The reaction ecosystem
It goes beyond hot takes and rash tweets, nostalgia and tragedy porn is here for your viewing pleasure.
There’s something magical about introducing someone to media you love and getting to mainline their excitement, their reaction, and the chills. Those vicarious “first times” are addictive, especially when it means so much to you already. It’s easier to re-experience the brimming emotion when it’s tethered to someone else.
I’ve been That Friend, who pushes shows and artists and movies and books on people, and it’s not always welcome or appreciated. I got to do it recently with a visiting friend, introducing her to some of the last few years’ standouts—and discovering new layers in the content myself like the obsessive cinephile that I am.
But if we’re talking classics, new canon and other ubiquitous media content, it’s harder to find people in one’s sphere who are unfamiliar with it and for whom the media paratexts and cultural discussions haven’t set expectations—whether high or low.1
I don’t know anyone in real life who hasn’t seen When Harry Met Sally or hasn’t heard Hozier’s Take Me to Church and want to, which is an essential part of the equation. I’m not interested in coercing people to watch stuff, but when it’s right there, on YouTube… well. Who am I to resist?
YouTube is full of exactly such videos. Search for your favourite + reaction, you’ll find pages of (alleged) newbies with the foresight and entrepreneurship to document their first times for our benefit.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find compilation videos of particular scenes and plot twists, so you can go straight to the good stuff.
You may also be lucky enough to find a diverse array of perspectives: the rap fan reacts to Celine Dion, the editor or producer reacts to music videos, therapists analyze Fiona Apple and Promising Young Woman… tribal people, Canadians, pastors, Newfies, and so on. And then there are the setups, from the solo reactor to the couples, the siblings/twins and friends, and the fan and newbie combo. The options are endless.
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I’m being facetious, of course, these are all part of our “creator economy” and I certainly don’t hold it against any of these people who have built themselves a squad. But it is a reminder of how no content seems to exist without a call to action these days, where monetary support is the gold standard, with stat-pushing a necessary evil.
Even one of my favourite music reactors is now a Live Nation Ambassador, which is an inevitability considering their monopoly, but still a massive bummer considering their active role in hollowing out the live music scene and extorting music fans.
None of the work that goes through filming and editing these videos as well as maintaining the necessary online presence is done just because.
Audience capture is a problem, and so are the micro-fandoms that form around what seems to be an endless buffet of accounts. And these aren’t all just pop culture reactions, nor are they all staged set-ups.
For example, I was recommended the below video of Damien Rice performing in Spain, “reacting” to the news of Sinead O’Connor’s passing.
If you watch the video, you’ll see that Rice “finds out” because the audience is calling out O’Connor’s name, clearly prompting a response from Rice.
Were viewers drawn to the video because of him covering “Nothing Compares 2 U” or because they wanted to see that shock of insight, the weight of bad news being processed? Or was it all the algorithm, amplifying this video over the other, despite The Blower’s Daughter being one of Rice’s mainstream hits, that even had a movie tie-in?
Even if we are to dismiss the popularity of the Rice video as fans seeking to consume an unpractised, spontaneous, raw moment, there is plenty of demand for content about the worst of humanity.wrote about the rise of “snuff clips” but beyond the clips themselves—which I remember being a thing in my youth before social media was even a thing—the only difference is now we’re also watching others reacting to them. If anything could be called tragedy porn, surely it would be this.
I’m dreading what else will be showing up as time passes because for each suggestion that leaves me wondering why it exists in the first place, there will be plenty of viewers who are very interested. The demand is there, and these are not anomalies.
These are trends that would have passed me by entirely if it weren’t for my new nostalgia-comfort coma spiral. The desire to feel something predictable, to seek connection and community even through a one-way mirror… it’s addictive.