Now Reading
A. S. Hussain on parasocial relationships with podcasters

A. S. Hussain on parasocial relationships with podcasters

Among the first podcasts I ever listened to was Serial, a podcast that re-examined the 1999 disappearance and murder of Hae Min Lee, and has gone on to change the face of not only the true crime genre but podcasting in general. During the subway ride, I remember Sarah Koenig’s voice echoing in my ears while she discussed a case I had never heard of, and I was hooked. Not only did the first episode leave me wanting more about the case, but I also wanted to hear more from Sarah. Again, I longed to feel as if it were just me and her in a room, the outside world faded from my sight.

It has been my pleasure to consume a variety of podcasts over the years, including true-crime, educational, conversational, non-fiction storytelling, and others. However, every podcast I consume leaves me with one thing in common: the desire for one more episode just so I can feel like I’m spending time with a person I admire.

What makes podcasts so appealing, besides the content, is the intimacy of it all. You don’t have to go anywhere in order to feel like you are listening to a close friend talking to you about various topics. Despite YouTube offering a similar platform, with influencers speaking directly to you, there is something unsettling about watching them present themselves in a picture-perfect space while discussing personal and relatable issues. Even when they relay the events of a horrible day while sitting on the floor of their living room, it is impossible to miss the designer clothes in the background or the expensive furniture behind them. Podcasts on the other hand offer a more authentic experience, allowing Gen Z’s to listen to the host’s words without any distractions and allowing them to forget that it is in fact a successful person speaking to them. With only a pair of headphones and no visuals to rely on, podcasts have become an escape for society. One where the line between you and the celebrity you’re listening to feels less distant. Where Instagram and TikTok only show snippets of the life of a person, podcasts allow listeners room for a deeper understanding and connection with the host.

But more and more, Gen Z aren’t turning to podcasts purely for entertainment purposes but rather as a platform in which they can tackle and explore topics such as the economy, mental health, and social justice all the while engaging with their favourite influencers and celebrities.

Although it is a one-sided conversation and a parasocial relationship, it is through this intimacy that listeners can not only feel a kinship to the podcasts hosts they are listening to but find that they look up to them, too. Podcasts hosts, even though they are complete strangers, make their listeners feel seen as they discuss not only their personal lives but also important topics. Where previously, politics and social justice issues were reserved for the politicians and activists, influencers have now entered the space and are able to highlight not only that you can be a content creator and advocate for social issues at the same time but also that it is possible to be a complete mess in your personal life and still be successful in your career. Simply, podcasts hosts, by speaking openly and frankly about anything and everything that comes to mind, illustrate that several parts of a person can co-exist in the same space. And in doing so they, without even realising it, become role models for their listeners, signposting to them that you don’t need to have it all together in order to become a person just like them.

For Gen Z listeners, podcasts play a multi-faceted role. It is a tool for them not only to entertain themselves and relax but also one in which they educate themselves and begin conversations with others. Podcasts are a medium in which Gen Z can feel heard and explore deeper into the issues that concern them with not only accessibility but also personalization and intimacy. A medium where they can find a role model or even become one themselves.

In Desi Girl Speaking, this is exactly what happens. After tuning into the inaugural episode of the Desi Girl Speaking podcast, Tweety swiftly begins to view Desi Girl as both an inspiration and a confidante. Despite never having met Desi Girl in person, Tweety forms a deep connection with her, solely based on the genuine and open manner in which Desi Girl discusses her own challenges. For Tweety, the mere act of hearing someone who shares her Desi background and battles with depression openly discuss their struggles is immensely comforting, as it finally makes her feel truly understood.

Desi Girl Speaking by A. S. Hussain is out 9 May, published by Hot Key Books and available at all good bookshops.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.