A petite young woman with pale skin and short hair braces herself for her next bite of food. A plate floats right in front of her mouth, with five finger-sized sauce-covered rice cakes (they look like tteokbokki, a popular Korean street food). She puts them side by side with her chopsticks and slowly guides them all into her mouth. You literally can to belong every bite, every chew that breaks down the rice cakes, every huff she makes as she tries to stop the sinus-relieving effects of the insanely spicy foods she eats. She talks into a small microphone to her right, with an earbud in her right ear, as people watch her consume more food than her stomach should be able to handle – but she does so with a cheerful demeanor and the occasional smile. These kinds of videos are called mukbang videos and believe it or not, they attract millions of viewers.
Mukbang combines the Korean word for “food” (muok-da) with the word for “broadcast” (bang song) and describes just that: online shows where people eat a lot in front of the camera. There are no gimmicks involved; no silly costumes, no nudity (as far as I’ve seen), and no shock value of people eating untold things. Mukbang videos simply follow one person as he or she follows an entire (and often big) meal. If you’re currently having eyebrows raised high in disbelief and judgment, you’re probably not alone, but dining shows are just one genre of online videos that allow audiences to indulge in relatively harmless fantasies about everyday activities like eating a big meal or going out on a shopping spree. .
Eating in front of an audience, getting paid in balloons
Some mukbang eaters have become stars. The craze started in South Korea, largely on the video website AfreecaTV. Mukbang stars, often referred to as Broadcast Jockeys or BJs (no kidding), make thousands of dollars a month just by dining on camera. This money is not based on advertising or sponsorship; it is donated by mukbang viewers in the form of “star balloons,” a type of virtual currency that can be exchanged for Korean won.
There are plenty of theories about why mukbang is so popular in Korea. One possibility is that the videos ease the loneliness of people in single-person households in this country. According to ABC News, single-person households are on the rise, accounting for about 26 percent of all Korean households. People watch mukbang so they feel like they’re sharing a meal with a friend, even when they’re home alone. Most of YouTuber Lalaloves’ videos are mukbang shows, and she told Ars in an email that her subscribers feel a deeper connection with her as mukbang feels like a one-on-one experience. “My subjects [subscribers] love them because they tell me they have someone to eat with and it seems like we are actually having lunch together,” she writes. “I love that I can help someone feel like they have a friend to eat with to eat. You may not think it’s important, but eating alone is no fun. Someone even told me they put me across the table like we were on a date.”
The videos can also help dieters live out their food fantasies without breaking the rules. Park Seo-Yeon, or “The Diva” as she’s known to mukbang enthusiasts, told CNN she’s gotten numerous comments from viewers telling her they saw her eating because they physically can’t wrap or pack two full pizzas in one sitting. feel good about it afterwards. “A lot of my viewers are on a diet and they say they live vicariously through me, or they’re hospital patients who only have access to hospital food, so they also watch my broadcasts to see me eat,” Park said.
Now, mukbang’s sauce, broth, and fat have made their way onto YouTube, where creators around the world are starting to upload their own food videos. Most serious mukbang BJs still breathe Korean partying, but YouTubers have also experimented with eating mountains of McDonalds, Ben & Jerry’s, KFC, and more. Searching for “mukbang” on YouTube yields over 200,000 results, with some of the most popular videos coming from YouTube personality Trisha Paytas (her video MUKBANG (Eating Show) – KFC/Fried Chicken has been viewed over 850,000 times). Much of the YouTube commentary comes from viewers who like to see people eat foods they would like to eat themselves. One of the comments on Paytas’ recent Fast Food Haul video came from user Julialalalaa, who writes, “living vicariously forever via Trish when she eats #jealously.”
Eat, shop, live: YouTube’s unabashed vicariousness
Making us live vicariously (and voraciously) by others is what YouTube does best. From house calls to follow-me-around vlogs, some of the most popular videos on YouTube simply show how other people live their lives. Arguably the most watched genre in this category is “pull” videos. Usually made by young female YouTubers, haul videos show the host carrying multiple, huge shopping bags somewhere in their house. Slowly they take each individual item out of the bags and show them to the camera.
There are pull videos for literally everything: books, video games, clothes, makeup, 99 cent store merchandise, and yes, food. In a way, mukbang videos are food transports: BJs often show the food on camera, sometimes including individual forks, before eating it. Plus, mukbang food just sits there, close to the camera, enticing viewers to grab a snack for themselves (or figure out how to invent Smell-O-Vision). It’s as much about the presentation of the food to the viewers as it is about the food – after all, the first feeling food satisfies is the sight.
But craving videos go beyond calorie freakouts. The most popular puffs fall into the fashion and beauty categories, and dedicated carriers will post a video or two every month of them gloriously in eyeshadow sets and ultra-cute outfits. However, this is not just about enjoying conspicuous consumption. The public wants fashion and makeup ideas from their favorite YouTubers, and there’s no better way to do that than to see what kind of stuff they buy. Anitra Pearson, lifestyle vlogger NitraaB on YouTube, told Ars via email that many of her viewers draw inspiration from the things she brings with her, whether fashion, beauty or home decor. “I always love the comments people leave when they say they discovered a new product or store because of my videos,” Pearson wrote. Indeed, 40 percent of viewers who watch haul videos visit the stores mentioned in the video.
There is also a strong social aspect to these videos. On AfreecaTV’s mukbang videos, BJs chat live with viewers while they eat, connecting with their fans in real time and making the video feel more like a personal dinner. In trek videos, YouTubers often talk about what they thought about when buying certain products; telling a funny story about what happened on a shopping trip; sometimes try things out right after opening them (this often happens with makeup swatches). Some YouTubers will also ask their viewers a question to encourage discussion in the comments section (“Let me know your favorite drugstore powder foundation in the comments below!”)
In that way, those videos offer an escape that is slightly different from the feeling you get while playing Dark Souls 3 or watch Steven Universe. As we’ve seen with reaction videos, relatability is key to YouTube’s success, and these videos offer a more realistic escape attempt than that of video games or animated TV shows. Watching something you could do it yourself, but should not for whatever reason, gives you a taste of that life without the consequences of actually living it. You’re probably not indulging in a five-course Korean barbecue dinner or a $500 Sephora shopping spree every other day, but you’ll at least have the satisfaction of knowing that someone, somewhere out there, is doing it for you.
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