Parasocial projection screens

How celebrities carry the projections of their fans

Ariel Meadow Stallings
7 min readOct 18, 2023

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Photo by Ben Kaden used by Creative Commons license

There’s a lot of media chatter these days about celebrities and their contentious relationships with their fans. This article perhaps sums it up best, digging into issues with artists like Taylor Swift, Doja Cat, and Charli XCX dealing with entitlement from some fans. From the article:

…fans are getting “younger and younger,” Marks adds, on top of the way pandemic isolation distorted our online relationships, and you’re starting to see new levels of fan entitlement.

Increasingly, fans seem to feel like their idols owe them. This can be a pretty uncomfortable experience for artists, as Doja Cat said in a Harper’s Bazaar interview:

My theory is that if someone has never met me in real life, then, subconsciously, I’m not real to them. So when people become engaged with someone they don’t even know on the internet, they kind of take ownership over that person. They think that person belongs to them in some sense.

I was reminded of an interview I read years ago with actress Lili Taylor, where she talked about working with Julia Roberts:

“She had this thing that famous people have, this capacity to carry other people’s projection. For some people it gets too much and they die, but some people can just carry it,” she says.

Later in the article, Taylor spoke about working with River Phoenix, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was alluding to him. Perhaps she felt he didn’t have the capacity to carry the fan projections, and perhaps that emotional burden contributed to his death at 23.

I get it, because I spent 15 years carrying people’s projections.

Look, I’m not a celebrity by any stretch of the imagination. But I’ve had a public life for decades, not because I’m famous but because I’m an author and publisher who had a shockingly dedicated reader base for a while.

When my Offbeat Bride book and its associated website were at their peak in the early teens, the site had millions of monthly readers and tens of thousands of active daily forum members and commenters.

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Ariel Meadow Stallings

I'm a Medium product manager, but also a whole-ass person: author, publisher, devotional dancer, Seattleite, mom, and just a human humanning.