Videos of viewer reactions to film and TV have been cropping up on Youtube for several years and I have always been fascinated with how they capture what, for me is the heart of the the cinematic experience: the power to manipulate our minds and emotions. Watching a grown adult shriek, cry, and laugh in response to artificial patterns of light and sound on a screen demonstrates the power film and TV have over us and why we seek it out as a source of entertainment, escapism, and emotion that in everyday life would be considered too extreme or dangerous.
I've been meaning to post on this topic for a while but had to act this week in response to the TV event that was the Game Of Thrones 'Red Wedding' (series 3, episode 9). For fans of the books, the events of this episode came as no surprise as they had already been traumatised by the shocking and brutal events when reading the third book in the series, 'The Storm of Swords'. *spoilers* For the fans of the TV series, subtle manipulation of plot events and characters by the producers of the series meant that fans of the show had no way of knowing the duplicitous nature of Walder Frey and what was about to happen in the episode. As the Stark's celebrate the wedding of Edmure Tully to one of Walder Frey's daughters they are brutally slaughtered by the Frey's and the Bolton's, swarn bannermen of the Starks who have secretly made an allegiance with their enemies, the Lannisters. Three of the main characters of the series are brutally killed in a matter of minutes: Robb Stark (the King In the North), his mother, Catelyn and Robb's new bride, Talisa who was pregnant with their first child. The brutality and graphic nature of the murders is shocking even to readers of the books who knew what was going to happen. For viewers of the series without prior knowledge of the events, the murders were..... well judge for yourself *end of spoilers*
The facial reactions, gasps, screams, and comments directed to the screen and to the person filming (who had obviously read the books and knew what was going to happen, filming their friend's/partner's/parent's reactions with sadistic glee) show how involved they are in the series and the characters. For a brief moment at least, they are as moved by the deaths of these fictitious characters as they are to the news of a friend's death. Emotionally, they are across the fourth wall.
Some other classic reaction videos are the reaction of children to the reveal at the end of Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father:
Not surprisingly most of the videos that are used to elicit these shocking reactions are either horrific, shocking, pornographic or sometimes all three at the same time. This brings me to the reaction videos that started the whole craze: People's reactions to '2 Girls 1 Cup'. I'm not going to say anything about the original video as it is too vile to mention but there are several reaction videos on-line from which you can infer the general events of the stimulus. Here are selection:
The whole gamut of human emotions are right there in those videos.