This week on Trailaurality, we’re taking a step back from weekly analysis of a given trailer and instead giving the spotlight to a large and ever-growing phenomenon in the ever-evolving fan/producer relationship with trailers: reaction videos.
The so-called “react” genre is so lucrative, in fact, that YouTube creators Fine Bros (unsuccessfully) attempted to trademark the term “react” in 2016. A number of studies posit that at least part of the appeal of reaction videos stems from our capacity to empathize and relate to another’s experience. It’s this universality of experience, as Sam Anderson wrote for the New York Times in 2011, that binds an increasingly fractured society. In addition, there is a component of genuine surprise and delight that is missing in an ever-more deduced, scheduled, and predictable every day discourse.
Although reaction videos have enjoyed a surge popularity since at least 2007, it is only recently that trailers have entered the fray in a big way. There’s something about seeing, and indeed hearing, a response that seems to resonate much better in an age of comments. It separates the signal from the noise; creators of reaction videos are arbiters of taste as they graft, in real time, a critical appraisal of the trailer through their own performance. The voice, and sound (or lack thereof) are critical in terms of articulating aural representations of fandom commensurate to trailer itself as an audiovisual artefact.
Ecomog media group is just one such YouTube channel that has seen its popularity explode in recent years: view counts averaging five thousand jumped fifty-fold two years ago with their reaction video to the trailer for Batman vs Superman. The Reel Rejects, another YouTube channel, moved from self-described reviews of trailers and films five years ago (with view counts in the hundreds) to their first reaction video (to a trailer to Maleficent) garnering some twelve thousand views as of this writing, with the channel holding firm to the “reaction” genre since, their videos now regularly accruing views in the tens of thousands.
Of course, not everyone is enthused about the phenomenon. At Mandatory, Witney Seibold wrote in 2015 in an editorial that these reaction videos, in particular to trailers, are “an endless monument to merely immediate amusement… the phenomenon is a narcissistic one. It displays no actual honesty or creativity. It smacks of ego and commercialism.”
It is fair to observe that such videos are monetized and there is likely a motivation to monetize the genuine reaction of creators. It brings up worthwhile questions that nonetheless stretch beyond the confines of this blog post: to what extent can reaction videos serve as a genuine reflection of a broadly agreed upon emotional assessment of a trailer? What is the relationship and difference between a review and a reaction – is it semantics?
As trailers themselves can be thought of as cinematic paratexts, it seems that the audience reception, as a key element of the medial relationship, should meet and match the trailer with paratexts of their own in the form of the reaction video. What is for certain is that “react” videos aren’t going away, and they are an important part of the broader media landscape as an influential part of the trailer producer / audioviewer relationship.
– Curtis Perry