Avoiding "Idolization" (On the Internet)


#22

This is something that I come back to, personally. Even in instances where I’m supporting creators directly, I’m often not obsessively keeping up with their social media, podcasts, and another forms of output. I might skip a few weeks, temporarily mute people, or go in and out of being invested in them. Some of this is a pure time-in-the-day thing, but, for me, there is a deliberate effort to distance yourself from what you consume. It’s about refraining from becoming synonymous with a brand or fan relationship to something.

Cultivating a healthy distance is so important, particularly when we live in an online moment in which it can feel like your associations (to people or to products) can easily become vectors for suspicion, anxiety, and harassment. That context, in my view, can’t be separated from this – the tension that builds up from feeling like you need to be spotless in your presentation at all times will inevitably be released by something. I don’t think it’s healthy or, frankly, productive to relate to strangers online without keeping that distance.

I wouldn’t say I’ve outgrown it, but I have no pedestals.


#23

When you don’t pin your hopes on another person you don’t have any stake in changing or interacting with on a meaningful level, you aren’t as disappointed when something that was outside of your control happens.

I say this as someone though who now several times this year has had to deal with someone who is a content creator but also within my social circles has done something incredibly fucked up.


#24

I think I have relied too much on having pretend relationships with personalities. What I try to do is to think about people doing daily routines, which makes me think of people in more grounded terms. I also try and think of myself in a position of being a personality and selling oneself on that, and that makes me feel weird, which in turn makes me think that other people in that position probably also feel a similar sense of weirdness about the situation.


#25

There’s a difference between knowing things about someone and knowing someone, and remembering that keeps me grounded.

(I was discussing this w/ a friend recently re. healthy and unhealthy fandom behavior, specifically in the context of meeting famous people. The thinking applies here too when it comes to interacting with anyone you admire, especially digital content creators with large audiences.)

There’s a sort of really unhealthy idolization that fundamentally boils down to “this professional and I should be friends.” It’s easy for people, especially young people, especially people working in/aspiring to work in the same industry, to fall into that pattern of thinking and it’s absolutely toxic. The relationship between a creator and their audience is just not a peer relationship.

I feel like idolizing works one of two ways: idolizing a person-statue on a pedestal far far above you that you will never touch or interact with or idolizing someone in the context of an imaginary, hypothetical relationship. Neither one is ever gonna be accurate, neither one is ever gonna be not-weird.

People form human relationships via shared human experience, not trivia. The things I know about content creators are only ever really going to be trivia. No matter what I know about a person, I don’t know everything, I don’t know them, and that’s not a bad thing. Creator-audience relationships are good, and they’re fun, and you just gotta recognize them.


#26

People are, generally speaking, more than the sum of the content they consume. But in modern personality driven discourse, the perceived need to keep abreast of everything to maintain relevance can easily cloud that idea in our heads.

Scepticism and rigour are your number 1 allies online; I have thought well ahead to what I might personally do if I thought Waypoint was irreparably compromised. But I also think that very same rigour and scepticism should be used to unpack the context of problematic occurrences, and even a healthy amount of resignation that you as a random person online may never have the full context of a situation.


#28

I probably listen to podcasts more than I interact with any other kind of media, and this was definitely a problem I had a while ago. It’s much less of a problem now, but I’m not quite sure exactly what happened to change that. Probably a multitude of things. In any case, I somehow realized that too much of my brain was being occupied by thoughts and emotions about people who I didn’t have any real relationship with, and then it became easier to start cutting that out of my life.

Instead of getting really worked up when someone whose work I’ve engaged with for years when they do or say something that flies in the face of my convictions, I will just stop engaging with their work most of the time, depending on whether or not I believe it was a genuine mistake or not. I don’t have to go to dinner with them on the holidays, see them at work, etc., it’s just entertainment.


