Parasocial Relationships and the Impact: And How This all Relates to Harry Styles


Remi McKim, Contributing Journalist

Cancel culture is a phrase that immediately draws attention. A word once used to describe a new phenomenon is now a buzzword, thrown around for affect more than impact. Shane Dawson, JK Rowling, Ellen DeGeneres, David Dobrik, Lana del Ray, Johnny Depp are all names associated with the word cancel culture. Celebrities whose past and present actions are brought into the limelight and reexamined. Once used as a way to deplatform those who were bad influences, the term is thrown around without much thought.


A canceled celebrity often leaves behind a dejected set of fans, disappointed in the actions someone they admired would take. This disappointment ranges from a quick thought to a full breakdown. 


But why is there such a visceral reaction to these celebrities revealing their opinions?


Most people have a parasocial relationship with celebrities, where one person puts in emotional energy and time into someone who does not even know they exist. 


The cycle is simple: you watch a movie, look into the actors, follow them on social media, watch their interviews, keep an eye out for interactions between other celebrities…then all of a sudden, you are defending a person who you have never had a face-to-face conversation with.


Parasocial relationships are so deeply ingrained in culture nowadays that they are hard to escape even when you are aware of it. 


At the end of the day you do not know these people on a day-to-day basis. It makes sense that their actions cannot be easily foreseen and predicted.


But the action still feels like a betrayal. Part of this is due to their image. 


The statements they have made, from small talking points in interviews and posting on social media to bigger contributions, have all added to how they are perceived. The other part is simply due to assumptions. 


When John Mulaney brought Dave Chappell on stage in Ohio earlier this year, fans felt confused. Dave Chappell has said multiple homophobic and transphobic comments in his comedy special, refusing to apologize.


John Mulaney fans were shocked.


His fans love him for his easy-going comedy style, refusing to make fun of his wife and instead choosing to make himself the butt of the joke most of the time. This style attracted a ton of fans, who were surprised by this decision by Mulaney’s choice to give a platform to someone known for being bigoted.


It further proves the disconnect between a famous person and their fans.


As much as someone can feel like they know a famous person, they don’t. Unless they have a personal relationship with this person, they are seeing the brand this person is building and a small part of their personality.


The most recent display of this disconnect is tied to the upcoming film “Don’t Worry Darling.”


The discourse around the film centers around its director, Olivia Wilde.


Olivia Wilde is a heiress, actress, and director. A self-proclaimed feminist she promotes an environment for her movies, opting to work together with cast rather than yell and assert dominance over them. Her directorial debut “Booksmart” received positive feedback for being female lead, having a queer relationship, and overall being a coming-of-age movie that applies to the new generation. It was even nominated for a Golden Globe.


Her latest film is Don’t Worry Darling, a psychological thriller starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles.


But, before Harry was Jack Chambers, Shia LaBeouf was. 


He had worked on the film alongside Florence Pugh and Olivia Wilde, before she fired him, stating for Variety that: “His process was not conductive to the ethos that I demand in my productions…I believe that creating a safe, trusting environment is the best way to get people to do their best work. Ultimately, my responsibility is to the production and to the cast to protect them.”


However, Shia LaBeouf saw this statement and emailed Variety messages and a video that suggests otherwise. 


He cites his leaving the film for timing constraints and a problem with the cast, showing August 17th, 2020 as the official date he quit the movie. 


A video that Olivia Wilde allegedly sent LaBeouf on August 19th, 2020, reveals her imploring him to stay on the film. 


“You know, I think this might be a bit of a wake up call for Miss Flo, and I want to know if you’re open to giving this a shot with me, with us. If she really commits, if she really puts her mind and heart into it at this point, and if you guys can make peace—I respect your point of view, I respect hers—but if you guys can do it, what do you think?”


FKA Twigs accused Shia LaBeouf of sexual and physical assault in December of 2020, before others stepped forward as well. LaBeouf has only recently addressed these claims, proving them to be true.


The narrative that Olivia Wilde has spun, putting herself in the limelight, has been unwoven with one video.


The condescending way she shortened Florence Pugh’s name to “Miss Flo” and calling this a wake up call for her does not seem to indicate a safe, trusting environment.


Tensions have only heightened with more interviews and real life events. The Venice Film Festival was recently and every cast member’s interaction, or lack thereof, is under the watchful gaze of those following the story.


Wilde and Pugh have had different outlooks on certain aspects of the film. Wilde talks about how intimacy scenes were done with emphasis on women rather than men, while Pugh would rather focus on the film’s plot.


These differences are one reason people use to explain why Pugh hasn’t been promoting the movie as much as usual.


Many people are always wary of the fact that LaBeouf’s replacement, Harry Styles, is now Wilde’s boyfriend. Harry Styles has been in many One Direction films, an iCarly episode about One Direction, had a minor role in Dunkirk, and cameoed in Marvel’s Eternals. This does not rival Florence Pugh’s acting credits in the slightest. In a movie alongside Florence Pugh, who has been in another highly acclaimed psychological thriller “Midsommar”, you would want an actor who can bring out the best in a scene and not take away from it. It is a general fear that Harry’s acting will diminish Florence Pugh’s performance.


Yet, all of this drama could be fabricated to garner more attention for the film. It has been speculated that all of this is to drum up marketing and publicity as Florence Pugh and Harry Styles’s busy schedules keep them from promoting at events themselves.


Fans have been quick to jump to certain conclusions. 


Many have latched onto Wilde and place blame almost solely on her shoulders.


Normally, in an instance like this, people would turn to the partner and question why they want to be with said person. In no way is this a healthy thing to do, but when someone is brought out into the public light to be shamed, those around them are up to criticism. However, Harry Styles has mainly stayed out of the conversation. 


Many fans have dismissed the relationship as a publicity stunt, while others believe that Wilde brought Harry on to the project in order to start a relationship.


Fans have cited Shia LaBeouf’s abusive history as the reason Florence did not get along with him on set; however FKA Twigs came forward about his abuse months after he had quit the movie. He was only canceled after this revelation, the public standing with FKA Twigs.


However, as an audience, the view we have gotten into the new film is made up of guesses, scarce statements shared to the public, and a leaked video. Each look at what is happening ‘on the inside’ is shared for a specific reason in mind. 


Shia LaBeouf only shared that video between himself and Wilde to dispute claims she made about his departure from the film, and it brings Wilde down. Fans of the actors in the film have been speculating for a while, following the breadcrumb path given by mannerisms. A few statements shared with press point to the tension on set, but majority of this is strung together by fans with assumptions.


The general takeaway from the “Don’t Worry Darling” whirlpool of drama is that Olivia Wilde is not as feminist as her words make her appear. After all, actions speak louder than words. The drama has piqued the interest of an already intrigued audience due to the star studded cast.


Yet, this drama also should serve as a reminder that we only have a slim view into the lives of celebrities, which by no means equates to knowing the celebrity. These emotional bonds that develop from movies, songs, interviews, social media are normal but can be vicious. Knowing about a parasocial relationship and keeping it at arm’s length saves time and emotional exhaustion when someone does not live up to what they have been shown as.