how meme culture made rude asmr huge
People are really getting into being insulted.
Life with Mak YouTube
“Have you washed this morning? Well, just by the looks of you, looks like you might have missed a couple of showers this week,” comes the breathy, bass-filled grunt in my ear. “Erm… excuse me?” I exclaim with internal indignation. But a wave of aural pleasure ripples down my spine and displaces the insult.
The video I’m listening to in a Starbucks is “for research”. It’s titled ‘Rude English Barber Shop Haircut ✂ 💈 ASMR’ by the FredsVoice ASMR channel. I’ve just inhaled a caramel latte and I should be buzzing on caffeine but my eyes keep sliding out of focus. I know I shouldn’t be sinking into a pleasurable stupor while someone insults me, but I am.
Rude or sassy ASMR is one of the most prevalent micro-trends of the genre. For anyone who doesn’t know by now, ASMR stands for Auto-Meridian Sensory Response, and it has become a highly lucrative industry. ASMR-ists post videos of them whispering, eating, scratching and crumpling paper into highly sensitive microphones, all with the aim of inducing ‘tingles’ in the listener, i.e. a feeling of intense relaxation. It’s insanely popular. Some of Gentle Whispering ASMR’s videos have 20 million views.
Recently, ASMR, and particularly rude ASMR, commanded the focus of the internet when viral legend Life with MaK became a global meme. Hilarious snippets of her videos were recycled again and again. The comical absurdity of her giving stank face and issuing scathing put-downs, all while whispering delicately into her microphone, seemed to capture the public imagination. The jarring experience of listening to someone trying to whisper and tap softly while telling you you’re a piece of shit is very addictive it seems?
But surely the whole thing is just that –– a meme? How could it be anything else? LifewithMak designs her videos to be deliberately humorous. “When I plan a script for a sassy/rude roleplay I definitely put a lot of time and thought into the jokes,” she tells me. So, she’s doing it on purpose, right -- it’s all just a piss-take?
But Mak has just surpassed one million subscribers. There are endless people listening to her videos, all the way through, and actually using them for ASMR. “For me, a sassy/rude roleplay is definitely not relaxing!” Mak tells me. “But I’ve had people say they fall asleep to it”.
Santi Cardona is 30, from London, and says he watches LifewithMak videos, but isn’t an ASMR fan in a general sense. “I got into her because of the memes that were coming out of it. Then I ended up watching lots of them and found them very relaxing, to the point that I sometimes even put a video up as I am going to sleep.”
So is it a meme, or is it part of a sincere subgenre? The most interesting answer is; it’s both. In fact, one seems to beget the other. Virality is often thought of as something that can only generate fleeting fame, but trends like rude ASMR seems to indicate it’s a currency that can be converted into more long-lasting forms of cultural impact. Look at what happened with Bhad Barbie -- her viral ‘cash me ousside how bow dah’ moment on Dr Phil has generated a rap career that’s being taken seriously by the media.
In 2014, when ASMR was still relatively unknown to the wider culture, College Humor made a hilarious parody video ridiculing the ASMR genre, in which a bank robbery roleplay escalates into a stabbing, complete with lots of nice crumpling of paper money. The video was obviously intended as a comical contrast to the hyper-relaxing roleplay scenarios in most ASMR videos, but only a couple of years later, we’re seeing apparently unironic videos of kidnap ASMR emerging. Parody and sincerity are increasingly interlinked.
It feels like these trends in ASMR are revealing to us just how thin the line is becoming between memes and genuine content, between absurdity and reality. We usually think of memes as snapshots plucked from TV shows, music and films and reframed for comical purposes. But now we’re seeing time beginning to flow backwards -- memes are now spawning whole genres of sincere content. Culture used to create memes; now memes create culture. It seems illogical, but, as immersed in the internet as we are, is it really any surprise that this flow is no longer going in just one direction?
Fred’s Voice ASMR (the aforementioned rude bearded barber) is one of the originators of the rude sub-genre and he says the demand for this type of video exploded quickly. “I was shocked to see a Rude ASMR Barber shop video of mine I created only five months ago surpass 1M views. I think these types of ASMR videos have probably become the most popular on my channel,” Fred tells me.
“People interact with the video's jokes in the comments and the viewers seem to respond to its success,” Fred continues. “The whole basis of these types of ASMR videos is for the viewer to connect with this character then come up with their own ideas where they'd like this character to be in the next ASMR video whilst thinking about the humour side as well as the relaxing nature of that scenario. So it's very much a collaborative process.”
It’s a new level of escapism where we lose ourselves completely in the absurd while pretending to ourselves we’re not even doing it. In 2018 the political world crumbles around us so is it any surprise that we’re slowly turning our entire lives into a meme? Is it any surprise that we want to climb into the screen?