The Sabres hired Pat LaFontaine as their President of Hockey Operations today and I'm oddly pleased. Sure, LaFontaine was an Islanders great and I'm vaguely an Islanders fan, but LaFontaine played his last game in Uniondale a month before I was born. From a purely sports-related perspective there's no real reason I should have the regard for him that I do.
By the same token, there's no real reason the above, seemingly mundane clip of Pat LaFontaine at the doctor should have over 580,000 views on YouTube, which is 520,000 more views than any video of him playing hockey. Yet, these two seemingly inexplicable developments are related (brace yourself, this explanation gets weird).
The video is a trigger for a very specific physical reaction that certain people feel, usually called autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR. It's a neologism for a sensation no one can really explain. And as someone who experiences ASMR, let me tell you: Pat LaFontaine's cranial nerve exam is our crystal blue meth -- a pure and perfect high.
The vibrant ASMR Reddit community describes the feeling as "a physical sensation characterized by a pleasurable tingling that typically begins in the head and scalp, and often moves down the spine and through the limbs." They make the important distinction that there's nothing sexual about the feeling -- it's more like suddenly feeling awash in a wave of comfort. There's a hypnotic, defocusing quality, too. No pill can put me to sleep faster than watching a grainy recording of a hockey legend getting his reflexes tested.
"Pat LaFontaine Cranial Nerve test" hits all the buttons: It features a soft-spoken doctor and patient, a methodical examination, and lots of peripheral noise being picked up by the camera. Gentle instruction and soft noises are common triggers, which explains why ASMR folks treat Bob Ross's The Joy of Painting as a holy text. In fact, there's a whole cottage industry on YouTube -- no doubt launched in large part by the LaFontaine video -- of people (mostly young women) roleplaying cranial nerve exams like some kind of neuroporn. But for me, and many others, only the real thing draws a reaction.
For the longest time -- and I know this due to the embarrassing number of times I've watched it -- the LaFontaine video had disabled comments, in keeping with the policies of braline.org, the medical resource site that uploaded it. Recently, though, that policy changed. The video already has 185 comments, such as, "BEST ASMR VIDEO EEVER" from DJCoffeeBeatz or "I find that the videos made specifically for ASMR aren't very good. Like, a genuine examination like this is totally different from some chick or dude whispering in their room with the lights out" from JerrizleMcYo.
Some commenters highlight their favorite parts (personally, I like the sensation test on LaFontaine's palms). Other comments, presumably from Islanders or Sabres fans looking for highlight packages, are simply confused by the video's popularity. One respondent in particular provides a succinct oral history of the legendary trigger video:
I've been watching this clip for months. Always knocks me out. They disabled comments for ages, cos it was getting tons of hits from the ASMR community. Think it freaked 'em out a bit. I mean, it IS pretty weird.
I share in the realization of this weirdness, but it's especially weird for me, a hockey fan, as Pat LaFontaine has become one of my all-time favorite athletes for reasons I couldn't possibly explain over a call to my local sports talk show. It's at the point where looking at Pat LaFontaine's hockey card has the same calming effect most people get from images of bubbling streams or tropical beaches. Whether LaFontain's press conferences prove as soothing for Buffalo's righteously ticked off fans remains to be seen. I know I'll be watching (just kidding).