Monday, April 27, 2015

A Reaction to Reaction Videos

A new "Star Wars" trailer came out recently, and it was warmly received by just about everyone with an internet connection.  I didn't think there was enough content there to write up a whole post about, and figured that the buzz around it would die down quickly.  Except it hasn't.  And now Disney's stock price has gotten a boost from all the attention.  And the mashups and analysis pieces are everywhere.  And then there are the reaction videos.

As the kids say, "So this is a thing now."  People filming themselves reacting to pieces of media now also constitute media available for our consumption in and of themselves.  Father Roderick Vonhögen, a Catholic priest, probably has the most widely circulated "Star Wars" reaction video at this point.  It shows him watching the new trailer, providing commentary, and reacting to the big moments with an infectious childlike excitement, including interjections like "Holy Cow!"  There are plenty of others if you poke around on Youtube, including helpful compilations of some of the best ones.  At first the thought of watching someone watching a trailer sounds strange, but it's easy to get sucked in.  Watching people's eyes light up when they see the fallen (Super?) Star Destroyer, or burst into tears when they see Han and Chewbacca can be as much fun as watching the trailer itself, because it helps reflect and magnify your own emotions. 

Similar reaction videos have been around for a while, though usually involving more negative reactions caught on camera.  Reactions to major deaths in prior seasons of "Game of Thrones" have been very popular.  A few involving small children and the the famous Darth Vader reveal from "The Empire Strikes Back" can be found with some digging.  Capturing shock rather than elation was the goal, allowing those who had already been through the same experience to relive the event through somebody else.  I think it's important to point out that it doesn't matter who's starring in these videos.  It's the candidness, honesty, and unfiltered emotion on display that are the biggest draws.  I've heard some comparisons made to watching reality television, as all the video uploaders are attention seekers to some extent.  However, I think reaction videos can also be classified as a variation on traditional communal viewing. 

Remember the legendary office water cooler at work where all of us supposedly used to congregate to discuss what had happened on our favorite shows the previous night?  There's still plenty of that kind of discourse going on through a million blogs and thinkpieces.  Heck, I'm blogging the last season of "Mad Men" as it airs.  However, it's harder to translate the more the immediate, visceral response to watching a movie or television show to the digital arena.  Watching a movie in a  theater with an audience, or even at home with friends is a very different experience from watching it alone.  I've been consuming the vast majority of my media on my own these days, and I do miss sharing the experience with other people.  I miss the near-instantaneous validation of laughing at jokes, groaning at bad puns, and wincing through action scenes with somebody else.
So I understand the appeal of the reaction video.  It's a new way to indulge an old impulse.  Heck, the reaction videos even make me feel more favorable toward the "Star Wars" trailer.  Having already been spoiled that Han Solo and Chewbacca would appear, I didn't think their appearance in the trailer was  a highlight.  Watching so many other people enjoy the surprise, however, got me to reevaluate their effectiveness.  With some tweaks, reaction videos could be an interesting new marketing tool.  It could also go bad very easily though.  I stress again that the genuine passion of these fans and their spontaneous creation of these videos are what make them so compelling.  They're also special because they're rare so far.  You're not seeing reaction videos for the new "Batman v. Superman" trailer in nearly the same numbers.

But that's a post for another day.

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