#29

something else that i’ve been thinking about regarding the “personality-driven content” thing recently… it’s such a wide term, so many things fall under the umbrella. the degree to which a person’s “personality” drives the content/show seems to differ widely. the giant bombcast and anderson cooper 360 on CNN are both personality-driven content ventures that i’m pretty familiar with… but i don’t know what anderson cooper did in college, where he went to school, where he grew up, what his favorite gas station is, who his favorite bands are, whether or not he thinks sour cream is disgusting, which particular foods out of all types of food ever he thinks are disgusting, who he lived with four years ago, what his dad is like, etc. he mostly just talks about news, or whatever CNN is classifying as news that evening. getting away from that particular example, i listen to philosophy podcasts that are arguably personality-driven where the case is the same - i don’t actually know a lot about the people involved inside of what their various philosophical stances are.

it’s in the videogame podcasts which i listen to (most religiously of all, for some odd reason…) that the “personality” of the people involved is made to be most apparent. these podcasts often start out with something like a “What’s up with you?” discussion that could last for up to thirty minutes. “what’d you do this weekend?” etc., where the mundane details of people’s lives are shared with millions on the internet. these are the podcasts that bombard me with pop culture references, internet humor, nerdy minutiae and non-related factoids about the lives of the people on the podcast. these are the parts of the podcasts where i’m personally most turned-off and uninterested, but i think for a lot of people this shit is like catnip. this is where i think the door to “idolization” is most open, and i think it’s at least partially opened by the people on the podcasts, or maybe the nature/setup of the podcasts themselves.

it’s clear to most people that we’re not friends with the “personalities” we listen to in our podcasts. but there’s something weird going on, regardless. for example, me and rob zacny aren’t homies. never met, probably never will, that’s great. but i know a story that he shared about accidentally buying some imperial stout or some malt liquor and getting too drunk while playing some particular boardgame with his friends, i know exactly how he felt and how he responded to the situation. ten years ago that’s the type of conversation that only happens among actual friends. now we’ve got random (prominent) people on the internet throwing this type of casual, intimate conversation out on a regular basis. it makes sense that there are people out there who are getting confused about what level of friendship or connection there is between “content provider” and “content consumer” when that’s the nature of the “content”.


#30

I’m actually curious if there is (I would assume so) any research done regarding idolization and why people become “fans” of something/someone. It’s something I’ve always been interested about because I’ve never experienced it myself and find it frustrating when I see people pretty much worshiping someone, just because they are good at something. I’ve never felt that I was in any way “lesser being” despite not having the ability to play an instrument amazingly well or not being physically as capable as an Olympic athlete, thus I’ve never felt the feeling of reverence for anyone like that. Also, while I feel like I would get along with Austin or Vinny, should I ever meet them face to face, I’ve never actually felt the desire to do so. Even if they showed up in my city for an event and arranged a meetup, I definitely would not go - why on earth would I want to go over just to shake their hand and say a few platitudes? They’re just people.

I definitely consume a lot of personality driven media (podcasts, Youtube, Twitch), but I’ve never felt that these people were anything different from the guy that lives next door that I know nothing about. I wonder if it has something to do with how we personally construct our friendships. I’m the type that does not have (nor do I need) very many friends. I prefer one really intimate relationship over a dozen or more shallow relationships. So while these people I listen to and watch online can seem like really good people, in the end they’re just people in the large pool of “potential friends” that holds a lot of people and from which 99.99…% of them never graduate to becoming friends, not to mention true friends.

As such, I’ve never had the issues many people describe in this thread and can offer no insight into how to avoid them, except to say that introspection is always good. Knowing yourself goes a long way. Look at your current friends and think about who are really your friends and who’re just people you like hanging out with and based on that, recognize the requirements you set on your own relationships and how you “categorize” them. It is more than likely that celebrities and pseudo-celebrities online will never fulfill those requirements and thus can never really be your friends - the nature of the relationship doesn’t allow for it. Once you realize that, it shouldn’t be impossible to keep your attachment to them at a very superficial level. At that point, if you discover something unseemly about them, it will not be hard to let go of that attachment and move on with your life.


#31

I feel this a lot more intensely with streamers. Not so much the closeness, but the incredible discomfort with the interactions.

I normally participate in and support streamers with less than 100 viewers. They are more likely to interact with chat and appreciative of any new follow. That’s a lot of fun as a viewer and it feels less like a one-sided relationship. Until the money comes into the equation. Then it begins to feel like I am paying for them to interact with me. I’ve stopped actively going on twitch because of this. It really does feel so much like I am paying for friendship, even if I am really just using a prime follow to give someone a few bucks for being nice.

The situation is super strange with podcasts. I have listened to thousands of hours of Giant Bomb and their alumni. I feel like I know a fair amount about them, to the point where if I met them, I would be very uncomfortable. Patrick, for example. I have watched material with Patrick since he was on 1up. I have essentially watched him become an adult, and it is very strange. I feel like I know him, even though I don’t. If I bumped into him, there is a very strong information disconnect. As Egressive put it, I have a lot of them-trivia, and it makes the interaction feel less like meeting and getting to know a person.

