Korean Internet Trend “Mukbang” Sees People Watching Strangers Binge-Eating Food
In the US internet celebrities largely consist of YouTube vloggers and twenty-somethings recording themselves playing video games, but in South Korea they much prefer watching a stranger binge-eat in front of their webcam.
Since 2011 the odd phenomenon, known as “mukbang” (a mixture of the Korean words muk-ja (eating) and bang-song (broadcasting), has seen hundreds of professional eaters livestreaming themselves devouring a selection of foods on AfreecaTV, a streaming platform that is essentially Korea’s answer to Twitch. The most popular personalities of Mukbang, who are referred to as “BJs” (Broadcast Jockeys), earn thousands of dollars per broadcast, with viewers donating their money in order to support their favorite mukbang “stars.”
Every weekday, various BJs sit down for hours in front of their webcams and broadcast to a baying audience of thousands of fans. But even though mukbang sounds like the easiest gig in the world, there’s still a certain level of expectations viewers have of its stars. For one, loud eating is a must; viewers much prefer it when they can hear all the slurps and chomps that are typically thought to represent poor table manners. It’s also preferable if the eater makes a mess – getting spicy noodle juice all around your mouth is a big plus point if you want to become a mukbang celebrity.
Each livestream is accompanied by a number of viewers actively participating in a chat box, making donations whilst sending in requests such as asking a BJ to eat their steamed dumplings closer to the webcam. While you could be forgiven for thinking that mukbang veers into the territory of fetishism, in actuality it’s more likely that its something of a sad indictment of the loneliness felt by South Korea’s young population. According to NPR, AfreecaTV’s digital media manager, Hahn Yeh Seul, believes that mukbang’s sudden rise to prominence is connected with the growing number of Korean’s living alone, with the trend allowing them to simulate sitting together with someone whilst they are eating their own dinner.
Whatever the cause of mukbang’s growing popularity, it has thus far remained a solely South Korean trend, with it not yet having broken the global zeitgeist. While we may find the whole concept of watching strangers eating food questionable, considering that YouTube statistics suggest our internet viewing habits are dominated by young men shouting over video games and make-up tutorials, who are we to judge?