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.

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