Home Cyberpsychology & Technology Reaction Videos Use Gestures and Effects to Mock Wokeness in Online Cultural Wars, Finds New Study

Reaction Videos Use Gestures and Effects to Mock Wokeness in Online Cultural Wars, Finds New Study

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The digital age has brought about diverse forms of communication, with YouTube reaction videos emerging as a significant genre blending commentary and response to various media content. These videos form a unique subculture with distinct norms and practices, playing a crucial role in shaping viewer attitudes and fostering a sense of community.

A recent study explores how impoliteness is conveyed in YouTube reaction videos targeting transgender activism, revealing the complexities of online cultural wars. The findings were published in the journal Discourse, Context & Media.

The research addresses a gap in scholarly attention towards YouTube reaction videos, especially those reacting to ideological activism. By employing a social semiotic discourse analysis, the study examines how reaction videos review the activism of the transgender community on TikTok. It highlights the multimodal expressions –gaze, gestures, facial expressions, and audio-visual effects – used to convey impoliteness and a sense of superiority over the target.

The study reveals how reaction video creators employ various non-verbal and technologically enabled modes to express impoliteness. These modes include:

  • Gazes and gestures. Creators often use intense stares, eye-rolling, head shaking, and exaggerated face-palming to convey disapproval and mockery. For instance, sequences of gestures, such as turning the head away while covering the forehead, indicate deliberate avoidance and disgust.
  • Facial expressions. Common expressions include looks of disdain, frowning, scowling, and sarcastic grins. These expressions serve as emblems with inherent meanings, contributing to the creators’ derisive narratives.
  • Audio-visual effects. Technological affordances like sound effects (for example, flatulence sounds to replace words) and visual alterations (such as blurring or shaking screens) enhance the impoliteness. The integration of static and moving images, such as memes and clips from popular shows, further amplifies mockery.

The sociocultural backdrop of these reaction videos is crucial for understanding their content. The study contextualises the videos within the broader landscape of online cultural wars, where traditional/conservative values clash with progressive/liberal values. This dynamic is particularly evident in discussions around transgender activism, which has become a focal point for both support and backlash.

Platforms like TikTok have emerged as significant spaces for activism, allowing marginalised groups, including the transgender community, to share their experiences. However, this visibility also attracts populist and divisive narratives, further polarising online discourse. The study notes how the term “wokeness,” originating from Black American racial activism, has been radicalised in online culture, often associated with virtue signalling and cancel culture.

The study sheds light on the multimodal nature of impoliteness in reaction videos, emphasising the need for further research into non-verbal and digitally mediated communication forms. The findings underscore how creators strategically use these modes to adhere to platform guidelines while still conveying potent ideological messages.

The research also highlights the importance of genre knowledge in interpreting multimodal relations, suggesting that viewers’ familiarity with reaction video conventions plays a crucial role in their understanding of the content. This awareness can enhance the persuasive impact of the videos, as creators leverage their cultural awareness and digital skills to engage their audience effectively.

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