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Parasocial Spectator: Someone’s always watching Y♡U!

The following blog is an excerpt from a project I did on Love Teams and the subculture surrounding it. I was so fascinated by the concept and wanted to share it!


What is a Love Team?


Originating from the Philippines, the term Love Team was coined by industry specialists who paired two actors together to star in a drama series or movie together as romantic leads or as a side couple. If the public well received their chemistry on-screen, and there existed consumer hype around them, the actors would officially be paired up together for the rest of the trajectory of their careers. This meant that the actors were now solely only allowed to be cast with one another in any upcoming future projects. They must now extend their romantic chemistry to their off-screen personal lives to feed into the consumer demand to see them as a romantic couple. A Love Team would interact with each other romantically, even if they were not officially a couple. What mattered is that they merely seemed to share the same passion in real life as they did on-screen, and their popularity as actors would skyrocket.


If an actor from a Love Team exists in a romantic relationship with a person who is not their pair in the Love Team, the feedback from the consumers and the public is brutal. They cannot share that aspect of their personal life if they do not want their careers to plunge. Fan consumption of these identities is a double-edged sword. Where you get support and traction for your career, it is all conditional. You must engage in an act both on camera and when the camera is cut.


Philippine actress Liza Soberano best explains this phenomenon in her interview with DIVE Studios:




What is a parasocial spectator?


I coined the term *parasocial spectator* to define someone who identifies as a fan of two actors involved in each other in a romantic sense one way or the other. Unlike in parasocial relationships, the parasocial spectator does not see themselves in a relationship with the idol/artist/actor but firmly believes they are entitled to consume the actor’s relationship with another actor.


The best way to explain this would be to include an example. Below is a fan edit of two actors from the Thai BL series *KinnPorche.* The audio used in the edit is a popular trending audio across Instagram Reels and TikTok, amassing around 56.3K videos under it. This shows just how popular this shared notion is among the common parasocial spectator. The audio narrates:


“Being a BL fan is one of the most confusing feelings in the world. Let me explain: this man is the love of my life. I want him; I need him; there is nothing more beautiful. But at the same time, I’m conflicted. Because I want him to be with him. I need him to be with him. I completely lied: there is something way more beautiful.”




While fans may find themselves to be attracted to these actors romantically, their desire for said actor to be in a relationship with another actor surpasses the extent of their attraction. This can go as far as fans psychoanalyzing and nitpicking small behaviors exhibited between the two actors and blowing them out of proportion to fit their narrative of them being romantically involved with each other beyond their roles in the shows or movies they may act in. An example is below; a YouTube video of up to 10 minutes that showcases slowed and zoomed-in interactions between two actors from the Thai series Love In The Air. The exaggerated editing skills are done to fit a narrative of jealousy: the two actors exhibit feelings of jealousy and possessiveness around each other because they are seemingly in a romantic relationship.



Here is a shorter example that sums up the 10-minute video (so you don’t have to watch all of it as I did):





These parasocial spectators may cross a dangerous line. The average consumer is media literate enough to engage in this extension of parasociality with an open mind that allows them to remain harmless. However, like parasocial relationships, spectators also tread a thin line between delusion and enjoyment. This could result in harsh reactions from fans. An example is when fans become increasingly hateful towards any other actor/actress that an actor from a Love Team may interact with. Recently, BoyLove actor Nanon took pictures with his friend, Film, while he exists in a Love Team with his fellow actor Ohm. Fans reacted on two extremes of the spectrum: while some were indifferent and indignant about fans who would blow it out of proportion, some fans went as far as sending both Nanon and Film death threats.




The interesting part of a Love Team is that while the parasocial spectator and the Love Team exist because of the romantic involvement of two actors, these actors never truly confirm that they are in a relationship. They actively avoid confirming or denying dating allegations, and this is done to “keep the fans hungry.” In this sense, it is hard to confirm whether a Love Team is ethical or not: it technically does not lie for the sake of gaining profit from the consumer. Overall, it seems to be a thriving market, with the industry playing its cards cautiously right.


What do you think about Love Teams and Parasocial Spectators? Do you think parasocial relationships like this are more harmful than ordinary fan-artist ones? Would you be a willing participant in a Love Team if you were getting paid for it? I know I would.


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6 Comments


Rafay Abdul Razzaq
Rafay Abdul Razzaq
Jun 29, 2023

Aisha can I just say I have been stunned. Literally the best blog I've read so far! I think it just further emphasizes the idea we discussed in class about how capitalism turns citizenship into merely consumerism. People's actual lives here have just become a product, and the commodification of these Love Teams is truly giving me a nervous wreck. Anyways I just wanted to say I cannot appreciate enough how great this blog was.

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This was such an interesting read! The concept of parasocial spectators is so intriguing. It's also worth considering the impact of Love Teams and parasocial relationships on the broader media landscape. I think Love Teams sort of cater to the public's desire for idealized romantic narratives and create a sense of escapism. Parasocial relationships are a super fascinating intersection of media, fandom, and social dynamics. I think while they involve more emotional investment, the real harm arises when fans become possessive, obsessive, or resort to toxic behavior. While it's understandable that fans may develop strong emotional connections to their favorite actors, the line between harmless enjoyment and harmful obsession can be blurry. Death threats, as you mentioned, highlight the potential…

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Okay wow this was super interesting. The concept sounds like a great premise for a YA novel, I can’t believe its a real thing. With the term parasocial spectator you’re essentially referring to the people who are hardcore shippers of these on-screen couples right? but then it translates into real life so to me the concept of love teams sounds like a very formal and contractual way of engaging in fan service. Excessive shipping that blurs the boundaries between reality and fiction is something I’ve noticed to be very prevalent in fandom culture, in general. This also reminded me of an article I read once about kpop idols being told by their companies to fan the flames of popular ships…

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Aisha Aamir
Aisha Aamir
Jun 22, 2023
Replying to

Yes! I brought about parasocial spectator due to my time spent in kpop fandoms and seeing how their interactions are carefully curated to appease the audience. Skinship and queerbaiting in this regard are two essential factors that are prevalent and I believe that the BoyLove industry has started to nitpick at it and blow it up to their own advantage. I also do take skinship and queerbaiting allegations with a grain of salt though, because that perpetuates the stereotype that same-sex gender friendships can't show affection through any other medium than the set criteria but I do believe we need to be aware of how it is definitely a profitable aspect

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This is probably the most interesting read so far. I had no idea that there might be actual terms coined to represent this narrative that extends beyond your phone's screen. It's really thought provoking how these actors and actresses have to maintain this appearance in the real world for the purpose of their work. It would be too shallow to call it manipulation as it is what the public want, but it must take real determination to maintain all that. It does, however, shatter that notion of becoming a star in ones mind and you begin to redefine what that means to determine if you're fit to become an actor within every sphere of your life, professional and personal. This…

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Aisha Aamir
Aisha Aamir
Jun 22, 2023
Replying to

I read Oshi no ko's manga and it left me in tears; and yes! I see how it tackles this subject effectively and I'm glad it does, because it is definitely a double-edged sword. Celebrities profit off it but at the same time lose agency and a certain extent of their autonomy in the process of it which is rather unfortunate. I do believe that it is unavoidable though; because the consumer market is large and cannot be reduced to a monolith which needs to be changed

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