Reacting to Reaction Videos

You’ll have to forgive me today. Last night, I foolishly succumbed to Youtube until well after midnight. I don’t know what to say. It was shameful.

I know exactly how it happened. I was shutting down for the night when I briefly browsed Youtube, wondering if there’s been any news about AMD’s Zen 3 processors… Yes. I really am that boring. Only, the algorithms had other ideas. They’d spotted that I’m a Leonard Cohen fan, so they offered me the chance to watch a “Reaction” video, which is as boring as it sounds. It’s a video of somebody reacting to music for the first time.

It sounds immensely pointless until you begin to watch them. If you like an artist like I like Cohen, you do wonder how people will respond. That’s especially true of the song “You Want It Darker”, which is one of his bleakest but best tracks from his final album, which came out just a week before he died. It had been recorded in difficult circumstances. He was in constant pain and recording songs at home, literally, line-by-line. So, it’s not just a song that you’re meant to like or not like, but a song that goes considerably deeper. Would a listener hearing it for the first time recognise any of that?

I’m not going to link to the reaction video because that was just the beginning. I then I clicked on another link that took me to the channel of a Christian couple who had such a passion for music in that they’d made hundreds of videos, but not so much a passion that they knew anything about music.

And I mean: they did not know a thing.

Look, I know I have huge gaps in my musical knowledge, which are routinely exposed on the podcast, but this couple looked like they were in the thirties yet didn’t know that John Lennon was dead. They speculated about interviewing him about Imagine.

They’d never heard Bohemian Rhapsody…

Ditto The Beatles.

They claimed to be into heavy metal (not something I listen to) but when they watched a video by Tenacious D (who I do quite like) they were surprised when Jack Black turned up… Jack Black being both an actor and the lead singer of Tenacious D…

They didn’t understand punk and wondered who the Queen was in 1977…

I could go on but perhaps I’m overlooking the obvious trick. Their ignorance kept me watching.

Compulsion is something I’m constantly thinking about in one way or another. What compels us to carry on listening to a song or watching a video. More important to me: what keeps us reading a story? I’ve always been fascinated by the structure of things; the way, for example, Tolkien interleaves the different narratives in the later books of The Lord of the Rings, ensuring that the reader is always bouncing between two unresolved narrative. The nature of unresolved things seems essential to most art. We talk of music that resolves back to the root note. Our brain can’t handle things that are left…


We have to carry on and see unbalanced things rebalanced. It’s like when somebody knocks on a door with that familiar knock that pauses before the knock twice more. We feel psychologically incomplete until we hear those two additional knocks. It even applies to visual arts. The Mona Lisa isn’t grinning like an idiot. Nor is she sulking. She’s got that semi-smile that isn’t resolved and leaves people wondering about its meaning. So many great paintings set up tensions that are compulsive to look at because we are always seeking to see the tension resolved. It’s even the essence of most jokes that ask a question. All laughter, when you think about it, is a release. It’s all about the resolution.

I’m not sure what this has to do with Reaction videos except, perhaps, it’s the sense that we watch them hoping to resolve a world that doesn’t share our views. We keep watching in order to see our own values reaffirmed. It’s like sharing a music with a friend so they can appreciate it and the sense of betrayal when they can’t see what you see.

Okay, you say, you didn’t like that but surely you must like this…

Don’t you?

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It’s a cool domain name and it was available. Yes, I know. Available. Crazy, isn’t it?


Yes. It also helps that it’s also my favourite satire written by Alexander Pope, one of the most metrically pure English poets who also knew his way around a crude insult or two. If you’ve not read it, you should give it a try.

So this is satire, right?

Can’t deny it. There will be some. But it’s also an experiment in writing and drawing, giving work away for free in order to see how many people are willing to support a writer doing his thing. It’s the weird stuff that I wouldn’t get published elsewhere in this word of diminishing demands and cookie-cutter tastes.