them talking about their dog, we consume them as if it were just like consuming their art. However, humans are not enclosed nor still, but constantly changing. To avoid disappointments we need to change how we consume and start seeing celebrities for what they are: human beings.

5. How To Lose Expectations in 10 Days

Now, I never said this would be easy. Similar to my previous point, you need to stop holding artists to a high moral standard. In fact, I would say there is arguably a very small number of people you should hold to a high moral ground, those being God(s), if you have any, and yourself. Perfection is nonexistent. Humans need growth, and unless you’re the one in charge of guiding them to become their best, a moral high ground is only limiting. Of course, we need to strive to be the best that we can, but we have no right to force our standards upon others: everyone should adjust their morals according to their priorities and limitations. You might still be surprised, but I guarantee the disappointment will fade.

6. My Best Friend’s Local Art Exhibition

Finally, the last step and perhaps the easiest and hardest one on the list: it is time to find some art outside of your usual consumption patterns. That is, check some unknown local artists, go to a show or to a local painting class, see what is out there and close by. Try participating, and if that’s not your jam, try supporting the local scene so it keeps growing and developing. Get to know the people, have conversations, go to an open mic and have fun. Keep looking out into the world, but place importance on the small circles where you can participate and exert significant change in. Trust me when I say, if you properly follow this guide you will find parasocial heartbreak much more manageable next time around.

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