It is super strange and something that has to be considered when consuming lots of content from a few people all the time.


#32

This is true, but we still kinda do pin hopes on content creators all the time no matter how many times it’s gone real bad, especially on the left. When overtly letting in ideas and philosophies from a person, letting them shape you (especially when you’re younger, which many peeps in this situation are), it’s always gonna be a real ass to deal with if they turn out to be a terrible person, especially when you see other people still rooting for them & letting those terrible ideas into their own heads. Coping with when your hope in that kind of person turns out bad (i.e, sifting through what they have taught you, disconnecting them from it, look at what lead them to be terrible in despite those teachings) can be better than not ever putting hope in them, though.

For example, giving even a small Patreon pledge because people want a person they never met to keep making thoughtful political content can be a really, really good thing–it’s honestly necessary for queer content creators to stay afloat on their creation and it’s formed decent communities of support on social media–but at that point, people have to put a very material stake in creators. That should be a risk people definitely take, but now more than ever, it’s important to search for & discuss ways to deal with how that stake can go awry and where it has factually gone awry without many people noticing, hence why this thread is so friggin’ good.

I should say we don’t inherently idolize content creators and I don’t wanna come across like that, it’s just been taking a whole lot of milkshake ducks (a meme that’s stumbled into the idea of “we caricaturize internet people we admire into naive animals we don’t need to morally consider until we’re forced to”) to realize that idolization subconsciously happens outside of like, fandoms of top Youtubers with catchphrases or whatever remains of TGWTG, and manifests in far subtler & broader ways that need some much-neglected observation. Hope in a distant figure and idolization of them are two very distinct things, though, it’s just harder to see that line anywhere when living in a systemic nightmare hellscape of exhausting economic & social anxiety people just want a moments respite from means the Deified Fantasy Friend trend gets woven into the very fabric of how we spend our free time.


#33

do we though? at this point i’m left wondering who’s the “we” here and what pinning hopes entails exactly. like is it “i hope this person’s politics line up 100% with mine all the time” or “i hope this person uploads a new episode of their Mappy Kids lp”?


#34

I am using “we” pretty haphazardly, you’re right, what I’m getting at is that most people hope the content creators they like haven’t gone against their principles in a way they find fundamentally heinous. Most people support the creators they do under the hope that they aren’t sexual harassers, for instance.

I doubt the folks that made fan animations for Car Boys straight-up idolized Nick Robinson, but it still fucking sucked when he turned out to have been an awful person all that time because, even if they didn’t consciously think “i’m pinning my hopes on this guy not being garbage”, they still made that stuff under a belief based on hope for someone they didn’t really know to not be shitty. On a related token, I hope the McElroys haven’t done nor actively support heinous shit like that. That’s not meant to be accusatory nor do I hold them in constant active suspicion, it’s just that I will literally never know them as they are as whole people, so that will indefinitely remain what is technically a hope as I let their content be my idle passtime that passively influences my attitude & volcabulary.

Everyone has different thresholds for when they personally want to disassociate from a person for going against their beliefs, too, but it’s important to try sorting out personal comfort thresholds (i.e, “i hope this person’s politics line up 100% with mine all the time”) from personal principle thresholds (i.e, sexual abusers are irredeemable and you should always disassociate from them). Like, I haven’t stopped (nor do I want anyone to stop) supporting Dan Olson just because he shows he likes Akira, it’s just that the way he talks about films makes his silence on the gross bit real weird so i take it under advisement and move on (still don’t feel great about my original post’s callouts but editing it would just be avoiding accountability at this point, that was a total fuckup on my part), but people that uncritically support abusers are worth very bluntly being told to stop until they actually truly stop, at the very least. The former’s my personal comfort thing, the latter’s my personal principle thing.

The distant false intimacy thing, even when it’s mild, is still weird, it’ll never not be weird, but there’s a reason it’s so ubiquitous in so many forms within so many different communities. The point is that it’s worth promoting introspection on how that influence affects people; what they might personally or principally agree or disagree with/what they excuse about & hold against creators, how strongly, and why, rather than only trying to maintain a disconnect with creators and throwing out the idea that people still form small unconscious agreements of trust with what they consume and whom they consume it from. Denial of influence only obscures its presence and its consequence, confronting influence reveals its potential consequence and lets us grow from it in more informed and careful ways.


