How did it begin, that otherworldly horn blast? That exclamation point. The ubiquitous sound that is present — it seems — in all trailers. All of them. Arguably with Inception, I'd say. One thing is for sure we can't get rid of the damn thing.
I'm talking, of course, about the "BWAHM".
Today there was a new trailer for Destiny. Present in this trailer, as you might expect, was the BWAHM. It led me to a question: why do all trailers use it? Why is it ever present? Why is it so effective?
I'd argue it's a combination of things.
To begin with the BWAHM is inherently dramatic. It's big, it's noisy. It grabs your attention. In the cinema in particular it rumbles through massive speakers and literally shakes the chair your butt is placed on. It alerts your brain — this is the thing you are supposed to remember. It almost adds something physical to help augment that memory, to make it easier to recall it. BWAHM is something you can literally feel in your bones, that makes it memorable.
But more importantly BWAHM is punctuation.
Of all the visual media we can imagine, the trailer is perhaps the one that relies most heavily on editing. In all trailers, editing is paramount. Trailers are cut intensive, they must be attention grabbing, they must tell a story, and they must do this — primarily — through the editing. In this sense the BWAHM is an easy shortcut. It's an editing template.
BWAHM... something explodes BWAHM... cut to reaction shot BWAHM... main character runs away from impending destruction BWAHM... slow motion look of concern as camera pans BWAHM... BWAHM... BWAHM...
We recognise this. You can imagine the trailer. You can almost see it. You can almost feel it. Because we are conditioned to the BWAHM. We sub-consciously understand the BWAHM. The BWAHM is comfortable. The BWAHM is easy. The BWAHM is a solid, simply-replicated means of communication that is universal. The BWAHM transcends. Language and cultural differences are crumbling obelisks in the face of the almighty BWAHM.
It's also a sign of the times. The BWAHM is a form of punctuation that fits perfectly into the ways in which we consume media. GIFs, six-second Vines — the BWAHM is a signal that splits a two-minute trailer into a series of GIFs. Trailers are typically silent during BWAHM sections. Silent like a GIF, silent like a Vine before you give it access to your eardrums.
The BWAHM is an invitation to GIF. "Here is the GIFable part of the trailer", it seems to say. This is the part you should be talking about, the part you should be sharing and discussing. In a world where attention spans are already too short to consume an actual two minute trailer, it cuts that trailer into a series of even shorter "moments", the kind of moments we like to talk about and gawk at in endless silent loops. The BWAHM is a shrunken down reflection of how we consume visual content in this day and age.
That's not a good thing or a bad thing, it's just a "thing". Much like the BWAHM itself.