As you may have decoded from the hangul[i] in the title, today’s post focuses on a cultural trend from Korea as opposed to China.
简单地说, a Mukbang is a broadcasted live-stream (or sometimes pre-recorded) video of a person eating food whilst interacting with an online audience.
In Chinese it is common for two words to be combined to create a simplified meaning. Like 减压 (jian ya) meaning to ‘de-stress’, which combines 减少 (jian shao) meaning to ‘lessen’ and 压力 (ya li) meaning ‘stress’. Similarly ‘Mukbang’ combines the two words ‘meokja’, an already shortened word for the verb ‘to eat’; and ‘bangsong’ which means ‘to air’, to create the word ‘eating broadcast’.
Whilst Mukbangs have become a popular trend in Korea since the late 2000’s, watching people consume food via the internet may seem like a strange thing to engage in from a Western point of view. Of course there are also Koreans who find Mukbang quite confusing themselves; yet a friend of a friend told me that they watch Mukbangs simply because they are funny and watching other people eat also satisfies their hunger. Mukbangs are appealing to Koreans because their meals are culturally perceived as a social event with people often eating in large groups and verbally/physically expressing the taste of their food. Therefore watching people eat through a computer screen also compensates for the lack of social interaction for a person who may be alone. People have noted that it is common for people to watch Mukbang shows as they transition into a more Westernized solitary lifestyle, as it helps them experience the customary social atmosphere of mealtimes whilst living alone.
The most popular platform for presenting Mukbangs is on an internet channel called ‘Afreeca’ (‘any free broadcasting’), however some Broadcast Jockeys have branched out to Youtube and upload their shows to several portals to attract a bigger audience. Some hosts have started to broaden their genres and even film ‘cook-bangs’, shows where they film themselves cook as well as eat.
But are Mukbangs really just videos of people eating large quantities of food? Not always. The Mukbang host known as the ‘Broadcast Jockey’ does their best to interact with and entertain their audience by talking to and answering questions from fans. They also take requests from messages in their live video chat-rooms to eat more of a certain type of food, move closer to the camera, or to dance and be more expressive about the food tastes. What’s more, each Broadcast Jockey has a different style which attracts their own personal fans who can choose to support the Mukbangs by donating small amounts of money through virtual tokens that can be cashed in. If you would like to read about some of the top Broadcast Jockeys, I will leave a link at the end.
Some of the most popular Broadcast Jockeys like ‘Park Seo-yeon’ (known as ‘The Diva’ online) have accumulated so much money from their fans that they have resigned from their day job to take up hosting Mukbang shows for a living. When meeting NPR for an interview, popular host Rachel Ang (known as ‘Aeboong-ee online’) wore a mask to prevent herself from being recognized by fans on the street, thus showing how popular Mukbang has become. The trend has also spread to the Korean entertainment industry as some Korean celebrities (K-idols) occasionally record mini Mukbangs for the entertainment of their own fans. Here’s an example.
Internet personality Simon Stawski noted his observation on the Mukbang phenomenon in an interview with CNBC. He stated that many Mukbangs focus on exaggerated motions and “bizarre eating habits” and “act more as a novelty show than a social sharing experience.” I found popular Broadcast Jockey ‘Lee Chang-hyun’ to be a prime example. Additionally, Gabie Kook a finalist in ‘MasterChef Korea’ tried her hand at recording a Mukbang. Whilst she struggled to pretend to enjoy the food once she became full, she disclosed that she learnt tricks to show how the food tasted. Many have also talked about the potential health risk for the show hosts who commit to large scale binge eating, but Kook stated that Mukbangs conversely leave most viewers to be mentally satisfied. ‘The Diva’ (previously mentioned Broadcast Jockey) once discussed how some of her viewers are on diets and live ‘vicariously’ through her, whilst some are hospital patients who are dissatisfied with their hospital meals. She recalled a particularly rewarding moment of her Mukbang career of a viewer telling her that her Mukbangs helped her to overcome anorexia.
When doing some additional research for the topic I came across a Western netizen who defended Mukbang as being “simple and innocent”. She went on to ask “If you could choose who you eat with on a daily basis, it would be someone interesting, eccentric, or good looking, correct?” Mukbangs received more interest after the popular US entertainers ‘The Fine Brothers’ discussed it in a video. 那么我想问, with the interest spreading online to a wider demographic, do you think the West would be open to its own take on the Mukbang trend?
If you are yet to have your fill of Mukbang, you may be interested in watching a comedy webdrama that I recently saw the trailer for which is based on the phenomena! As mentioned earlier, press here to read about some of the different Broadcast Jockeys that are quite popular. Lastly if you are interested in reading more about Aeboong-ee in particular, you can press here for her interview article.
I’ve said it in a few old posts, but I have been quite busy lately. Starting University next term will also keep me busy but I will keep you posted😝 As you may have guessed, my University course is closely tied to Mandarin, however once I get settled I would be happy to tell you more about the course structure and other details (you can leave any questions if you have any). I hope that the students who recently received their exam results are pleased with the outcome, and if not then remember that a grade or number does not define you and you can always progress; 只要自信你的努力，将来你一定能成功.
Will you be moving away from home soon? If so, perhaps you could watch a Mukbang if you ever need dinner company. I haven’t considered it myself, but maybe with some…
-good luck 世界.
从欣妍 – From Xinyan.
又及: What do you think of the picture I edited at the start?😁
[i] ‘Hangul’ being the name of the South Korean alphabet system.