Halie Wenhold is a third year Communication and Media PhD Student at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on the ways young adults use their interactions with media figures to help formulate plans for adulthood. Some of her past research has examined college women’s perceptions of favorite television news personalities and college students’ beliefs about romantic love in relationship to reality television dating show celebrities. Halie attended Hope College where she received her BA in Communication and Media with a minor in Sociology.

Her 2-hour (3 credit) seminar, COMM 408.201: Media Influence, Parasocial Relationships, and Celebrity Identification, will be offered this Summer term. The class will meet Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 2 pm – 4 pm.   

Can you give us an introduction to your course?

This course is all about individuals and their relationships with media figures. Why do young girls swoon at the sight of Justin Bieber? Or freak-out in “Jalena’s” defense when a Twitter troll tries to insult their currently non-existent relationship? Perhaps you have questioned why so many young women and men try to emulate the bodies of Instagram fitness models. If you have ever found yourself skimming through social media feeds wondering why the platforms put so much emphasis on celebrities or media figures, then this course will provide insight into our culture’s fame fixation. More importantly, we will be looking at how our interactions with media figures help shape everyday decisions, relationships, and goals.

Each week of the course will highlight a different parasocial phenomenon. Specifically, we will explore the parasocial (i.e., one-sided) relationships individuals establish with media figures through their engagement with various forms of media. For example, wishful identification theory, the idea that individuals aspire to be like or even become their favorite media figures, will be one focus of the course. This theory helps to clarify why young girls and women try to mimic Kylie Jenner’s full lips. The course’s theories are fascinating, engaging, and their application is potentially addicting.   

What motivated you to pursue this opportunity to teach a course of your own design? What is it about this topic that interests you?

I am extremely curious about why and how young adults use their relationships with media figures to help craft schemas for their future life aspirations. As an avid follower of all things media figure related (I admittedly watch E! News whenever I can make it to the television at 7 p.m. EST on weeknights), I find myself questioning how society’s apparent infatuation with fame has potential ramifications or benefits for the Millennial generation. So when I was given the opportunity to design a course, I jumped at the chance to share my passion with fellow, albeit younger, Millennials.

What would you say to students who are considering taking your course? Why should they take it?

If you are a Millennial or a non-Millennial then this course will be applicable to your life. It’s no secret that Millennial youth are well versed in social media. After all, statistics show 90% of Millennials use smartphones, 93% access the Internet regularly, and 53% own tablets (statista, 2014). Nevertheless, non-Millennials will also find the course material interesting because we will explore how media figure interactions influence various stages of life from adolescence to adulthood. Why not earn course credit while simultaneously educating yourself about something you and your friends probably interact with daily? This class will not only challenge you to process why and how you interact with media figures but to also determine what these interactions might mean for your future.

Is there a particular lesson plan or topic you will explore in the course that you are excited to delve into with your students?

The best part of this class will be the weekly interactive application of the course’s theories to modern day media! We will get the chance to apply theories like the aforementioned wishful identification to media texts and then discuss their implications as a class. As a student, you will be equipped with the theoretical knowledge needed to employ the learned theories to your favorite television shows, movies, and social media platforms. The theories we apply in class will probably be something you find yourself using to analyze media on your own time! Ultimately, this course will sharpen your insights and understanding of how media figures interact with your own personal life goals and relationships.