Here's the Thing
A still from Netflix's reboot of She-Ra showing Catra and Adora being moody on a bridge at sunset.

Why I Watch YouTube Reactions

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #173. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.

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I’ve written at length on all sorts of movies and shows that I have an immense fondness for. From FLCL to Futurama; 2014’s Godzilla to 2015’s The Muppets; Netflix’s She-Ra and Apple’s Ted Lasso. But here’s the thing: Without fail, there’s always one universal constant for me among every single one of these pieces of media – no matter what they’re about, how high they rank on my personal favorites list, or whether or not a portion of the people involved turned out to be complete pieces of shit.

What’s this have to do with watching any of the locust plague’s worth of react channels on YouTube? Stick with me. These channels are seemingly more prolific than anime music videos, cute animal bloopers or hour-long diatribes about the evils of wokeness (I’m making it a point here to note that was rolling my eyes while typing that last part).

Admittedly this could be The Algorithm tailoring itself to my interests – while regularly trying to sneak in some bullshit anti-feminist or transphobic garbage, because YouTube – but my point is there are a lot of these types of channels, and they almost always do numbers. If not in subscriber counts (though a lot of the ones I’ve seen or subscribed to tend to balloon astronomically all the time), then individual video views. People love this shit. I love this shit.

But why, though? Why is watching someone else watching something I’ve usually already seen (often multiple times) so alluring? Why do any of us care? I think the reason ties back into what I was saying about my favorite films and shows.

That one thing I mentioned that all of that stuff has in common? I wish I could experience them for the first time all over again.

The quaint, cottage-like Owl House from the series that shares its name.

Of course, time and the human condition doesn’t typically work that way, so I can never go back and watch the series finale of Avatar with fresh eyes. I can’t be left shocked and dumbstruck at the end of the second season of The Owl House. There’s no more mystery over what happens to Adora and Catra in She-Ra’s final episodes.

I’m out of first times for all of them, but not everyone else is.

React videos, as eye-rolling as the concept can be (and is, if I’m being honest), are a way for me to relive these moments for the first time by proxy. It’s not exactly the same, sure, but seeing someone else burst into tears during that one part (if you’ve seen it, you definitely know what I’m talking about) of “The Tales of Ba Sing Se” hits almost as hard as when it originally blindsided me. Watching a YouTuber scream in excitement when “Now eat this, sucka!” (again, if you know, you know) makes a comeback in The Owl House is just about as thrilling as it was on that first watch. It’s basically akin to the joy of sharing something you love with a friend or family member, but now it’s a stranger on the internet sitting in front of a camera.

Chances are I’ll never lose my distaste for how often a lot of other worthwhile work falls through the cracks while reactions always seem to have The Algorithm’s proverbial ear, even though I watch a whole lot of them myself quite regularly. But I do feel like I understand their consistent popularity. It’s one of the few ways we can really revisit those special “it’s only new once” moments, and since there are so damn many of these channels, we can usually vicariously watch something for the first time over and over again. It’s annoying, but it’s also kind of magical.

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Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved nerdy stuff since the 80s, from videogames to anime to Godzilla to Power Rangers toys to Transformers, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them all. He’s also editor for the Games section of Exploits! You can still find him on Twitter, Instagram and Mastodon.

 

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