Ahh, Do I HAVE to Say Goodbye??

Posted by on Mar 28, 2016 in MEL Notes Blog | 0 comments

This post is written in response to:

Eyal, K., & Cohen, J. (2006). When good Friends say goodbye: A parasocial breakup study. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 50(3), 502-523.

Rebecca Rast is a doctoral student in the Department of Marketing, E.J. Ourso College of Business. 

As the saying goes, breaking up is hard to do. Not only are we finding ourselves breaking up with friends, teachers, and romantic partners, we also find ourselves having to “break up” our favorite television characters. As if there wasn’t enough problems in this world. It seems like the inevitable fate. Just as you are really starting to like a show or connect with a character, the show is cancelled or the actor is off the show to do bigger and better things (how selfish of that actor, right?). All the while, you are left in the dust, left to deal with the strange loss of a character, person, or actor that you have never met, but somehow you felt a connection to. For those Downton Abbey fans, the loss of Matthew and Sybil, was quite shocking and out of the blue. Who cares that they want to go on to have better careers.  We need them still in the roles they are supposed to fill.

In their article, “When Good Friends Say Goodbye: A Parasocial Breakup Study,” Keren Eyal and Jonathan Cohen seek to examine these situations where people have personally connected with a character on television, but for whatever reason, these characters leave the show, or the show ends, and people are left to deal with the emptiness and emotions that result. They seek to expand the study of Parasocial Relationships in the realm of matching similarities to interpersonal relationships, and more specifically focusing on the end and dissolution of such relationships. While Parasocial Relationships are one-sided relationships between a viewer and a character on television, compared to a two-sided interpersonal relationship between two people in real life, there are many aspects to a parasocial relationship that mimics the feel of a real relationship. Since all relationships eventually end, in some form or another, Eyal and Cohen look to examine what is involved in the process of dealing with this loss.

To summarize, the authors were able to provide support that the effects of a Parasocial Breakup is a separate construct from a Parasocial Relationship. They found that the intensity of Parasocial Breakups are predicted by several factors, the most impactful being the existence of a parasocial relationship. Beyond that, other facts included commitment and affinity to the show, the perceived popularity of the favorite character relative to other characters on the show, a parasocial relationship with the favorite character, and loneliness. Of all the constructs, loneliness begins to tap into other psychological factors that may impact the potential likelihood to feel and be impacted by a parasocial breakup.

While the authors only focus on one study, surveying students between 1 to 4 weeks after the series Friends ended, they were able to capture many interesting insights that can be expanded into future studies. For example, the authors discovered that many of the participants felt a connection to the characters who had not been as dedicated viewers as some of the other students. Of interest would be to expand on this finding and determine how long it takes for viewers to feel a loss from a show ending or a character leaving a show. Would it take just one episode to hook someone into feeling something? Also, the authors discovered significant differences between male and female viewers. While men appeared to exhibit more loneliness, women tended to be more involved in parasocial relationships. Expanding on these differences would also be interesting and merit study. Finally, what would be of interest from my stand point as a researcher in marketing is to understand the connection between the loss of a celebrity spokesperson for a product and this impact on consumers. In fact, when asking Dr. Jonathon Cohen what he believed could be learned and expanded upon in the realm of Parasocial Breakups in the field of marketing, his response was the same; “the impact on a brand from losing or changing celebrity endorsers.” Of interest would be to discover if consumers feel the same loss as television viewers, and does this change cause them to reconsider purchasing that product?

For example, when Tiger Woods’ personal life began to unravel, and he began to get dropped from one celebrity endorsement after another, did customers also drop those products? Did those products suddenly seem different to consumers now that Tiger Woods was no longer endorsing them, or did they seem different since a person like Tiger Woods had previously endorsed them?  Consider the products that O.J. Simpson used to endorse, or Michael Jackson. What is most interesting is the discard for Michael Jackson when the child abuse allegations came out, and the dropping of him as an endorser, and then upon his death, the resurgence of him as an endorser. This mimics the pattern of when people die, suddenly all their faults are forgotten and they are remembered with rose-colored glasses. The final celebrity that is currently in the news is Bill Cosby. His wholesome imagine is no more, what does this do to J-E-L-L-O?

In closing, there are many nuances to consider to the loss of characters from television shows. How to people continue on and fill the vacant hole that is left behind? Do you seek a new character, a new show, a new experience? Or do you continue to stay in the relationship by watching old reruns and reminiscing about the good ol’ days?

Interesting note, when Dr. Cohen was asked what he would do differently to improve his work on parasocial breakups, he said he would look for a way to test his theory through experimental design.