Editorial: Why Your Trailer Reaction Videos Are Stupid
Want to know what I thought of the last Star Wars trailer? Here’s a video of me reacting to the latest Star Wars trailer!
Heere is a brief history of reaction videos, taken from the website Know Your Meme, a resource for all internet-dwelling oldsters who are too crotchety to stay hip to the kid’s online lingo. Or maybe I should say “l1ng0.”: In 2006, a resourceful YouTube user posted a video of a young child reacting to an internet prank video called The Scary Maze Game The game is a typical internet prank. It starts like a simple old-school video game, but near the end of its 90 seconds, suddenly presents a closeup of a still of Linda Blair from the movie The Exorcist. Similar pranks are plentiful online.
The poor child who was watching the Scary Maze Game fell for the prank, and reacted accordingly. Of course the poor scared boy became a YouTube sensation, solidifying the notion that the bulk of popular YouTube videos (Numa Numa, Leave Britney Alone, David After Dentist, Star Wars Kid, Best Cry Ever, Friday, etc. etc. etc.) are based in schadenfreude. Have you seen this video? How embarrassing it must be for the person in it! Let’s all share it, and assure that the person featured therein will remain mortified for the rest of their lives.
I suppose I can understand the appeal of these embarrassment videos: They are undeniably genuine. The reactions we see in these videos are not faked in any way, and we can see people at their most vulnerable and honest. It’s just too bad that the trend started in the realm of mockery.
Luckily, the trend became introspective after a short while. By 2011, people were posting YouTube videos of kids reacting to Star Wars, and, more relevant to this editorial, filming themselves reacting to other YouTube videos. Indeed, it has now become a common staple of YouTube vloggers to post videos of themselves reacting to movie trailers for the first time. The New York Times even published an article on the “reactive videos” phenomenon a few years back in an article called Watching People Watching People Watching.
This is the most idiotic use of the website I have yet encountered. And I’ve watched numerous cute cat videos.
The Times article pointed out the frustratingly infinite regression of the internet. It exists as a reaction to itself. YouTube reaction videos are, in a strange way, the most honest and truest use of the internet medium. The internet, with its immediacy and its fleet abilities to proliferate information, is the hottest medium yet (in the McLuhan sense), and you, the viewer, are fed an immediate reaction. You get no information, but are offered raw emotion. It’s up to you to laugh at or with the people in question.
My initial reaction to the reaction video trend was one of confusion and disgust, but my opinion on the matter has not changed over some reflection. All reaction videos are stupid. The reaction videos built around movie trailers – the most popular subgenre of the form – are especially stupid.
These trailer reaction videos are, to put it frankly and perhaps a bit bluntly, a waste of time for everyone involved. I wonder what is meant to be accomplished by making these videos. What does your emotional (or perhaps unemotional) reaction add to the conversation about a trailer? I suppose it’s a way to display your enthusiasm for an upcoming film. We do, after all, live in a heavily marketed era wherein anticipation for an upcoming film is more important that the film itself. Would the new Star Wars film be as important if it were slipped into theaters with no ad campaign in late August? Of course not. Looking forward to the movie for months and months is part of the experience of watching the movie.
So I suppose the trailer reaction videos are meant to be an immediate review and/or commentary on the trailer’s place in the marketing firmament. It’s a way of reaching out to other who might feel the exact same way as you, and perhaps share meaningless conversations that consist of the phrase “I know, right?”
But how sad that our emotional reactions – the ones that we feel like share with the denizens of the internet – are based on an ad campaign. It’s an open display of how deeply you are manipulated by a commercial. Your reaction video is essentially another ad for the movie in question. I would love to see a trailer reaction video made by someone who watched the advertised film a year after the fact. The look may have transformed from bizarrely enthused tears and screaming to run-of-the-mill boredom or, at the very best, recollection of how much this now-forgotten film occupied your brainspace so long ago.
Trailer reaction videos are graceless. There is nothing creative, artistic, important, or interesting about them. They are not well-thought-out reviews, an intelligent conversation, or constructive criticism. They are built of that most dangerous time; the immediate emotional reaction.
I have reacted very strongly to movies in the moment, only to cool to them over time. The opposite has also happened, when I am left cold by a film, but become intensely interested through discussion and analysis. As a critic, it’s your job to put a film into a larger context, and perhaps temper your immediate reaction with a higher standard of judgment. To quote Roger Ebert: “Does it make a movie ‘good’ because you ‘like’ it? No, it doesn’t, and I have liked a lot of bad movies. It is helpful to separate one’s immediate amusement from more lasting standards.”
Trailer reaction videos are an endless monument to merely immediate amusement.
I should clarify something: Before I am accused of being a crotchety old man who thinks kids are getting “way too into” trailers, and you begin to get the impression that I am somehow standing in moral opposition to emotions, I will say this: It’s fine to have an honest emotional reaction to a trailer. It’s fine to weep when you see Chewbacca. I do not want to rob anyone of their enthusiasm. Marketing campaigns are insidious in the way they handle that enthusiasm, but your emotions are the honest, glorious part of the thing, and I encourage you foster your own anticipation as you see fit.
But why are you fucking filming it? And this is where the true stupidity comes in.
By filming yourself having an “honest” reaction, you are suddenly – by the very virtue of being observed – lending an air of disingenuousness to your reaction. Like in quantum mechanics, you are changing the results by measuring them. How can you have an honest emotional reaction when there is a camera 12 inches from your face? However honest your reaction may be, your honesty is undercut by the very fact that you want other people to watch it. You are no longer serving enthusiasm. You are serving yourself. You want attention. You are, like so many people on the internet, feeding your own vanity. Who cares what you think? Are you so venal to assume that people will find your “honest” reaction to a trailer to be somehow important?
No, the phenomenon is a narcissistic one. It displays no actual honesty or creativity. It smacks of ego and commercialism.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go record a podcast explaining my reaction to the newest movies.