Sometime several months ago I was mindlessly refreshing my YouTube ‘recommended’ page when I came across a uniquely clean looking video. It stood out from the videos surrounding it, which mostly consisted of pixelated bootlegs of Broadway musicals and poorly lit horror video game compilations. This video was shiny, enticing, and well lit. The thumbnail featured a bearded young man smirking into the camera, his hands hovering just above the expensive microphone in front of him, like he was going to use it to tell my future.
My thumb flicked indecisively between that and “~*~*~*BEETLEJUICE SLIME TUTORIAL!!11 part 1/27*~*~*~” before finally landing on the former.
I wasn’t a total whisper hypnosis virgin. Since I was eight or nine, I’ve had trouble sleeping, and I’ve tried a couple different podcasts narrated by middle-aged British people to ease my burden.
This was entirely different from those.
First off, it was much better presented. This guy had Marie Kondo’d the shit out of his recording studio. Additionally, as I was soon to learn, ASMR videos have their own lingo. The feeling you’re supposed to get when someone whispers really close in your ear, or taps on the microphone with long, acrylic nails, is called “tingles.” The people who make ASMR are called “ASMRtists,” which I think is just adorable.
This video, my potential gateway drug into the world of ASMR, turned out to be exceptionally unexceptional. His videos were the same as many ASMR videos I would come to watch in the ensuing months: An automatic left-swipe dressed like the “How Do You Do, Fellow Kids” meme whispers random crap super close to the microphone. There was no real plot or theme. Everything he said went — quite literally — in one ear and out the other.
There was, however, something incredibly compelling about this man’s product, though I couldn’t tell what it was. I certainly wasn’t feeling the “tingles” he was whispering about, and his videos weren’t exactly putting me to sleep, either. Maybe it was FOMO — I didn’t want to admit that I just couldn’t feel this marvelous thing called tingles, so I kept watching in the vain hope that I would. Or maybe it was a culture shock. Is this what the kids are getting up to nowadays, between their “amonging the us” and their “forting the nite?” As a certified Old, I really had no idea.
After I was satisfied that I’d tasted enough of this man’s oeuvre, I moved on to other ASMRtists. That was when I encountered the really weird shit.
ASMR roleplay is when the ASMRtist takes on a role in the narrative of the video — usually that of friend or significant other — and plays that role while pretending to comfort/take care of the viewer. Before you ask, yes, Rule 34 does apply.
Even the very-definitely-platonic-and-unsexy versions of those videos made me uncomfortable. There was something about a total stranger greeting me with a whispered “Hi, friend :)” and then pretending to touch my face that freaked me out. It was like going swimming in a lake at night and feeling seaweed brush against your leg. Eeeeaaaaaaugh.
Some of the roleplay videos were more specific than the standard friend/SO formula. There were videos where the ASMRtist is rude to you, which I’m much more comfortable with. There were videos where the ASMRtist is pretending to provide you a service — like a haircut or a facial — and you, as the listener, pretend you’re their client.
I even found a few ASMRtists I could actually fall asleep to. That was a welcome surprise. I didn’t care how weird it made my recommended page (very weird) as long as it would help me fall asleep quicker.
Still, I think I’m worse off from this experience. It’s changed me in ways I’m not ready to acknowledge. For one, I’m now the type of person who has an easier time falling asleep if there’s a man in a dinosaur costume whispering really close to my ear about his Tim Hortons breakfast sandwich.
But maybe it’s taught me to be less concerned with my self-image. These people go viral and (presumably) make lots of money by dressing up and tap-tap-tapping on a microphone, and it seems to make them very happy. I do not do that, and I am frequently not happy. Really makes you think, huh?