Thursday, October 25, 2018

First Time Watching: First Time Hearing Videos

By: Ben Johnson

A thing people like to do on YouTube is watch videos of people who just got a cochlear implant reacting to hearing for the first time in their lives. Their eyes light up. They can’t believe it. They burst into tears. They are usually sitting in a chair in one of the extremely nondescript rooms where medical hearing tests are conducted.

These videos are weird but compelling and touching and emotional, and also highly controversial within the deaf community. Not to be a killjoy, but if you’re a hearing person who loves watching those videos, maybe read up about why plenty of people in the deaf community don’t feel the same way.

I’m not here to talk about those videos.

I’m here to talk about a newer, different kind of YouTube video. It’s a video with a name like “FIRST TIME HEARING reaction video blah blah blah,” and the “blah blah blah” part is an extremely popular song.

These videos are of a person, generally a person of color, watching and listening to a YouTube video of a song, generally of a piece of music created by white people, like Tool’s “Sober,” or Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” or Disturbed’s rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.”

Definitely all of the people who are uploading these videos, for whatever reason, have reacted to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

What is the typical arc of this newer YouTube video subgenre?

Usually the person in the video asks you to subscribe to their YouTube channel, puts on the video of the song, nods along to it, and then talks about what they’ve heard.

Quamax really took the meat pipe from the Tool "Sober" video in stride

These YouTubers pretty much always find something to like about the song they just heard, even if it was utterly (and here I am being subjective) irredeemable, like a live rendition of Staind’s “Open Your Eyes.” They never go, “Oh wait yeah, come to think of it, I have totally heard this song in every grocery store and CVS I’ve ever been in during the last 30 years.”

Here’s what I like about these videos:

  • They are funny. Not in a “ha ha ha” way, but in that way where something is mostly odd but also kind of funny.
  • These are people, again, usually people of color, who are entrepreneurially working to monetize the YouTube platform by doing a very specific thing that takes advantage of people’s apparently limitless appetite both for cochlear impact reaction videos and fairly dumb but nonetheless extremely popular rock songs made by white people.
  • Kind of soothing?
  • Nobody’s getting hurt.
  • Actually, it would be funny if these videos somehow got more popular than both cochlear implant videos and every available non-reaction version of Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly.”
  • It would be great if it’s all bullshit and these people have totally heard these songs before.
  • It’s fun to imagine the kind of person who’d care whether a stranger has previously heard “Bohemian Rhapsody,” or be emotionally invested in video proof of that no longer being the case.

Here’s what I don’t like about these videos:

  • They aren’t as funny as they could be. They’re mostly pretty boring. I am sensing there's not yet a master of the young genre. I could be wrong.
  • There’s some very complicated cultural forces at work in a phenomenon when you’re a white person like me, and you’re watching a person of color listen to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” for what they profess is the first time, and then when they’re done they don’t really do anything except agree that it’s pretty good, and that’s a thing you like to watch?
  • Like people subscribe to this?
  • Are the people in these videos kind of… are they… basically renting their brains out to the highest bidder, and that bidder is an algorithm?
  • Is that what the internet is now?
  • Is this a bad racial thing, am I bad for thinking that, or am I completely stupid for even being confused about the relative racial goodness or badness of this phenomenon?
  • Maybe people are getting hurt. Maybe this yet another symptom of a deep, pervasive, unrecoverable hurt — of the slow heat death of human dignity. Of people entertaining machines because it’s worth more money than entertaining people. Maybe everybody’s very hurt, and everything’s broken, and we’re all living in some weird bonus time where everything’s recognizable but seemingly detached, like a normal-seeming world on the other side of permanent kaleidoscope glasses.
  • Why are there people in the world who haven’t heard all 9 minutes of “Bohemian Rhapsody” enough times, and who, through YouTube comments suggestions, also want to make sure everybody else has listened to it, all the way through, at least once?
  • What if these videos are 100% genuine, and exposing a whole new generation of excited fans to mediocre rock, and I have to feel alienated by prevailing tastes all over again, well into my 40’s?

Final analysis:

I am now nearly a decade older than most people who are alive in the world. I don’t know about YouTube things. I don’t really want to know about YouTube things.

This is probably fine. It’s probably not even really a thing. I probably don’t even know how to tell the difference between a thing and a non-thing anymore.

You should, if you watch YouTubes often, absolutely subscribe to all of the channels where people do this, including Lost In Vegas, King KTF, Joey Reacts, AFRO REACT, QuamaxReacts, DO LEGACY, Got Flava Reacts, TooFunnyTerrell and any others you run into. Unless any of them are bad in a way that I am not willing to research, in which case, don’t.

I will be fine. We’re all going to be fine. (We’re totally totally not going to be fine, but THAT will be fine).

Also, this is the best one I saw: