The ASMR version of Bee Movie, and other neuro-divergent media

14.26, Tuesday 16 Mar 2021

I haven’t talked about ASMR here before because it’s vaguely sexy and that makes me uncomfortable to discuss in public, but it perhaps also hints at a new wave of neurodivergent media, so let’s take that angle and pretend like we’re being intellectual.

The Washington Post covered “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” (ASMR) back in 2018: ASMR videos are edgy, unnerving and almost avant-garde. Is it time to consider them art?

The name sounds pilfered from a medical journal, but it’s basically Stuff That Makes You Tingle – the catch in a husky voice, a knife drawn through sand, a cat licking her paw, whatever sensuous ‘trigger,’ as ASMR folks call it, works for you.

Those triggers? They are sounds: finger flutters, whispering, slow talking, slow talking while whispering, tapping, brushing, crinkling.

And ASMR has become huge on YouTube over the years. Here are the two most popular channels I can find.

Zach Choi’s estimated revenue: $1.2 million per month.

I get maybe 10 seconds into these videos before feeling sick. Hearing people eat skeeves me out at the best of times, let alone captured by a close mic and played directly into my Bose QC35s.

SUPER DISGUSTING. Let’s skip the food.

Gibi (her Wikipedia, her YouTube) has 3 million subscribers and a billion (actually a billion) cumulative views.

Here’s an example for you to try: Gibi clicking and whispering (16m views).

The intention is that this carefully produced binaural sound has frequencies that will trigger a kind of sensual cascade. From Wikipedia: a tingling sensation that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine.

What I can’t quite tell is whether ASMR is supposed to be real. I mean, it’s nice?

Maybe ASMR is for some people the neurological equivalent of a hack, where you visit a specially constructed webpage that breaks out of the browser sandbox, tunnels down from the application executable to the system kernel, and jailbreaks your phone; a sound sequence that buffer-overflows your auditory cortex and starts writing random bits over your pleasure centres.

But I’m half convinced that it’s popular because it’s all just a bit sexy. The ASMR articles I can find deny this vehemently, but ASMR videos are mainly attractive young people, mainly young women, whispering in your ear, and surely that’s why they have billions of views? I mean, isn’t it as simple as that? And there’s an unspoken conspiracy to claim that it’s “art” and “parasthesia” so that everybody can avoid admitting that they’re watching hours of videos of young women slowly eating honeycomb in order to pass their days in a state of being low-grade turned on?

Look: I will take ASMR at face value. If others say it’s real, it’s real.

ASMR is a legit cultural phenomenon, and it is no weirder to be microdosing intimacy on YouTube than it is to get thrills out of sitting around with your friends and watching 90 minutes of people in costumes hitting each other while rousing music plays. Hollywood has normalised and industrialised violence and emotional manipulation so pervasively that it’s hard to see it for what it is any longer, and it is way stranger and more concerning to realise that there are entire companies dedicated to filming people dressed up and pretending to inflict hurt on each other, plus special buildings to go and watch these productions in, than it is for there to be people on online pro-am streaming websites with expensive audio equipment acting like they’re cutting my hair.


ANYWAY.

Gibi and her 80 closest ASMR friends have banded together to make an ASMR cover of Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie.

The ASMR Bee Movie (95 mins; premiered 27 Feb, 2021).

The entire thing is synced to the original Bee Movie on Netflix, and the intention is that you watch both, side by side.

Incroyable.

There’s a lot of whispering and a certain amount of dressing up as bees.

I guess it’s like the zillennial version of listening to The Dark Side of the Moon from Pink Floyd while synchronously viewing The Wizard of Oz? I remember being 17 and watching Arthur C Clarke’s Fractals: The Colours of Infinity with a friend for, um, pretty much a whole weekend. Same diff.

There’s a quote from Teller of the magicians Penn & Teller, in this long and excellent profile:

Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.

And, beyond the sensory experience, there’s definitely some of that going on. It must have taken a lot of effort.

So I am in love with the ASMR Bee Movie, and the fact that people have created it gives me hope for the future.


Separately, and assuming ASMR is real in that some people don’t get it but other people experience it intensely:

I feel like it’s healthy for us as a society to acknowledge that different people have different subjective experiences of the world, and that there are these neurological tribes, if you like, who get their neurotransmitter floods from different things: people who are wired to sort stuff into categories, people who like videos of other people whispering at them, adrenaline junkies who get off on jumping from high objects, and so on, and having a vocabulary to understand and discuss these various neurotribes (and the spectrum on which each exists) would benefit and build empathy for us all.

What if there were neurodivergent-optimised versions of all media?

Not just ASMR Bee Movie but taciturn and slow-paced superhero movies, for people who are easily overwhelmed, like French New Wave meets the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or for completionists, speedrun Netflix Originals where each episode is only 3 minutes and expunges narrative irrelevant to the overall season arc, with everything fitting together neatly at the end.

An Apple Music radio station with all the tracks pitch-shifted down to barely-audible infrasound so you’re listening to your favourite pop but every so often it hits a tone that induces a feeling of ghosts or immediate and automatic religious ecstasy, as appropriate.

I’m just making personal requests at this point.

More posts tagged:

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it by email or on social media. Here’s the link. Thanks, —Matt.

😴