Trailer Reaction Videos Were My Cultural Comfort of 2018

This year, I’ve found myself obsessed with a YouTube genre that has put me in touch with emotions so powerful they almost frighten me. I’m talking about trailer reaction videos: videos of other people watching movie trailers.

I might be alone here, but I’m hoping not. At least, I’m hoping that I can explain what it is that has made them such a refuge in 2018. It’s a little difficult to put into words, so it might be easier if I show you.

Let’s start with this video from the annual Star Wars Celebration 2015, which was surreptitiously (and, I suspect, illicitly) taken when the first official trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was debuted before an audience of screaming nerds. The quality is poor and the audio is fuzzy, but you can make out director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy’s introductory chatter, and the actual trailer starts around the 0:47 mark.

This video is, and I say this without hesitation, one of my favorite things on the whole entire internet. I’ve watched it dozens of times. Sometimes during a lunch break, when I’ve got an hour to myself and I forgot my book at home. Sometimes in the middle of the day, when deadlines are piling up and I need a few seconds to ease the tension at the base of my neck. Sometimes late at night, when sleep won’t come and Twitter has nothing to offer except bad news, I pull up this video and let myself sink into a world that feels so unfamiliar it’s almost sci-fi in and of itself: a world in which people — lots of people — allow themselves to be purely, unironically, unreservedly delighted.

I’m not a huge Star Wars fan — at least, not on the scale of Star Wars fans. I like the movies (the good ones, at least) but this video stirs something in me that transcends fandom. At the 1:24 mark when our clandestine videographer gives a jittery little “hoo hoo!” at the sight of Darth Vader’s mangled helmet, I feel a physical warmth in my guts. The ecstatic cheer at the kicker reveal of Han Solo and Chewbacca makes me, no joke, weep with joy. I’m crying right now!

That video isn’t a true trailer reaction video, but it was my introduction to the joy of trailer reaction videos. It was where I first discovered the voyeuristic comfort of watching other people enjoy things they loved. In a world where I and most people I know feel compelled to qualify their reactions and erect some emotional distance between themselves and their fandoms, trailer reaction videos capture sincere moments of wonder. It feels like an intimate experience, seeing someone’s naked thrill, and it’s been a balm this very difficult year.

I generally love everything the guys (and occasional girl) over at Struggle Nation post, but I especially love this reaction to the Black Panther trailer. This fits the more typical trailer reaction format, in which you can actually see the faces of people taking it all in. My face isn’t big enough to contain the smile this video puts on it. The trailer starts around 1:38 (note, there’s a brief expletive in the video).

I love it. The little thrill at T’Challa and Shuri’s handshake at 2:25. The whoop so loud the audio peaks at 2:34. The “stop playing with me!” at 3:41. It feels empowering, somehow, to see other people get this excited.

It’s enviable too. I love the Marvel movies, but do I love them this much? Do I love anything this much? When was the last time I allowed myself to fully embrace the excitement and thrill of anything? To stop being cynical and analytical, only for two or three minutes, and just let Hollywood do its thing? Is that even possible for me anymore?

To answer that question, I dive a little deeper. Without a doubt, one of the best trailer moments of the past year came at the tail end of the Christopher Robin teaser, when Jim Cummings’ Winnie the Pooh voice returned with a one way ticket to your childhood. It’d take a pretty cold customer to not feel at least a little bit warmed by the moment, as Caiterpillar was here.

Trailers are a gamble. It’s not hard to make a bad movie look good when you’re only selecting its most appealing 90 seconds or so. That makes getting excited about a movie based on a trailer a risk, and it’s one many of us take only cautiously — barely daring to hope this thing might be as good as it looks. After all, we’ve been let down before.

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Take, for example, 2017’s live action Beauty & the Beast remake. The movie was serviceable at best, but the first teaser had a special magic to it that tapped into lovely eeriness of the original film. The aching quality of Alan Menken’s score burrows deep into the brain’s nostalgia centers, but the couple here feels like a real conduit for things I can’t quite allow myself to feel. When Vanessa’s eyes get glassy at a glimpse of the rows of melting candlesticks, she expresses an earnestness I’d like to feel more often. Seeing other people visibly appreciate something lets me know that it’s ok. It’s ok to still love things unreservedly. It’s ok to hope that something might be good.

That these three trailer reactions all came from Disney movies speaks to some of my conflicted feelings here. The company has an unprecedented cultural reach, and their nigh-oligharcal control over what we watch is problematic to me, but watching these videos, I feel two things can be true at the same time. Disney is cynically milking nostalgia on their way to get access to our checkbooks and increase their dominance over what we call pop culture but is often just mass consumerism. And at the same time, this video of these men who I will never meet and may have virtually nothing in common with is every bit as thrilling as any moment in the actual trailer for Avengers: Infinity War.

Millennials get dinged for being too sarcastic, and that’s not an unfair critique. But sarcasm often stems from a wound, and a wound common to millennials is a world that has turned out to be much colder and crueler than the one many of us believed we’d inherit. That can breed an understandable distrust of things that seem to be good: the job market, grand career aspirations, marriages, politics. We’ve all had dreams deferred at this point, and it makes getting excited about anything, let alone a dumb Disney movie, feel foolish.

But in trailer reactions, if only for a few minutes, we see people who’ve tabled their cynicism for anticipation and their suspicion for glee. It’s a peek into a world that may not be safe to live in for prolonged periods of time, but in the occasional visit has let me see something I don’t see enough of in the world around me. Something I’d like to cultivate more of in my own life: hope.

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