If you loved the film Call Me By Your Name as much as Sommer Tothill, you might be feeling pretty shocked or confused right now.
Warning: This story talks about alleged sexual assault.
The 36-year-old feminist commentator from Brisbane considered its lead actor Armie Hammer an admirable performer — until recent allegations.
Earlier this year Instagram account House Of Effie began posting unverified messages she says are between her and the actor, which explore fantasies of rape, BDSM and cannibalism.
While Hammer hasn’t formally addressed the messages, when announcing he was pulling out of upcoming film Shotgun Wedding, he said they were “bullshit claims”.
Others have also come forward with allegations of sexual control and abuse, including an ex-girlfriend who alleges he branded her with a knife.
Hammer’s lawyer has denied the claims, saying “any interactions with this person, or any partner of his, were completely consensual”.
Sommer says in her eyes the accusations “paint a pretty terrible picture”. She finds it hard to look at the Call Me By Your Name-inspired art she has hanging in her home the same way.
“My stance on it is that I believe women, for starters — but also, I think it’s unwise to idolise anyone anymore.”
It’s understandable fans of “cancelled” celebrities would be left feeling disappointed, explains Tamara Cavenett, president of the Australian Psychological Society.
“Grief is a good description for it in many ways because grief relates a lot to our expectations.
So how do we make sense of the disappointment and confusion we feel for someone who is essentially a stranger?
The relationships we have with celebrities
The relationships many of us have with celebrities can be described as parasocial.
It’s a one-sided relationship, where one person extends emotional energy, interest and time — while the other party or persona is completely unaware of the other’s existence.
“We usually project a little bit on who we think they are, what they value and connect with things about them like how they dress and things they say,” Ms Cavenett says.
“When those things align, we feel like we are closer to them.”
Yve Blake, the creator of the hit musical Fangirls, interviewed hundreds of teenage girls as part of her research for the show.
She says while fan culture has always been around, what makes it interesting today is how the internet intersects with how well fans feel they know their idols.
“When I began this research there were accounts telling you where One Direction band members were at any minute of the day.
“That intimacy and access to a famous person can make you feel you understand them in a more personal way.”
Blake says especially for young people who are having a challenging time or feeling isolated, they may form an emotional connection with a celebrity that is closer to any of their peers.
“Sometimes that is characterised as being a dark or creepy thing, but I think it can be a safe space for young people.”
Feelings of disappointment and the need to protect
When we feel connected to or resonate with an icon in some way, a part of us doesn’t want to see them as anything other than who we thought they were, says Ms Cavenett.
Blake says her research leads her to believe it makes sense that fans would experience a kind of grief.
“If you were to learn [your icon], someone who had made you feel safe or even joyful, had done something harmful — even potentially — you could feel a sense of betrayal.”
We may even feel protective over that person, despite not truly knowing them.
“If you think about it, we all know what it’s like to be publicly criticised in some way — or to fear that — and to have made a mistake or comment we didn’t quite come out as we hoped.”
It’s important to keep in mind there are real people involved behind whatever headline you’re obsessing over.
Ms Cavenett stresses to remember these situations are complex and we don’t have access to all the information.
“We really encourage people to have what we call cognitive flexibility — the capacity to see things from more than one point of view,” Ms Cavenett says.
“It’s just about being able to see things aren’t as simple as we would like them to be.”
Sommer says keeping the focus on the alleged perpetrator isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“This heightened attention on the women [or anyone] allegedly abused can result in them experiencing harassment.
“So I think it’s better we focus our attention on the person who did the alleged abuse … the onus being on them to be better … while also acknowledging and respecting the pain of victims.”
Dealing with the fallout
If you’re struggling with reports around one of your favourite celebrities, Ms Cavenett recommends allowing those feelings to come through.
“Let yourself be disappointed that someone you admire has let you down.
“If you feel betrayed or sad or anxious, just acknowledge it’s OK to feel that way.”
She says to also think about your expectations of that person and whether they were reasonable.
And don’t place blame or shame on yourself for being a fan in the first place.
“A lot of people question themselves, but could you have reasonably anticipated they might do something like that?”
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Original posted at www.abc.net.au