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enthusiastic and ‘‘correct’’ response’ (Horton and Wohl 2004: 377), such as when to laugh or cheer. Para-social interaction is perhaps at its most intense in television talent shows such as American Idol (2002–) and The X-Factor (2004–), in which heartthrobs sing while screaming fans (in the studio and, presumably, at home) pour out their emotion – and hold up banners or pick up phones to register their love and approval. Horton and Wohl tend to share the view of behaviourists that media have quite direct and powerful effects on audiences, although their value-free judgements on para-social interaction do not assume negative effects. A second concept inextricably linked with para-social interaction is that of ‘personae’. Personae are what Horton and Wohl call the personalities or performers that build up intimate, para-social relations with audiences via the media of radio and television. The important characteristic of personae is that they provide ‘a continuing relationship’ for audiences and that their ‘character and pattern of action remain basically unchanged in a world of otherwise disturbing change’ (Horton and Wohl 2004: 375). In this sense, para-social interactions with personae provide ordinary individuals with an escapist outlet away from the fears and uncertainties of a ‘real world’ subject to all the implications of modernity (see Chapter 3). Personae must work hard, though, in order to receive the affection and affiliation of a nation: ‘Every attempt possible is made to strengthen the illusion of reciprocity and rapport in order to offset the inherent impersonality of the media themselves’ (Horton and Wohl 2004: 378). Expert performances of self-presentation are the stimulus for para-social intimacy – not media technologies, as Meyrowitz and medium theorists might argue. Personae deploy various tricks and techniques, such as mingling with studio audiences, expressing feelings from ‘the heart’ in close-up, and mixing sincerity with comedy, so as to invite para- social relations with individuals whom they cannot see or hear. According to Horton and Wohl, these invitations are usually granted by individuals, par- ticularly those who feel lonely or unloved due to unfortunate personal cir- cumstances. It could be argued that this is hardly a convincing conception of the fallibility of media audiences. Moreover, Horton and Wohl’s article can be criticized for making a crude distinction between social (i.e. real) and para- social (less real) interactions (Handleman 2003). As we shall encounter in Chapter 8, postmodern theory would reject such a distinction because media create new senses of reality that are divorced from traditional ones associated with face-to-face interaction. Having said this, Horton and Wohl’s ideas have had a weighty bearing on later theories of celebrity and mediated interaction, including the work we will discuss next.

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