Parasocial grief: why the English mourn their queen

On September 19, 2022, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II takes place. While thousands of English people rushed to pay homage to him, the question arises: can we really speak of mourning when it comes to mourning a person we have never known, and who moreover does not didn’t know of our existence?

The parasocial relationship, when a stranger becomes a friend

Parasocial relationships can lead to grief. I don’t see why we should anticipate that grief would only appear, make sense, in the context of reciprocal relationships.“, says to Nature News Michael Cholbi, philosopher and ethicist at the University of Edinburgh (United Kingdom). Parasocial relationships are the closeness that we create with a real or fictional character as portrayed in the media. “Parasociological relationships allow people to integrate the celebrity into their social circle and even consider them a friend“, explained in 2021 the researchers in psychology Darren Wong and Lefteris Patlamazoglou in the journal Death studies.

Parasocial bereavement, similar to the bereavement of a loved one

It is this parasocial relationship that once precipitated many fans of Johnny Hallyday or Michael Jackson into a mourning that the two researchers considered amplified by social media. When famous scientist Stephen Hawking died, a study observed various forms of emotional responses on social media: sadness, shock, confusion, love and nostalgia. Those bereaved by his death even performed “parasocial death rituals on Twitter as a legitimate public space of mourning“, specify the authors. Basically, “parasocial and social relationships are similarly developed and experiencedconfirm Darren Wong and Lefteris Patlamazoglou. “Therefore, the loss of a parasocial relationship engenders intense negative emotions and characteristic psychological processes experienced after the loss of a loved one..”

The loss of a piece of oneself and one’s reality

It is not only an external loss. “We experience loss as a part of ourselves, even for those who have never met the Queen“, to explain Nature News Mary-Frances O’Connor, psychologist at the University of Arizona in Tuscon. This small part of ourselves that we lose during parasocial bereavement would correspond to the values ​​and concerns in which the deceased played an added role, Michael Cholbi. Fortunately, these bereavements are often not intended to last as long, nor with the same intensity, as those concerning relatives in real life. “The experience of grief is a kind of disruption of the experience of the world in general. When this happens, there is a kind of shattering of your assumptions», explains the philosopher Louise Richardson to Nature News. The death of the Queen of England, for many English people, is therefore above all the end of an era, of a “presumptive world” of which she was an important figure.

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