By Brent Ramirez
Blog Content Contributor
If you’re reading this article, I’m assuming you saw the title and thought, “Okay, I’m listening…” First of all let me say no, this is not a personal ad I’m putting out there. I am not paying anyone to eat food with me because I’m lonely. That idea was canned the second I received a restraining order (kidding, mostly). No, I’m here to tell you about something I discovered via the internet a few weeks ago.
Like many millennials, I was up late one night watching YouTube videos, particularly K-Pop music videos. For those of you who don’t know, K-Pop is a genre of music originating from South Korea that is used to describe the modern form of pop music in South Korea that encompasses several different genres and styles of music. But that’s a discussion for another day. So while I was looking up all these different K-Pop artists, YouTube once again recommended to throw me into a deep dark internet hole. One second I was watching South Korean heartthrob DEAN singing with the voice of a thousand angels and next thing I know, I was watching a 31 minute video of a small girl eating $30 worth of Popeye’s.
I could not tell if I was horrified or totally into it, but a strange being within me told me to keep watching. I watched as YouTuber Keemi devoured eight pieces of fried chicken, a shrimp po’boy, a jambalaya bowl, a large drink, fries and coleslaw. Oh yeah and a biscuit too mind you. After 31 minutes of questioning my morals and figuring out whether or not I should grab something from my pantry, I ended the video with a few take aways:
- I felt extremely strange laying down in the dark and watching someone eat for half an hour
- Based on Keemi’s 408,855 subscribers and the video’s nearly one million views, this this a pretty big thing
- I was totally into it
I had to find out more and eventually I came across the term “mukbang,” which is a blend of two Korean words, “muk-ja” (eating) and bang-song” (broadcasting). Essentially, mukbang is a huge Korean internet fad in which people broadcast themselves eating ridiculous amounts of food. That’s right, people have racked up thousands of subscribers by streaming themselves eating food. It wasn’t just a one-off thing either. There are tons of broadcast jockeys, or (stay with me here) BJ’s, that livestream their mukbangs and make some serious cash from it. These mukbangs are typically streamed on platforms like afreecaTV, where BJ’s eat their food and interact with their audience via live chat. BJ’s make revenue either by donations from audience members and avid followers, or through partnerships with advertising networks.
I was extremely taken back by the phenomenon. I couldn’t tell if it was because of the fad’s success both lucrative and virally, or if it was because I was seriously enjoying myself watching these people eat. All joking aside, there were quite a few reasons I enjoyed these videos. As sad as it may sound, there was a sort of comfort I associated with it. I’m not really a lonely person. Contrary to popular belief, I have quite a few friends and a girlfriend, but this doesn’t mean I can’t feel lonely from time to time. By watching someone eat in front of me, I felt like I was actually sitting down at a dinner table and having a conversation and meal with this person.
Another thing I found intriguing about mukbangs was their slight ASMR aspects. Autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, is a tingly sensation, almost like a mini-euphoria, that is triggered by certain audiovisual stimuli, think the sound of scribbling or fingers tapping. ASMR itself has become a rather popular thing itself, garnering its own YouTube community. Some ASMR videos even go as far as to incorporate role play elements. I will admit, at first glance ASMR (like Mukbang) can be pretty strange, and while some ASMR videos may be a bit on the creepy/kinky side, I can understand the appeal. Here’s a video of some YouTubers reacting to ASMR videos; I’ll let you be the judge. The ASMR aspect I’ve found in mukbang comes from the casual conversation and the sounds of eating. I know the sound of eating can really bother people and I myself sometime get irritated when I can hear people chewing loudly, but for some odd reason, the sounds from mukbangs don’t.
VICE’s food website MUNCHIES actually did a quick documentary on mukbangs and it’s a pretty interesting watch. The documentary notes that the fad’s popularity among Korean youth can attribute its success to the culture. Mukbang is often dubbed as “social eating” and appropriately so. Eating with others is a social THING in Korean culture and now that a large portion of the youth in South Korea is living alone, a good amount of them find some comfort and solace in mukbangs. While the documentary itself almost paints mukbang in a sexual and taboo type of way, it’s still a good video if you’re interested in learning more.
All in all, I understand the appeal to mukbang videos. I can enjoy myself watching some videos, but I don’t know if it’s something I can view on a regular basis. The biggest thing for me now that I have knowledge of mukbang, is deciding whether or not I want to finish college or drop out and pursue a career in mukbang. Seriously, you might want to look into it. Some people have made up to $10,000 a month by streaming mukbangs, just something to think about. Happy mukbanging my friends.
Featured illustration by Emily Castillo.