ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) is a physical tingling, euphoric sensation in response to specific triggering visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile and/or cognitive stimuli. Within recent years, ASMR has mostly been associated with videos on YouTube dedicated to making viewer-listeners tingle, relax and feel at ease.
In some of these ASMR videos, labelled ‘role-plays’, content creators (also called ASMRtists) re-enact everyday activities, like getting a haircut or a massage, and perform visual and auditory actions on screen related to that activity ‘face-to-face’. The role-play videos thus feature visual proximity (close-up point-of-view-shots with ‘eye contact’) and auditory proximity (amplified 3D binaural recording) and are often coupled with caring, nurturing narratives.
The ASMRtists furthermore often employ a simulated interaction through linguistic direct addressing, in which they ask, answer and react as if a viewer-listener is in fact physically co-present with them. They even sometimes ask for consent: “I really love how Gibi always asks for consent before face touching,” one commenter wrote on an ASMR video titled [ASMR] Up-Close Face Touching & Gentle Ear Whispers by ASMRtist Gibi ASMR in 2018.
The comment is rather interesting, as it is attached to a pre-recorded video on YouTube. The actions on screen are ‘there’, while the viewer-listener is ‘here’, and yet the viewer-listener is grateful for getting asked for consent to be touched. Despite physical distance and temporal displacement, ASMR interaction in role-play videos is built upon a dynamic of leaving open a linguistic/rhetorical and performative blank space. As a viewer-listener, you have the option of filling in your own answers – or not – as the ASMRtists leave space and time for you to do so.
The direct addressing in the videos is only performative, yet it has the ability to create presence and intimacy. By asking for consent in her face touching videos, ASMRtist Gibi makes sure to engage her viewer-listeners bodily and emotionally. She makes them feel safe, seen and heard despite only being present with her in a technologically-mediated sense. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why ASMR remains a growing phenomenon – and especially in the world of social media.
This contribution is based on prior and on-going research on technologically-mediated ASMR. For more info, please reach out to the author.