The ASMR cure
GQ South Africa|April 2020
Come for the tingly auditory triggers, stay for the existential coping mechanism.
Laurence Scott

LAST YEAR, AN AMERICAN SWEETS COMPANY POSTED A VIDEO ON YOUTUBE CALLED REESE THE MOVIE.

In an orange room matching Reese’s packaging, five popular YouTubers sit around a table and whisper into their headsets about the pleasures of these peanut butter cups. They compare notes on the best way to open the sweets. (Cue amplified sounds of packets whooshing across the table and finger nails clicking on wrappers.)

The sweets topple free with the clunk of wooden blocks. The breathless council dismantles them, scooping them into cups with apple corers and smooshing them under spatulas, releasing soft, sliding squeaks. They slice them like bread, each chop cartoonishly loud. After 80 minutes, our protagonists come at last to the intended destiny of these fluted UFOs: they eat them.

This is what’s referred to, at least according to the video’s tagline, as ‘an ASMR experience’. I find it hard to gauge how well known ASMR is. In savvier digital circles, and among my teenage students, it usually elicits a familiar chuckle. But when I bring it up to my thirtysomething peers, they look at me blankly. Let’s unbox the acronym: autonomous sensory meridian response. ASMR is an umbrella under which many millions of people huddle to make and listen to amplified sounds of mundane events — bars of soap being scraped, a whisk hitting the side of a bowl, tissue paper crackling, instruction manuals read out in one prolonged whisper. Fans return to their favourite ‘ASMRtists’ for the intensely pleasurable tingles or chills these sounds produce.

Move over, Seinfeld; ASMR is truly ‘the show about nothing’.

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