Buckle up. This is going to be a dense one.
Social media dominates our lives. In the webcomic community, content is generally in the form of comics, however, we have podcasts, YouTube videos, Instagram accounts and of course Twitter. We immerse ourselves in the online world, broadcasting our efforts and ideas to an audience that, for the most part, we don’t see.
Those behind their screens develop a parasocial relationship with the creators they follow, learning more about them over time, whilst the content creator remains distant by virtue of their chosen medium of expression. In other words, a parasocial relationship/interaction, refers to the psychological relationship experienced by an audience with content creators. The audience comes to consider content creators as friends, despite having limited interactions with them, thus establishing a one-sided relationship. The creator does not experience the same depth of feeling for the individuals in their audience. However, there are instances when the collective opinion coalesces, particularly on platforms like Twitter. The hive mind’s opinions greatly affect the content creator, at times more so, than those we see in the “real world”.
On March 26 2021, Lindsey Ellis, writer and YouTube essayist, was subject to virtual dogpiling. In response she shut down her Twitter account. And there was much rejoicing.
That was until she released this response.
Click here to watch.
In it, she breaks down the way in which Twitter’s UX design leads to the manufacturing of outrage leading to an increase in engagement as well as how her turn at being the social media monster of the week lead to her reliving and, in turn, bearing out the trauma she endured in her attempt to provide context for what was, in effect, a mass and deliberate mis-reading of what amounted to a pithie tweet about Raya and the Last Dragon.
It’s an excellent video, regardless of whether or not you like Lindsey Ellis, as it highlights a pressing issue facing all content creators. The nature of “The Beast”.
“A friend of mine named it “The Beast”. The name for this fear that we all live under but don’t acknowledge. And over the last few years, I’ve had so many of my colleagues… voice to me the constant anxiety that they live with, about maybe saying something wrong that will get them on the bad side of their own communities. Every thought is a hostage situation. Is this the tweet that’s going to sink me? So what do we call it? What is the name for this unspoken, unacknowledged culture of fear where we all know that one misstep can ruin our lives?
…We can’t even talk about it because The Beast does not have a name.”
Language such as “woke”, “cancel culture”, “fake news” becomes appropriated by bad faith actors, thus leaving these terms devoid of any meaning; divorced from their original culture and commentary.
I watched this video late last night, after talking to my significant other about my responses to comments I had received on my videos. The shadow of “The Beast” loomed over my shoulder as I carefully typed my response, afraid that one word in the wrong order would shut down a hobby I so enjoy.
This fear extended to recent character designs I had done for one of our comics. Noticing the dire lack of diversity in our comics, we have begun pushing ourselves to correct this, to expand our experience and skills in an effort to be inclusive. However, The Beast, the imaginary impact of this parasocial experiment, overshadowed my work as an artist, leading me to sit with my anxiety in attempting to draw characters of other cultures.
“What right do I have to try?”
Or, more importantly, “What if I got it wrong?
As if in response to Lindsey’s video (it wasn’t, just a happy coincidence) an Australian comedian/political commentator, FriendlyJordies posted his own video, which echoed similar sentiments as Lindsey Ellis, albeit from a different direction. You can watch the video here for context, however the takeaway from his video that stayed with me was this:
“…It’s called mass hysteria. It happened in the inquisitions, Mccarthyism, the witch hunts, regular people after a while who have nothing to gain from it, accusing others of whatever the flavour of the day boogeyman is, just so the finger isn’t pointed at them.
…And at that point society is under the control of those profiting from the lie. If you’re an artist, one of your only services to society is to quash these lies. As you are the given license to think differently. It was the comedians who stopped McCarthyism by laughing at it. It was the artists who subverted the inquisitions and it is for this reason artists that are heavily targeted by the inquisitors.
…Guess which were the artists remembered by history? The ones that defied the elite by challenging the conventional thinking of the day rather than submitting to it. That is what a true artist does. They challenge thought.”
As artists, writers, creators of content, navigating the minefield that is the court of public opinion is one fraught with anxiety and fear. However, let these two videos stand as case studies of the nature of hive minded outrage and how one responds to it.
Because, ultimately, we cannot control how people react, only how we respond.
What are your thoughts on the nature of parasocial relationships and cancel culture? Let us know in the comment section below! And join us on Sunday evening for our Quackchat at 5:30PM(EST)!
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Emma_Clare at 12:00AM, April 16, 2021
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