#35

On my worse days, internet personalities can almost be seen as social replacements. They don’t require much effort to enjoy and it feels like someone is finally talking to you. It might be just me, but it could be my difficulty in making IRL friends that I become a lot more drawn to personality focused things online.


#36

These are some good points. I’m of two minds on idolization and personality content. I think some of this is on the content creators themselves, who put their personal lives into the product because it drives engagement. Why do I know so much about the Waypoint crew, when I tune in for good chat about games? Because just as acting shitty is a ladder to Youtube success, podcasts become popular by making you feel like you’re listening in on a conversation between good friends. By making you feel like maybe these are your good friends. I have to wonder if this isn’t exploitative in the name of good content.

But on the other hand, biographical content has been a part of art forever. I wouldn’t want to miss out on that art and what it’s done, even if it contributes to unhealthy relationships. There are things worth their existence that couldn’t have been built without the force of personality and a biographical base. So I don’t know. Maybe it’s all about how personality is used, and why.

I’m also not sure this problem is unique to the internet–look at the old days of newspaper columnists reporting out their lives, or the ways people react to books. I’ve think assuming we know the artist personally has always been a problem. What’s new (I think) with the internet is that there are so many more idols within many more niches.


#37

This reminds me of the Leigh Alexander piece from a couple years ago about The Intimacy Economy.


#38

great writeup there. i think it’s very on point. thanks for sharing.


#39

The streamer thing is super weird to me personally? Especially since they rolled out the tokens system, which is basically a mirror of the system they use on cam sites? except that it almost feels like there’s more understanding of the boundaries of the relationship on those explicit sites? services like Patreon and ko-fi exist to do sort of a similar thing, but it’s really weird how that bit of on camera interaction changes the politics of the act.


#40

There does seem to be something about the internet that exacerbates this. Actors, musicians, etc. have had terrifying stalker fans for as long as celebrity has been a thing, but internet celebrity (on whatever scale) seems to push us toward that direction. Not necessarily to the point where we’re mailing podcast hosts locks of our hair, but to the point where on some subconscious level we think we’re their friend.

I’m shooting entirely from the hip here, but my feeling is that the amateur presentation in addition to the sheer volume of output from internet personalities (Waypoint alone has at least two podcasts a week in addition to a stream every day, and nearly every staffer has at least one other regular podcast they make) tricks our brains into building empathy and attachment, and if our brain starts identifying them as part of our social group, then our brains will inevitably begin to conceive of that person as effectively a part of ourselves, just like we would any friend or loved one, and this is where the betrayal comes from.

Again, talking off the top of my head here and I’ve had little sleep so that might all be nonsense!


#41

This thread was certainly in my mind as I saw this news (via, with more discussion). [TW: stalking]

The sheer volume of micro-celebrities generated from personality-driven online content and one of the darker definitions of idolisation (here objectifying a person and creating a narrative of them as a prize). As mentioned, that amateur presentation and approachability of content could be relevant to the (very much non-empathic in this case) attachment some develop (this being at the extreme end of that).

[This also somewhat ties into previous discussions of stalkers from various hate groups, SWATing etc in terms of the precarity of modern existence and the interaction of online and offline (and uncertainty of outcome if there is police involvement).]


#42

I was pretty freaked out by this story also.
Yeah, celebrity culture isn’t anything new, but there’s certainly more of it now. Stuff like this isn’t unique to Youtube, people have always stalked celebrities, but the quantity is different. And quantity has a quality all its own.

I know Game Grumps isn’t for everyone, but what Arin Hanson talks about in this episode struck a cord with me. He’s talked before about his depression, panic attacks, and all the methods he uses to manage it, but this frank discussion about how bad he’s been feeling kind of opened my eyes.
He’s certainly someone I considered an inspiration. He’s an animator, has a great youtube channel, produces amazing products like Dream Daddy, he’s on albums and does world tours and plays video games for a living. Surprising to see him as a person way more like me than I’d like. If he can be that successful and still have panic attacks, then I have to confront the fact that success doesn’t make you a healthier or happier person. Helped me step away from my idolization of him and Dan. They’re just people.

This seems important to me cause it was the opposite of what you’d expect. This was a situation where a creator was more honest with their audience, and it helped me step away from idolizing them and accepting them for who they are. I don’t know if everyone had that experience, I could see how this would make some people idolize Arin more for being sensitive or something.
I guess I’m just advocating for equalizing the relationship between creator and audience. I don’t know how to do that though.