Kate, Meghan and false proximity

It’s been a big week for New Zealanders with intimate connections to celebrities. Kate Hawkesby shared her intimate knowledge of Meghan Markle on the homepage of the NZ Herald, while my celebrity best friend, Céline Dion, announced that she was coming to New Zealand, writes Anna Connell

Kate used her proximity and irrefutable evidence to come to the well-rounded and fair conclusion that Markle shouldn’t be trusted and is possibly a lying, social-climbing, gold-digger. My intimate knowledge of my celebrity friend just meant a lot of people were amused/bored as I rattled off everything I knew about Dion including the exact point at which her voice morphs with the guitar on ‘Think Twice’ (it’s at 2:46, you’ll never not hear it).

I don’t know how long Kate has known Meghan, obviously long enough to have observed how untrustworthy she is, but I’ve known my celebrity friend for nearly 20 years.

Just as Kate has never met Meghan, I have never met Céline unless you count taking a picture of her life-sized wax figurine by stealth after seeing her live at the Colosseum in Las Vegas where I also witnessed the greatest on-stage stunt of all time: a duet between Céline and herself, in hologram form. It had to be by stealth because they were actually charging for those photos and I’d spent all my money flying to see her and eating all you can eat at the all-you-can eat breakfast buffets.

Like Kate’s connection to Meghan, my connection to Céline is based on nothing more than gut instinct. Gut instinct, ‘sources say’, social media speculation and thousands of internet pages full of gossip. I can only hope my file on Dion measures up to Hawkesby’s Markle dossier which contains the irrefutable proof that Meghan cannot be as ignorant of royal protocol as she claims because surely, she’s watched The Crown on Netflix.

If you really want evidence of how wonderful Céline is and why she is the greatest person of all time, you can watch the 17,000 totally batshit fan compilations on YouTube. I highly recommend ‘Why Céline is STILL amazing’ and ‘Céline is very crazy’. You can follow her, her stylist, and Célinedion_Rene_forever on Instagram. You can stream all her music on Spotify and watch all her videos and read as much weird and wonderful stuff about her as you like. You can gain all the knowledge you require to form your own opinion and feel as closely and falsely connected to her as anyone else.

False intimacy and the desire for connection with celebrities is not a new phenomenon. It’s been a staple of media and fan clubs for decades. Named by researchers in 1956 as ‘parasocial interaction’, it’s hit new heights as access to information about the private and public lives of the rich and famous has become easier. We are as likely to come across Khloe Kardashian’s pregnancy announcement in our social media feeds as we are one from our friends or family members. Celebrities and us common folk share our lives across the same platforms, which creates a lopsided feeling of intimacy. That feeling also creates strange senses of entitlement. Entitlement to say whatever we like about people and to people. Entitlement to demand accountability and ask people to measure up to our set of personal values.

Parasocial interaction phenomenon is not just restricted to our connections to celebrities, but our online communities and each other. We feel we know each other well based on what we see online. I often think about Twitter and Instagram as long running scripted reality TV shows. You think what you’re seeing is real but it’s often highly curated. Pain and past are sometimes hidden. We seldom acknowledge that our confidently expressed points of view on something topical are often more of a reflection of things going on in our own lives than commentary on the subject itself. Even the authentic and funny slices of life we share are often more about reassuring ourselves than entertaining others.

If I really thought I could get away with an entire column about why I love Céline, I would write it but I hold the quaint notion that my personal opinions about the celebrities I love and loathe are not really worth the inches or readers’ time.

I can quite confidently say Meghan Markle is probably going to be fine. Her heart will go on. Kate Hawkesby no more knows whether she is trustworthy than Markle knows who the hell Kate is. But now that most people belong to micro-communities where small moments of fame and infamy can be seized or stumbled upon, perhaps the way we see celebrities treated isn’t quite as innocuous as it was. It might seem harmless enough to take pot-shots at royals but when most people have their own platforms where false proximity to others breeds entitlement to say what we like, when we like, perhaps those of us with slightly bigger platforms should be setting a better example.