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Imaginary Social Relationships and Personality Correlates: The Case of Michael Jackson and His Fans

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This paper details the analysis of participant personalities correlated with the perceived personality of the chosen superstar using the MBTI. Significant deviations from a normative sample were found for a sample of 98 Michael Jackson fans. Jackson was seen as an INFJ by fans who filled out the MBTI as they imagined he would. Compared to Myers' high school samples, male Michael Jackson fans showed a heavy overrepresentation of INFP and ENFP, and an underrepresentation of ESTJ; these results were discussed in terms of gender stereotypes. Female fans showed heavy overrepresentation of INFJ, INFP, and ENFP, and under-representations of ESFJ and ESTJ. Interview data support the notion that perceived personality similarities between fans and the superstar contribute to the desire of participant fans to involve themselves in an imaginary social relationship with the superstar.
... A case study of relationships between a media celebrity and his followers (20,21) and indications that this person was being perceived as a hero prompted the initial desire to operationalize constructs that precipitate celebrity appeal and then to measure responses to these constructs by a representative sample of followers of this same artist. This process sought to provide empirical validity for what was, until then, a purely qualitative analysis of transcribed interview and correspondence text. ...
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he Celebrity Appeal Questionnaire was constructed to operationalize constructs related to parasocial attraction or attraction to celebrities by their fans. The article contains a factor analysis of responses on this questionnaire by 81 college students and a group of 367 Michael Jackson concert attendees. Components of parasocial attraction were perceived sex appeal, perceived competence (here as an entertainer), and perception of the artist as a prosocial person. Mystique was not a predictor of fans' attraction. Further work to establish generality of applicability of the scales and findings is discussed.
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Forming attachments to those people proximal to the individual was the only option prior to mass media. In an era of mass media, individuals become acquainted with media personae, expanding greatly the pool of available attachment objects. This increases the possibility of a parasocial attachment, defined as a nonreciprocated attachment to a familiar other, and from whom one derives safe haven and felt security. This paper addresses 2 questions: From an evolutionary perspective, what is the expected way that viewers should perceive and react to attractive and familiar media personae? Second, as human beings evolve socially in a mediated environment, will parasocial attachments be adaptive or will they encourage, as a result of confusion over “real” versus parasocial relationships, some measure of dysfunction? Based on data collected during participant observer ethnography within active fan groups, parasocial attachment to celebrities would be a likely outcome of repeated exposure to those celebrities in visual media. The Media Equation (Reeves & Nass, 1996) states that human perceptions do not differentiate between those that emanate from the real world and those that come from media, helping explain the strong feelings that some media viewers develop for personae only encountered through media. The conclusion is that attachment to celebrities and even celebrity worship itself is to be expected, rather than being an abnormal and an aberrant manifestation of human behavior. Although most case examples of parasocial attachment appeared to support positive functioning, in some cases parasocial attachments can be problematic.
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McCutcheon, Lange, & Houran (2002) proposed the Celebrity Attitude Scale (CAS) to identify celebrity worshipers, useful for identifying individuals who are overly absorbed or addicted to their interest in a celebrity. Problematic is the absence of a conceptual definition for celebrity worshiper and how this term relates to use of the term fan. Currently, these terms are most often used as if they were synonyms (Haspel, 2006; Maltby, Day, McCutcheon, Gillett et al., 2004; McCutcheon, Lange, & Houran, 2002). Sampled groups of serious fans contained many individuals who met none of the criteria for celebrity worship, as identified by the CAS. The use of celebrity worshiper as a synonym for fan appears to be conceptually flawed.
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The theories of Levinson (1986 Am Psychol 41(1):3–13) and Erikson (1959 Identity and the life cycle. WW Norton and Co, New York, 1968 Youth and crisis. WW Norton and Co, New York), Bandura’s (1986 Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs) Social Cognitive Theory, and the ethological attachment theories of Bowlby (1969 Attachment and loss, Vol. 1, attachment. Hogarth, London), and Ainsworth (1978 Patterns of attachment: a psychological study of the strange situation. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale) are used in a discussion of the para-social and social relationships that fans have with celebrities. Fans’ attachments to celebrities play primary and secondary roles in the developmental stages of adulthood and transitions between those stages. Celebrities are role models for adults, and attachment develops in much the same way it develops in face-to-face relationships, e.g. through proximity and familiarity with the face, voice, and manner of the celebrity. Included are examples from the fan research of the author. One conclusion is that fan attachments are often part of the normal course of adult development in the areas of identity, intimacy, and generativity. Additionally, application of Levinson’s concept of stage transitions suggested that this might be a time when relationships with celebrities are more likely to begin. KeywordsPara-social–Celebrity–Fans–Erikson–Levinson–Attachment–Bandura
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