Group Digital Artifact: Mukbang

For this project, we experienced the popular South Korean eating phenomenon, 먹방(mukbang). The term is a combination of two Korean words, 먹는(meokneun), meaning “eating”, and 방송(bangsong), meaning “broadcast”, which makes a mukbang, quite literally, an ‘eating broadcast’. Although originating in South Korea thanks to the loneliness of unmarried or uncoupled Koreans, the Internet has helped the phenomenon gain popularity worldwide, with many non-Korean Youtubers now also posting their own mukbang videos.

As for the Korean versions, depending on the mukbang, the audience may or may not pay for the privilege of watching their favourite host (known as ‘broadcast jockeys’, or ‘BJs’, in the mukbang world) eat. BJs interact and chat with their audiences, sometimes claiming to be the audiences ‘avatar’ and following exactly what they are requested to do. These BJs can sometimes make a lot of money for their efforts – Wikipedia lists  ‘BJ The Diva’, who made $9,300US a month in 2014, and ‘BJ Patoo’, a 14-year-old host who makes an estimated $1,500 a night.

History of Mukbang

Mukbang, roughly translated into ‘eating broadcast’, is believed to have started in South Korea around 2008, with AfreecaTV vlogger Tae-Hyun’s Muck-Show (Eating Show) a livecast talk show-style program wherein he hangs with his friends over a barbecue on camera. This type of set up became very popular within the AfreecaTV community, leading to the rise of many ‘eating show’ related channels. In 2011 the term ‘Mukbang’ was started to circulate the Korean Internet in relation to this genre of vlogs, and to refer to actor Ha Jeong Woo’s performance in eating scenes.

Mukbang’s started to reach international recognistion in 2015 when Youtube channel Munchies released a video “The Food Porn Superstars of South Korea”, which led to The Fine Bros releasing their video “YOUTUBERS REACT TO MUKBANG (Eating Shows)”. The attention these videos gained brought this Korean phenomenon to a Western audience. Mukbang is seen as a revival of cooking shows from the 1980s and 90s, once aimed at stay-at-home mums and housewives, this new reinvention of the cooking show genre is aimed at busy modern twentysomethings, with simple ingredients, quick recipes, and lots of food porn. Mukbang continues to be relevant to Korean culture, and popular on the Internet in both Asian and Western communities.

Mukbang today

Although originating in South Korea, the phenomenon of Mukbang has inevitably become Westernised, particularly in the United States. American youtubers have altered the original concept to make their content more appealing for a Western audience. Traditional South Korean mukbang hosts film their videos live at home in front of an electric burner or several containers of delivered food, however American mukbang has evolved into a pre-recorded and sometimes ‘dining-out’ experience, with hosts venturing into popular chain restaurants such as Applebee’s and Taco bell. The process of Mukbang has also distinctively changed across cultures. In Korean broadcasts, the primary focus of the video is the actual eating of the food, creating large silence. Contrasted to American broadcasts where the host is constantly verbalizing their experience, making references allowing the audience to gain insight on their autoethnographic experience with food.  

As Mukbang becomes increasingly popular, the viewer is finding more ways to interact with their favourite hosts. Live streaming has become one of the most demanded mediums for mukbang, this way, audiences can comment on the live broadcast asking questions and requesting actions for the host to deliver. Twitch, an online streaming platform (often used by gamers) has recently established a ‘social-eating’ channel to its lineup, proving just how mammoth this craze is becoming.

Mini case study

Though there are many Mukbang Youtubers, one of the most popular is ‘Banzz’, with 2.8 Million Subscribers. Banzz uploaded his first video in 2013, and has swiftly continued to become more and more popular through the years. Alongside devouring a vast amount of food with each video, he claims to exercise 6-10 hours each day in order to maintain his figure. His viewership is known to be mainly comprised of females, due to his “neat”appearance. Viewers of Mukbang videos are believed to enjoy watching such videos as a way to feel as if they are eating with somebody else- through their computer. Banzz successfully conforms to this notion as he continuously talks to the camera, explaining the entire process he is going through, creating a social atmosphere. This atmosphere does not end with the video alone, but continues in the comments section with viewers giving their own opinions and experiences with similar foods.

On a very early videoof Banzz’, one commenter states “I’ve eaten snail… I remember that I was surprised because the snail was more delicious than I thought.”. This comment is roughly translated from Korean, as this is where Banzz gains the majority of his viewers. He is currently uploading a new video roughly every day, with each earning tens of thousands of views. Banzz was one of the original ‘Mukbang’ eaters, who first popularised this practice worldwide, and has since inspired this community to continue to grow more popular each day.

Conclusion

The culture and world of Mukbang is a new phenomenon, but because of its roots and connection with its audience, as well as being able to connect with its market, it became a juggernaut not only in South Korea, but the rest of the world. From its humble beginnings in 2008, to the millions of views it brings now as a culture, it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular on the internet and social media.

From our own experiences doing our own Mukbang, the thought of trying different Asian dishes, as well as embracing the actual Mukbang, it was an experience we all enjoyed. From trying different food, as well as embracing Korean culture and their attitudes towards food, eating together brought us together as a group, and taught us new ways in understanding what other cultures decide what is to their pallet.

The Mukbang community itself however is now more western than ever, different social media stars using Mukbang to create views, but, Korean audiences and the Mukbang community are still large, and continue to grow each day. Our learning experience with Mukbang has been positive, and overall has taught us a new experience of ‘social eating’.

Written by:

Kelsey O’Brien

Daina Fuller

Lily Carr

Jenna Fairweather

Jessica Radic

______________________________________

References:

McCarthy A. “This Korean food phenomenon is changing the internet” – Reports. Pop culture: EATER. 2017.

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