The Celebrity Fan Identity Theory

The fan identity theory revolving around celebrities is a bit different that the Fan Identity Theories that i have already discussed.The fan-celebrity relationship is seen as a compensation of the unfulfilled social interaction of the ‘fan’. Unlike the last couple fan identity’s that I have talked about, this fan identity isn’t seen as a part of the ‘usual social interaction’. It is seen as a sign of a pathological relationship in which a fan is projecting their lack of ‘social intimacy’ with others onto a celebrity figure.  This is because the  interaction between audience and celebrity gives the illusion of typical social relationship and is called a ‘para-social relationship (PSI)’. PSI can be developed to the point where media audiences begin to view the mediated others as”real friends”. Feelings of PSI are nurtured through carefully constructed mechanisms, such as verbal and nonverbal interaction cues, and can carry over to subsequent encounters. This type of relationship is very different from our usual ‘imagined community’ and takes us down a different path in talking about social identity theory when dealing with this type of relationship.

A paper written by Horton and Wohl in 1956 demonstrated the boundary between a real-life social interaction and a para-social relationship. A celebrity is considered as a ‘persona’ in a PSI since his or her personality is created by their fans in order to meet their psychological need. The purpose of developing a para-social relationship with a ‘persona’ is to fulfil the lack of desired interaction in real life. Like the imagined communities in our last fan identities, this imagined relationship gives individuals a sense of belonging. This effects is said to originate because the image which is presented makes available nuances of appearance and gesture to which ordinary social perception is attentive and to which interaction is cued.

A study which included individuals who watched soap operas answering questionnaires found that, similar to social relationships, parasocial relationships with favorite soap opera characters were based, to some extent, on reduction of uncertainty and the ability to predict accurately the feelings and attitudes of the persona. Meaning that individuals were who felt a connection with these celebrities thought of them as friends. This means that the fan identity is unique in the fact that the central symbol of that fandoms, the celebrity, is seen in that fandoms to have some sort of actual relationship with the fans. Celebrity worship for intense-personal reasons is also associated with poorer mental heath and this relationship can be understood within the dimensions of “neuroticism and a coping style that suggests disengagement with real life”(Maltby 2004). Effecting behaviour of individuals by making them less prone to create meaningful relationships outside of this ‘imagined relationship’, if you will.

In conclusion, fan identity surrounding celebrities seems to come back to the hazards of ‘celebrity worship’ and behavioural problems of para-social relationship. Making it so individuals create relationships that are really there, making them invest in meaningless relationships, an taking away their ability to create relationships outdid of this ‘imagined relationship’.


  1. Social identity of Fans and its Interaction with Fandom
  2. Mass Communication and Para-social Interaction
  3. Attribution in Social and Parasocial Relationships
  4. Personality and coping: A context for examining celebrity worship and mental health

4 thoughts on “The Celebrity Fan Identity Theory

  1. Very interesting topic. I had no idea there were so many different fan identities. I found an article about fans actively pursuing their celebrity interests to have seemingly chance encounters with them. It talks about how fans realize their pursuing of a celebrity is a bit odd, and how they try to differentiate themselves from full-blown stalkers. It states that a healthy fan likes a celebrity but is not concerned with their every action, but there are many instances of people going over-board. The article also briefly mentions these peoples desire to take a “trophy” or some sort away from the interaction. They have to have a souvenir, in other words.


  2. You bring an interesting perspective to fan theory. I feel like with the emergence of new technology, especially social media, celebrities have new outlets to get themselves out there and it’s brought new opportunities for them to interact with their fans and give the sense that they “are just like us”. This perceived closeness can translate into people thinking that they are closer to knowing them then they actually are, further driving the cycle of celebrity fan theory. But to contrast, it has allowed celebrities to enhance their own careers and ultimately increase their stardom. I found an article that analyzed celebrities and their social media presence and how they could benefit from using different social platforms. The rise of social media has caused many individuals to rely on it for news, viewing content, and social connection. Celebrities no longer have to relay messages or content through their managers and publicists before releasing it. The study investigated how social media impacts a celebrity’s career and what the best practices were for receiving positive benefits. Even though this research focused on the celebrities themselves I think it adds a completely different dynamic to fan theory when social media is involved.



    • Yes I believe that you are right, and I found that this study was a very interesting read. I wrote another blog a couple weeks back on the link between social media and narcism, which showed, among other things, that there is a direct link between narcissistic personalities with not only increased social media time, but with increased social media platforms as well. I wonder if this could mean that narcism has a positive impact on celebrities since it allows them to increase their social media presence? You would also have to consider the fact that some celebrities opt to use “ghost writers” instead, and what that means as well. I found a cool article on the topic and will post below.


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