Sounds, Affects, and Nonstandard Intimacies in ASMR

Joanna Łapińska
(Independent Researcher)

In my presentation I would like to discuss the affective dimension of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), a new cultural “nonstandard intimacy” (term by Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner) phenomenon currently flourishing on YouTube, by focusing primarily on its sound aspect. We will try to uncover the affective potential of ASMR by focusing on the question of what exactly is “affect” in ASMR video, and how it is produced. In our interpretation, affective dimension of ASMR is inseparably connected with sound. It is, without a doubt, the audial layer that plays a key role in ASMR. Above all, the video makers focus on their voice/whisper in most of their films, as well as on the sound possibilities of matter extracted by a non-standard approach to various objects and props used during the performance. In our analyses, we will follow the path set by Joceline Andersen in her interpretations of ASMR phenomenon as occupying “intimate sonic space” shared by the ASMR artist (or “ASMRtist”) and the viewer/listener, and as falling within the so-called “nonstandard intimacy” that leaves the private sphere, and enters the public space in its attempts of inducing the pleasure and feeling of relaxation. The sounds in ASMR videos contribute to the induction of pleasure and feeling of relaxation in viewers, which are, at the same time, triggered by the cognitive associations with intimate care and attention suggested by the general aesthetics of ASMR films (i.e. roleplay videos with female ASMRtists as make-up artists, flight attendants, personal therapists, hairdressers, etc.). ASMR community shows us how distant, nonstandard intimacy could look like in the future. Considering technological progress and increasingly frequent mediation of technology in interpersonal contacts, this kind of affective phenomena will probably be even more explored.

Joanna Łapińska holds a PhD in the field of humanities with the specialization in cultural studies and an MA in film studies. A graduate of Polish philology at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. She obtained her doctoral degree at SWPS University in Warsaw on the basis of the dissertation on the love relationships between people and machines in science fiction film. She published, among others, in “The Polish Journal of Aesthetics”, “Kultura Popularna”, “Świat i Słowo”, and “Prace Kulturoznawcze”. Research interests: theories and practices of posthumanism, science fiction film, changes in contemporary subjectivity, new intimacy practices. Currently an independent researcher preparing a book on human-robot intimate relationships in science fiction.