Dream’s Face Reveal: a Case Study of Parasocial Relationships
December 6, 2022
On October 2nd, 2022, internet celebrity Dream revealed his face after 8 years of anonymity. The Minecraft YouTuber and Twitch streamer rose to popularity after his 2019-2020 series, Minecraft Manhunt, went viral, amassing tens of millions of viewers and subscribers. Since then, Dream’s fanbase has continued to grow, currently making him one of the most influential Minecraft YouTubers. As a result, when he finally revealed his face after nearly a decade of secrecy, the internet exploded.
Before his face reveal, Dream was known by the mask that he wore: a white circle with two eyes and a line smile drawn almost haphazardly, paired with a green hoodie. This public image undoubtedly contributed to his virality. It was simple and recognizable: a recipe for an icon.
Dream himself has stated that at first, he did not intend to remain anonymous. However, when the art of his mask and avatar began to gain popularity and traction, he decided to completely incorporate it into his persona. In one interview, Dream stated that part of his reasoning for wearing the mask was in order to allow all of his viewers to project some part of themselves onto him. He said, “This channel is living proof that anyone can do anything. Anyone can be under the mask, and I don’t want my face reveal to take away from that.” When a celebrity or figure blurs the boundaries between themselves and fans, it creates an environment in which feelings of extreme attachment can arise.
When a celebrity or figure blurs the boundaries between themselves and fans, it creates an environment in which feelings of extreme attachment can arise.
This is perhaps the epitome of parasocial relationships in the internet age. Parasocial relationships are defined as relationships that one imagines they have with another person, typically a celebrity or fictional character, that does not actually exist. These fantasy relationships involve feelings of intimacy and/or deep connection despite not truly knowing the other person. Dream’s tactic of maintaining anonymity in order to foster these kinds of fantasies is the perfect example of how parasocial relationships come to be and persist. When a celebrity or figure blurs the boundaries between themselves and fans, it creates an environment in which feelings of extreme attachment can arise.
Dream’s fanbase is somewhat infamous for the extent of their obsession. It is not uncommon to stumble across TikToks or Instagram posts in which individuals declare that Dream “saved their lives” or “mean everything” to them. It is Dream’s tactic of allowing for projection of fantasies, combined with the fact that the majority of his fans are generally children or young teens, that is to blame for this nature of his fandom.
With his face reveal, a video titled simply, hi, I’m Dream, Dream found himself trending on both YouTube and Twitter, and the video currently sits at nearly 45 million views. However, the reaction to his face reveal was overwhelmingly negative.
Rampant body shaming, waves of memes. Dream’s true face was not satisfactory to his online audience. #PutTheMaskBackOn began trending on Twitter. The internet attacked? What about his face reveal sparked such outrage, struck such a nerve? The answer lies in the previously-discussed concept of parasocial relationships.
Dream, in fostering these fantasy relationships, created absurdly high expectations and idealizations for his true self. He made himself into an icon, the platonic ideal of a Minecraft YouTuber, and in doing so inherently set himself up for failure. No matter what he had done, it would have been impossible to live up to these standards: he could never embody every piece of fanart, every fantasy, every different version of himself each and every fan clings to. And so, when his face reveal inevitably fell short of these expectations, the backlash and outrage was as biting as it was swift.
The critiques of Dream that emerged in response to his face reveal can be roughly sorted into two categories: critiques of his appearance and critiques of his behavior.
The former was the predominant of the two: random Twitter users comparing his looks to that of Rumplestiltskin, Lord Farquaad and more. People shamed everything from his haircut to the shape of his jawline. It goes without saying that this response is extremely unproductive and cruel to more than just Dream himself. At the very least, Dream is making tens of thousands of dollars off having his physical appearance torn to shreds by internet audiences, but imagine innocent bystanders, regular people, who share features with Dream. In one post, a user states that they “kind of look like Dream,” and, seeing internet response to his appearance, is now “really insecure.” Collateral damage: the insults do not hurt the feelings of only their target, but of dozens of other individuals as well.
The latter category of critiques is more difficult to discuss. Some internet users have chosen to use Dream’s trending status as a means to remind others of the wrongdoings the celebrity has committed in the past. From saying slurs to cheating scandals to grooming allegations, Dream’s record is far from clean. Certainly, these critiques of his past actions are valid. However, the manner of their delivery is where things begin to complicate. Oftentimes, internet users deliver their critiques of his character in tandem with insults of his appearance or use his past mistakes to justify their body shaming. This is where the gray area occurs: the mixing of valid and constructive criticism with immature insults dilutes their significance. In some ways, this type of critique is even more damagingthan the first, as it takes attention away from the very real issues that criticisms of Dream’s actions bring to light.
Ultimately, neither of these types of responses is the “right” one. Twitter, and the internet as a whole, is a war-zone. Navigating cancel culture, beauty standards and body shaming on top of the already complex issue of parasocial relationships: Dream’s face reveal was the perfect storm.
It is not only in Dream that we see the model of parasocial relation- ships. From Harry Potter to KPop to microinfluencers: parasocial relationships are everywhere. They’re a business model, a promotional strategy. Ubiquitous.
In Dream’s face reveal, we observe not only the background tension and conflict that comes with theseunhealthy obsessions but also the incredible fallout that occurs when the bubble is at long last burst. The effects of the vitriol and hatred spawned by Dream’s face reveal were uncontainable: from random internet users with the same face shape to the victims of his past wrongdoings, countless people found themselves attacked by the hordes of anti-Dream posts and users.
If nothing else, let Dream’s face reveal be a cautionary tale of the true nature of the internet and the relationships and networks it fosters.
This piece was originally published in Inkwell’s Kitchen Sink Issue.