Ben Fields: Reacting, acting and interacting (Opinion)

Ben Fields

Ben Fields

Hey there. Member of Generation X, here.

Who are we? Well, we’re not people you would say “OK, Boomer” to, even though some of us have gray hair. Nor are we a group you would call “entitled millennials.”

I know the broadly unfair generalizations of the other two. Baby Boomers wigged out in the 1960s, then turned into corporate Republicans before evolving into fist-shaking “get off my lawn” types. Millennials were sold a false bill of goods on their future, blame the Boomers for killing the planet and would like to get more stuff for free.

So where does that leave Generation X? Well, we’re the ones most likely to tell you that we hate that name, and that the music you listen to sucks. Our insatiable hunger for nostalgia is the reason nothing from the ‘80s ever goes away anymore. Aside from that, I guess we’re kind of a bridge between the other two aforementioned generations.

For instance, I’m old enough to remember the first American video game — that thriller, Pong — but young enough to realize Fox News is appalling. I’m also young enough to spot broad social trends that perhaps aren’t marketed directly toward me but are fascinating nonetheless.

I’ll give you an example: reaction videos. No doubt, someone has already written a doctoral thesis on this topic, but this will be shorter, so stay with me.

What are reaction videos? Well, they come in many different forms, but, at their core, they’re videos on YouTube, Twitch or other social media platforms where the viewer watches someone watching or listening to something and reacting. Movie trailers and video games make up a large percentage of these types of videos, although the subject matter does cover a broad range.

This phenomenon blipped on my radar when the diabolical YouTube algorithm thought I would be interested in videos of younger people listening to older music from bands I like. Most claim to have never heard the material before, and go in with a preconception that it’s outside their own typical tastes. I clicked on a few, and, at first, I thought it was a pretty cool experience. Here are these people, listening to something I’ve loved for most of my life, and they’re won over and blown away by the same things that gripped my soul so many years ago. It’s almost like a way to vicariously hear things for the first time again.

Then I started to notice a few things. Almost every review is an ecstatic thumbs up. The person doing the reacting hardly ever says anything negative. You can tell they are maybe less enthusiastic about some songs or artists over others, but the takeaway is always how fantastic this whole thing is and how they can’t believe they’ve never heard it before. Also, most of the songs are “suggested” for a reaction video by “patrons” — viewers literally paying the social media personality to produce content. I would guess that makes a negative review less likely. I’m sure some folks are being genuine in their reactions, just as some are, in a sense, acting.

What finally dawned on me, though, is that listening to music you love and getting someone else’s take on it is something you used to do sitting around a stereo or an iPod speaker dock with your friends. And I’m sure people still do that, but reaction videos, really, are a type of social interaction replacement delivering that positive affirmation. There’s negative affirmation out there, too. If there’s a movie or video game you really hate, there are plenty of people online willing to fuel and justify your weird rage about a “Ghostbusters” movie with a predominantly female cast.

When this realization hit, it bothered me some. It seems like another example of how people are becoming more isolated by technology. But then, I figured, I’m rapidly aging out of the demographic that determines how people interact in today’s world. If they want to watch someone watching a movie clip or playing a video game or listening to some music, and it makes them happy without hurting others, that’s their right.

I’m not going to worry about or tell someone outside my sphere of responsibility how they should or shouldn’t spend their free time. That’s the Boomers’ job.

Ben Fields is the Gazette-Mail opinion editor. Reach him at 304-348-5129, or follow

@BenFieldsWV on Twitter.

Funerals for Sunday, February 16, 2020

Atkins, Linda - 3 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Call, James - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Hankins, Sara - 1 p.m., McGhee-Handley Funeral Home, West Hamlin.

Hensley, Joshua - 2 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Jackson, Jeffrey - 6 p.m., Lantz Funeral Home, Buckeye.

Jobe, Joe - 2:30 p.m., Sunset Memorial Park Mausoleum Chapel, South Charleston.

Johnson, Freda - 2 p.m., Kanawha Valley Memorial Gardens, Glasgow.

Ratcliff, James - 3 p.m., Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.