YouTube comments are frequently not very nice (or, to use another Guardian writer’s words, are “an infamously troll-ridden wild west of abuse, ignorance and spam”). Something about a cursor blinking in a blank comment box just brings out a certain side of human nature (the bad one). Except, for some reason, if it’s below an ASMR video, where it appears to invite a more or less pure stream of all that is tender in the human heart.
These are videos made to provoke one’s autonomous sensory meridian response – AKA “a tingly feeling” – through soothing sounds and visuals that range from the banal to the extremely obscure. There’s a lot of roleplay, and a strong focus on being taken care of (and, increasingly, colourful slime). “ASMRtists” might (pretend to) cut your hair; measure you for a suit; give you a medical check-up; help you find a library book; welcome you, a new Santa Claus, to the Christmas Village (I don’t know either); or just potter around, making peaceful noises by opening things and pouring tea.
People come to these videos to feel calm and good. So maybe it makes sense that everyone watching them is primed to gently compliment each other.
“Who else comes to Maria’s videos for her but also to get cheered up by everyone being super kind in the comments!” a fan of inSPArational ASMR Organic Facial Treatment writes.
“Maria” is Maria Viktorovna, Russian-American ASMRtist Gentle Whispering. On YouTube she has 2.1m subscribers, all of whom, apparently, are lovely. In a recent video (Things that Spark Joy) she apologises for not uploading as much content as usual. 2,222 supportive commenters are having none of it.
“Don’t ever feel bad for not posting cause you need a break or not posting well thought out videos!!” one writes. “We appreciate all of them regardless of what it is!!!”
“Any video from you is a treat, and know we want you to take the time to rest as well!” someone else agrees.
“I appreciate you immensely and I wish you all the best,” adds a third.
Imagine if the rest of the internet was like this. Imagine if the world was. Maria’s commenters do: “there would be no war,” one writes underneath ~Simple Pleasures~ Soft Spoken Personal Attention.
Viktorovna’s commenters are also lovely on other people’s channels (where she routinely directs them – ASMR is very much about supporting others). One night in one of YouTube’s deeper corners, scrolling the offerings of a lesser-known ASMRtist before bed, I saw a message in cheery capitals. “Who’s from GENTLE WHISPERING MARIA? 🙂 we love you Maria.”
Believe that it made my day.
I like the deep cuts. “Real OGs remember when Maria used to do her eyebrows with a literal pencil,” someone writes below Whispered Makeup during the Rain.
I like the mild, terrible jokes. Korean ASMR superstar Latte (AKA Seul Gi Lee, 1.63m YouTube subscribers) uploads a video titled Rescuing You/ASMR Secret Agent. “She’s rescuing us from all the Kidnapping Roleplay ASMR videos,” someone comments. Sixteen thousand people give this the thumbs up.
Below Dreams Hotel: Relaxing ASMR Check-In Desk (by popular UK ASMRtist WhispersRed, AKA Emma Smith, 967,000 YouTube subscribers), some wit points out there must be “772,070 people crammed in room 333”.
“Now it’s 2 million, that really is overbooking,” another person writes, three years after that.
“Social distancing is impossible in this crowd!” another chimes in, a week later.
I’m sure if you scroll far enough you can find someone saying something dreary and mean. But as a rule, if you’re minding your own business – just pretending to be a bear at a spa, or watching someone fold some towels – you can be at peace in the knowledge any accidental swiping down will take you only to a safe and pleasant place. No furious non-sequiturs, no snarky debates. Just goodwill, and a lot of joyful punctuation.
Perhaps because of this, commenters are very comfortable being vulnerable. People share insecurities, traumas, anxieties, bereavements. No one seems to find it incongruous. Everyone is scrupulously polite (probably because they have all watched Dinner Etiquette/Soft Spoken/Gentle Proper Eating/Crinkly Shirt).
“You help me a lot to distract myself from my inner demons and I wish everybody who reads this comment a healthy and happy night,” someone writes under Smith’s Taking Your Picture, Dressing you, Clicks, Camera & Jewellery.
“I honestly cried because I really needed those words of encouragement,” someone writes underneath Viktorovna’s Eyebrow Mapping.
Viktorovna’s husband, Darryl (he of Color Analysis: Soft Spokenish, whom she met through ASMR comment threads) has said the community functions something like a support group in precarious moments. Smith told the Guardian in 2018 that “ASMR is more about kindness and love than it is about selling things”. But the genre is now a long way from “niche internet interest” – actors do it, musicians do it, episodes of White Lotus do it – and as other YouTubers cotton on to the effectiveness of lovely comments in directing viewers to their own channels and brands, the charm could be wearing off.
Still, I like the nocturnal solidarity among the ASMR commenters, between the insomniacs, the people stuck in lockdown, the people missing their mums, the people grappling with worry and shame, the people who like watching colourful slime.
“Maria’s comment section is the last corner of goodness on the internet,” someone writes under Cosy Whisper Chat and Coloring. I am tickled by the fact that it exists, of all places, on YouTube.