Reddit user u/danrobards asked a question in the ASMR subreddit that I think bears repeating: Why is there such a strong presence of pseudoscience in ASMR? Energy healing, sage smudging, Reiki and even tarot cards are making ongoing appearances in a bevy of ASMR videos. Even ASMRtists such as Gentlewhispering, Heather Feather and ASMRrequests have made ASMR videos featuring these practices. Can ASMR be hurt by association with such practices?
It’s no secret that things like Reiki, sage smudging and energy healing are not exactly accepted by the scientific community, and often conjure up images of smooth talking New-Agers who seem light on real facts and heavy on aggressive sales techniques. I’ll admit my bias right now: I don’t believe in any of these practices. Tarot cards can be an excellent way to cast an introspective eye on your own life, but they aren’t predicting the future. Blowing sage around the room may possibly wipe out any bacteria in the air, but aside from being relaxing, won’t do much else.
You get the idea. Does ASMR stand to be hurt by those ASMRtists who feature these practices in their videos? ASMR is a young genre, one trying to make an impression on the world at large. In a way, it shares that same status that something like Reiki has. Are there an ocean of videos that focus on the mundane and leave out the esoteric? Of course, but those who come at ASMR with a critical or jeering eye will simply find more to point at and call out. And while most of us can shove off the accusations of being creepy, and shrug off the fight over sexuality in ASMR, there is some risk here this time. Cleaning crystals with smoke and smudging the room your cat died in is all in all harmless, but, in my mind, I cannot help but think of that New Age salesman. The kind of person that will charge a client thousands upon thousands of dollars for a ‘natural’ approach to whatever their problem might be. And when criticism comes up, they tell their client it’s totally wrong without really saying why.
I think it’s generally safe to say that no ASMRtist worth the title would honestly do that. ASMR is free, and viewers only pay when they want something custom made. And in all the videos I have watched, I’ve never heard an ASMRtist say that what they do to treat their depression, such as Gentlewhispering’s use of EFT tapping, is objectively better than what a psychiatrist or anyone else might offer. If they did, I’m pretty sure the community would come down on them- and with good reason. But my fear is that people who watch Rena Sage predict her video camera’s future will seek that out in real life and not just get bilked for a large amount of money they may not be able to afford. I fear they also might get sucked into other, less harmless ideas that might actually do them far more harm than good. Homeopathy is one that comes to mind. To quote the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health:
“Supporters of homeopathy point to two unconventional theories: ‘like cures like’—the notion that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people; and “law of minimum dose”—the notion that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness. Many homeopathic remedies are so diluted that no molecules of the original substance remain.” (emphasis mine)
I know most viewers of ASMR are not idiots. I also know that alternative medicine exists because the medical system that the vast swath of society accepts as legitimate can often make terrible mistakes. Isn’t ASMR riding that same wave of discontent? How many stories have we heard of ASMR being the golden ticket that finally helps someone get some sleep? Or provide them a way to lift themselves up from anxiety? But that wave of discontent, that inquisitive spirit that helped ASMR to exist also leads people to pursue ideas that don’t help at all — and serve as nothing more than as tools to rip people off.
But belief in these practices and potentially helping people get ripped off aside, some of my own favorite ASMR videos involve things like smudging, and Reiki. I’ve listened to Rena Sage’s tarot card video enough times to be able to recite the dialogue. As reddit user u/se1ze pointed out in the discussion I posted at the start the article, “It’s just some great personal attention and that’s my main trigger.” I also like to think that the inherent strangeness (to most viewers) of Reiki, sage smudging and crystal healing also helps bolster the feeling of personal attention. It’s not something we experience in real life, and it gives us more to focus on.