Whispering plays a big part in ASMR. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
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Welcome to the world of autonomous sensory meridian response videos, the internet’s soft play area

For some people, videos of people performing intricate tasks or crinkling paper can produce a satisfying tingling feeling. If you can suspend your cyncism, it’s one of the nicest places on the internet to be.

“Prob not going to make it tonight, feeling rough,” I text. I’m taking a social sick day, and what I actually mean is, “Prob not going to make it tonight, can’t be bothered to stand in a hot room, sipping a drink that I had to queue for 40 minutes to get.” What I actually, actually mean is, “Prob not going to make it tonight, a woman off the internet is doing stuff to my ears, and I’m into it.”

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos are, objectively speaking, the weirdest thing on the world wide web. They’re weirder than this, this and this. But they’re also an internet sensation. The one I’m watching, the one about ears, has over 400,000 views. A 20-minute video where a woman prods a disembodied silicone ear with various objects has been watched nearly half a million times. But why?

In case you haven’t read one of the many, many articles about what ASMR is, I’m going to attempt to explain. And boy, this is a real humdinger of complexity. I’m not sure I’m cut out for this. OK – it’s effectively a satisfying tingling feeling (or “braingasm”) that some people, myself included, get from watching and listening to other people performing, say, an intricate task. Or crinkling some paper. Or whispering in your ear. When I was at school, for example, I had a friend who used to draw on her hands in lessons. When I sat next to her, quadratic equations and conjugating “être” became background noise. I’d be too mesmerised by watching her tattoo herself in biro to even function.

A decade later I learnt that not only is there a name for what was going on in my head when I zenned the hell out in French and maths, but there are millions of other people who experience it. And, unwittingly, I suppose I’ve become a member of the nascent ASMR community. And I hate communities. And I hate hippy dippy, kale juice enemas, reiki hand jobs bollocks. And, for anyone who doesn’t experience ASMR, that’s exactly what most of the videos probably look like. A lot of it is women whispering about relaxation, in this babbling, nonsensical, stream of consciousness way. But, holy shit is it calming.  

In fact, I’m honestly not exaggerating when I say that ASMR videos have changed my life. They’re sometimes more effective than sleeping pills in getting me, an anxiety ridden insomniac depressive, to drop off. Really and truly. I mean sure, there’s going to come a point when you’re 15 minutes into a video of a woman blowing on a saucepan where you think, “What the fuck is my life?” But, if you’re truly relaxed for the first time in three years, does that really matter?

ASMR videos are the internet’s soft play area. Anyone who spends even a fifth of the amount of time that I do online will know that it’s at least 93 per cent shouty caps lock arguments. If you fancy a holiday from all that, I highly recommend you suspend your cynicism – I managed it – and get into ASMR. If you don’t believe me, just look at the comments on any given ASMR video. We all know that, a dreaded glance over the comments section of a video of a penguin falling over will usually direct you straight to someone being called “worse than Hitler”. The comments on ASMR videos are things like, “this really helped me get to sleep, thanks J” and “I want to hug whoever invented ASMR”.

Hugs. Actual hugs. 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

EmpLemon/YouTube
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The art of the YouTube Poop

What are YouTube Poops and why do we need them now, more than ever?

“The world today doesn't make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”

So, allegedly, said Pablo Picasso in a shrewd attempt to justify his love of putting noses where noses don’t actually go. It is imperative that you now hold this profound quotation firmly in your mind whilst you watch this four minutes and 57 second long clip of Arthur – the cartoon aardvark – being tormented by squirrels.

What you have just seen is an example of the art form primarily known as “YouTube Poop” (YTP). Beginning in the early Noughties, this cultural movement is characterised by confusing and shocking edits of Saturday-morning cartoons, video games, and viral videos. Though the Tens have seen the genre decline in popularity, the YTP is, nonetheless, one of the defining innovations of our era.

Those in the Poop community don’t actually like being labelled as artists, as one Yale student found out when he attempted to define them as such on the University’s technology blog. Though they have been compared to Dadaism, YTPs are more vile, violent, and most importantly, nonsensical than most artworks, but this is precisely why they are an asset to our age. In a world where – sorry Pablo, you got nothing on us – absolutely zero things makes sense, it is time for the YTP to have a comeback.

Despite its seeming randomness, the world of YTP is not without its rules. “Poopisms” are the common techniques and tricks used in videos to ensure they qualify as a true Poop. They include “stutter loops” (the repetition of clips over and over), “staredowns” (freezing the frame on a particular facial expression), and the questionably-named “ear rape” (suddenly increasing the volume to shock the viewer). One of the most humorous techniques is “sentence mixing”: forcing characters to say new sentences by cutting and splicing things they have said.

There are also firm rules about what not to do. Panning across a clip without adding another Poopism at the same time is considered boring, whilst using your own voice to dub clips is seen as amateur. By far the biggest barrier that Poopers* face in creating their videos, however, is the law.

Despite what many eight-year-olds on YouTube think, declaring that something is a “parody” in the description of a video does not make it exempt from copyright laws. The video below – regarded by at least two commenters as “the best YouTube Poop” ever – is missing audio 20 minutes in, as the creator was hit by a copyright claim.

Yet even the iron fist of the law cannot truly stop Poopers, who are still going (relatively) strong after the first YTP was created in 2004. YouTube Poops now even have their own Wikipedia page, as well as a page on TV Tropes and a WikiHow guide on how to create them, and for good measure, avoid them.

YouTube Poops have therefore undoubtedly secured their place in history, and whilst you might wander into a comment section to declare “What have I just watched?”, remember that Pablo Picasso once said: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” He almost definitely wasn’t talking about “You are a Sad Strange Little Man” by cartoonlover98, but still.

* The term “Poopists” was rejected by the community for being “too arty”.

 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.