Over the past decade, ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) has emerged from whisper-quiet corners of the Internet to become a bullhorn of speculation on the human sensorium. Many consider its sonically induced “tingling” to be an entirely novel, and potentially revolutionary, form of human corporeality—one surprisingly effective in combating the maladies of a digitally networked life: insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Complicating these claims, this article argues that ASMR is also neoliberal repackaging of what Marx called the reproduction of labor power. Units of these restorative “tingles” are exchanged for micro-units of attention, which YouTube converts to actual currency based on per-1,000-view equations. True to the claims of Silvia Federici and Leopoldina Fortunati, this reproductive labor remains largely the domain of women. From sweet-voiced receptionists to fawning sales clerks (both of whom are regularly role-played by ASMRtists), sonic labor has long been a force in greasing the gears of capital. That it plays a role in production is a matter that ASMRtists are often at pains to obscure. The second half of this article performs a close reading of what might be considered the very first ASMR film: Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Through this film, the exploitative dimensions of ASMR can be contrasted with its potential for creating protected spaces of financial independence and nonnormative corporeal practices.
Wages for Soundwork: ASMR as Reproductive Labor
Joshua Hudelson (“Wages for Soundwork”) is postdoctoral fellow at Orient-Institut Beirut, where he writes about the history and sounds of Lebanese dance music culture. His book project, Spectral Sound: A Cultural History of the Frequency Domain, was supported by a Mellon/ACLS fellowship. Beyond his scholarly work, he develops original sound synthesis algorithms for making computer music (see https://github.com/joshuahudelson/Statfeed). In 2016 he was a co-recipient of the Louis Braille “Touch of Genius” Award from National Braille Press for his work on a suite of interactive digital games for facilitating Braille literacy education. He has taught at the American University of Beirut, New York University, The New School, and the Migrant Community Center of Beirut.
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Joshua Hudelson; Wages for Soundwork: ASMR as Reproductive Labor. Resonance 27 July 2020; 1 (2): 191–210. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/res.2020.1.2.191
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