A Trip to the ASMR Barber

As I have perused and abused YouTube for many years – I no longer maintain an account since Google+ took over – I came across the all-time greatest video which is Baba, the cosmic barber in Pushkar, India. If you haven’t seen it or even heard of him, wake up and check him out! Ironically, his videos led me to a niche genre of videos called ASMR, which are intended for relaxation and putting you back to sleep. 😛

So, what is ASMR? As any of the professorial-types will explain in their videos, ASMR is an acronym for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which is characterized by the shiver you get down your spine or the tingle around your head or ears when you are getting something like a haircut or some other activity that typically involves personal attention. And “tingle” is a word that gets used over and over with those who make and comment on these videos.

What is an ASMR video like? Well, as I mentioned, a typical video involves some type of personal care activity where the “ASMRtist” is performing a comforting action for you. Many of the videos are done in low tones and some are merely relaxing sounds – those aren’t what I want to describe today; today I want to look at the difference between what I believe makes a watchable video and then those I wish were watchable – or, at least, not so flawed.

As I said, a haircut is one of the simulated activities that predominates the ASMR category and I rather prefer those since I do get that ASMR tingle effect from actual haircuts.

But these aren’t real haircuts – they’re play-acted, or “role-played” – which means there is going to be some bad acting which can lead to distraction, and distraction is a bad thing for ASMR.

Some of the amateurishness of these videos may not be from the acting itself but from lack of preparation on the part of the performer: not having the necessary items or implements on-hand and searching for them on-camera, or when someone performing as a “doctor” gets into some medical jargon and you can tell right off they haven’t got the slightest clue what they’re talking about, or even something as curiously evident as not having practiced the speaking part and doing a poor job of ad-libbing or improvising. I mean, no one twisted their arms to do these or that they had to be impromptu, how could they have not prepared what they were going to say? Not all of them are like this, but when they are, it’s obvious! Some other little points of duh would be giving a haircut without having a comb and blowing “hair clippings” or makeup from the viewer’s face – definitely a no-no in real life!

So, let’s get our haircut! I won’t mention any particular ones, but I do prefer the ladies, so let’s find one of those. Many of the female ASMRtists are attractive – some especially so – but that’s not really a prerequisite as it’s the voice that usually carries the day. What I have noticed about the haircut videos – and this is across-the-board typical with few exceptions – is how unrealistic they are! Let me explain:

Normally, the ASMR video will start out with the woman acting as a receptionist to confirm your appointment. Sometimes these conversations involve some chit-chat to set the tone but sometimes they go on and on – some lasting for up to five minutes! Sometimes the “barber” will do this part and can get into a painstaking explanation of every little detail from what implements will be used to the types of shampoos and conditioners employed. At this point, you will notice something that happens in every – and I mean every – ASMR video where something is being displayed for the viewer: the drumming of the fingers on the object – the “tapping”, as it’s called. Personally, I find this very annoying and unrealistic and certainly not “tingly”, but some people get off on that which brings me to another thing about ASMR videos: commenters will express their desires for certain things, like more tapping, that I find kind of gross and creepy. “I want more tapping… oh, yeah, that’s right, babe… OH, YEAH! That’s good… Oh, so many tingles! That’s so good… I’m melting…” Just the idea that there are some folks out there making these things into something akin to a foot fetish convention is unnerving. What I really appreciate in a good ASMR video is that it seeks to replicate the real-life experience, not cater to some weirdness. If my barber talked to me in a baby voice and told me she was going to cut my hair with scissors and then hold up a bottle and say she was going to wash my hair with shampoo while tapping it, I’d slap the thing out of her hands and scream, “Five minutes of this and you haven’t cut a single hair on my head? You just lost your tip!” Yeah, sounds like I need some relaxation, so back to the show…

From the viewer’s perspective, the barber will typically be centered in-frame and ask silly questions like, “is it okay if I get close to you?” Well. sure, unless you have freak arms and can cut my hair from across the room with your telescopic vision. 😛 So, they move in and will normally start cutting from this position:

Yep, there she is!  How could you not let someone this happy put a straight-razor across your throat? Drawing by James Montgomery.  ©2014 James Montgomery Studios

Yep, there she is! How could you not let someone this happy put a straight-razor across your throat?
Drawing by James Montgomery. ©2014 James Montgomery Studios

I think that it doesn’t dawn on people – and certainly not the performers – that no haircut in the world has ever been given like this unless the barber was sitting in the lap of the client!Haircut 3

You see, we have these things called “legs” and they get in the way of people standing directly in front of us if we are in a barber chair. Every haircut is administered from the side or, at least, a 3/4-view from the client’s perspective. Nevertheless, this is how the overwhelming majority of the haircut videos are done and many of the female ones look like this:Haircut 1

And occasionally this:Haircut 2

I can appreciate those scenes, all the while listening to scissors clipping wildly at my virtual hair in a way no barber ever cuts hair. Naturally, to combat the unwelcome exposure (and the comments that come with it), some women will make a point of holding their hand in a strategic point so that we are stimulated in the way intended and not because our hormones got interested.

Another aspect to all of this is the introduction of binaural microphones. Now the ASMRtist can direct their sounds to only one ear and get that kind of audio isolation one could only find on an old Led Zeppelin LP. As a result, the performer will often lean to one side, out of frame, and whisper something that is completely inappropriate for the “real-life” experience I alluded to earlier. If my barber did that, it would be met with a firm “knock it off, willya?”, but on the ASMR video it’s just warm fuzzy sonic nuzzliness.

Of course, this is the area where sounds, binaural or otherwise, start getting into areas that are inconceivably dumb to me. There are many, many videos incorrectly labeled as “inaudible” when what is intended is really “unintelligible”. These videos are typically someone saying gibberish at a very low volume, but it can be heard, so it is not “inaudible”! The widespread misuse of this term tells me that no one is taking the time to think about the words they are using and that pisses me off besides not liking these types of videos! These and the “whispering” videos are extremely annoying because they are frequently little more than “psst…psst…psst” and have all the tingle-inducing allure of a mosquito or house fly that just won’t leave you alone. Why people enjoy them is hard to fathom.

Another really bad sub-genre of ASMR is the “eating” or “mouth sounds” video. These videos sound alike, so I lumped them together, although the “mouth sounds” could be put into the “unintelligible” category. But these are what you think they are: smacking and crunching and slurping. These videos are just gross and, dare I say, stupid. Where I come from, this is called “bad manners”. It’s impolite to chew with your mouth open not only because nobody wants to see it, nobody wants to listen to it, either! Disgusting videos and they are presented as if they are some kind of treat! There is not a woman on the earth – not even Monica Bellucci – who could attract me by chewing her food so I could listen to it. There was that old line my fourth grade teacher used to say about people who chew gum looking like cows… Girls, there is nothing cute or soothing or ASMR-y about sounding like Jabba the Hut. For those who like it, damn…

Naturally, over the course of time, these ASMRtists had to keep finding new things to roleplay and the videos are ofttimes more about the roleplay and less about the ASMR. You have videos actually insisting there is something soothing about going to the dentist! Seriously? All I have to say about that is not in a million years will going to the dentist ever be anything that I will find comforting!

Check it out for yourself and see what you like and what crosses those boundaries of weird. ASMR is definitely a matter of “different strokes for different folks”. There’s make-up stylists, sci-fi adventures, tarot readings, and reiki affirmations, so you will probably find something you’ll enjoy in something you never knew existed until now!  As for me, I still get a thrill watching the All-Blacks rugby team do the haka!

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