The Effect of Affect: An Ethnographic Exploration of the Commodification and Sexualization of Affect Through the Lens of the ASMR Community
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Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a physiological response in the form of a tingly feeling on the head, neck, and back. ASMR is produced through the affective power of external sensory triggers such as whispering, tapping, roleplaying of caregiving professions, and personal attention. The ASMR community creates and shares videos on the social media platform YouTube intended to stimulate ASMR. On YouTube, ASMR has become increasingly popular, and creators of ASMR videos have been able to monetize their videos. Because of the intimate, interpersonal nature of ASMR, the phenomenon is regularly perceived as sexual by outsiders of the community. The thesis explores how community members contribute to the sexualization and commodification of affective experiences such as ASMR on YouTube. The researcher has created ASMR videos and managed the ASMR channel AnthroSMR as a form of participant observation. ASMR community argues that ASMR is a non-sexual experience, but at the same time, sexual elements are often incorporated into ASMR because ‘sex sells’. The commodification of affective experience is possible through the introduction of alienating components, such as sex. While affect is not inherently alienating, the interplay with sexualization estranges both viewer and creator from ASMR as a non-sexual experience. The ability to employ and perform sexualizing behaviors in ASMR becomes both a source of alienation for affective laborers and consumers and a resource of exploitation for financial benefits. This thesis sheds an anthropological lens on the ASMR community and suggests the relevance for anthropologists to use affect as a framework to analyze contemporary forms of affective experience such as ASMR.