Nowadays it’s hard to turn on a television without seeing food – whether it is cooking programs or lifestyle food commercials. Well, from what has originated in South Korea, the big food fad is watching strangers eating. The country is glued to live streams of other Koreans binge eating, to the extent that these eating individuals have now become nationwide micro-celebrities.
In my previous blog post I narrated my experience of diving into the highly popularised South Korean food trend of Mukbang, which recounted my consumption of over 60 minutes of consumption. This time I will be using the autoethnographic methodology to analyse my narrated experience – highlighting my key ‘EPIPHANIES’ and also the assumptions, histories and prejudices that I am bringing to the investigation. This enables reflection, in order to develop my insights into another culture.
“Autobiographers write about “epiphanies”—remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life” (BOCHNER & ELLIS, 1992; COUSER, 1997; DENZIN, 1989)
So this is what I have done, unpacked the significance of my self proclaimed epiphanies to unveil more than just opinion and observations.
The first epiphany into my experience of Mukbang culture (which has opened up a can of worms) occurred before I even clicked play on a single video, but rather when I was searching for them. I noticed when the Korean term was typed into YouTube, the results were surprising due to the majority of what popped up did not depict South Koreans. More often then not, those of a western background both ethically and/or geographically were depicted. This hints at the widespread scope and notion of globalisation in terms of media flows across international borders. Globalisation has led to the expansion of access to information and communication; therefore, people have access to different cultures from around the world (Yagi & Kleinberg, 2011). This raises the interesting volumes of change and in terms of Mukbang, South Korea and it’s reception – social change, technological change and and ultimately cultural change.
The social and technological sects within South Korea work hand in hand and have undergone change and re-adaptations to which Mukbangs have developed from. According to government statistics, single-person households are now the dominant type of household in Korea, making up over 27% of households as of 2015, similar to the level in the US, not a standout figure worldwide but a particularly dramatic change for a country where just a decade ago four-person households upheld the largest percentage (Steger & Jung, 2017). This notion combined with the increase in work hours has led to less people eating within a family context (Holmberg, 2014).
[Steger & Jung, 2017]
I mentioned in my experience that I was able to acknowledge a sense of company, community and comfort for the viewers, as the entertainer talked and engaged throughout the piece. I think that we as humans definitely do need connection to one another and whether that is through having coffee with someone in the flesh or a meal via digital screen, the effects could be major/minor. In regards to my own upbringing through an Australian/Vietnamese filter, food was a very social matter and everything that revolved around our food culture was always ‘group-orientated’. Growing up, my family would gather at all times during the day to eat, share food, not necessarily talking to one another but enjoying the overall presence of the gathering. Drawing these linkages highlights the strong social utility that Mukbangs encompass. The Korean food culture has therefore been swayed by these factors – where food can be seen as a tool to create and maintain social relationships and works to develop ties of both sameness and difference in terms of ethnicity, culture, nationality, class and gender (Brewer & Yuki, 2007; Fischler, 1988).
Technologically speaking, the development of webcam in the early 2000s allowed a new way for people to express themselves by broadcasting their lives on the internet. Today with the advances in personal computing devices and the prevalence of high-speed network accesses, crowdsourced livecast platforms are beginning to redefine content aggregation and communities online. I previously touched on the peer-to-peer platform ‘AfreecaTv‘ that was logo-ed on both of the Mukbang videos I watched, which is currently the most popular live streaming site within the nation. For example, the average monthly watch time spent by each viewer was 421.6 minutes on Twitch TV, while it was only 291.0 minutes for Youtube (He, Zhang & Liu, 2017). All of these social, technological and cultural settings reinforce the overall globalisation which is mediating worldly characteristics across time and space (Ratanan, 2005:8)
Furthermore, upon immersing myself into this South Korean phenomenon, I held the prejudice that this form of content had a lot to do with gratifying the fetish-related desires of it’s viewers. Before even delving into Mukbang culture, I would only ever see young, petite, beautiful girls eating large quantities of food – I automatically thought of the viewers as those who held salacious intentions towards the content and those within it. I alluded to the notion of ASMR in terms of the wants from audiences – could this also can be adapted through a form of ‘Voyeurism’ in this cultural food context? People pay for watching others’ unremarkable and regular private activities on their screens – where factors such as, private life, the other and live application to audiences are all identifiable (An, 2016). This element could very play off and correlate with the spike in single-living households, where both characteristics feed off one another.
Tairan An interestingly raises that:
“Watching intimacy and privacy on a screen is hardly new to anyone … what is unprecedented is the obsession of watching the live broadcast of other people eating, sleeping, sitting around, idling about … there are always people willing to watch, as long as these things are happening in a private space. “
I think that throughout this analysis I was able to adapt the autoethnographic methodology and my own cultural frameworks to push this investigation further in terms of transitioning my experiences into key findings and avenues. Ellis et al states that validity means that a work seeks verisimilitude and with this I have broken down important sectors to then evoke more authenticity and stability to myself and the responder.
An, T. 2016, ‘The Third Voyeurism.’, QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF DISSIMULATION IN ART | ARCHITECTURE | DESIGN, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp.47-54, date accessed: 11 Sept 2017, < https://static1.squarespace.com/static/560411e2e4b049ec51e542dd/t/57284522555986aaa4ea5b97/1462256934024/MASKS_0NIX_2016.pdf#page=53 >
Brewer, M. & Yuki, M. 2007, Culture and social identity. In S. Kitayama, & D. Cohen (eds.). Handbook of cultural psychology (pp. 307-322). New York, U.S.A.: Guilford.
Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. < http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095 >
He, Q., Zhang, C. and Liu, J. 2017, ‘CrowdTranscoding: Online Video Transcoding With Massive Viewers’. IEEE Transactions on Multimedia, Vol. 19, No. 6, , pp.1365-1375, date accessed: 10 Sept 2017 < https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/2239/81b73cc7dd9d98fcfba7fc0f1ff0b84a20cc.pdf?_ga=2.118592847.799635322.1505390734-1281797490.1505390734 >
Holmberg, C. 2014, Food And Social Media — A Complicated Relationship., HuffPost, date accessed: 10 Sept 2017, < http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-holmberg/food-and-social-media-a-c_b_4898784.html >
Steger, I. and Jung, S. 2017, Exhausted by the herd, single South Koreans are gingerly embracing the “YOLO” lifestyle. Quartz, date accessed: 10 Sept 2017, < https://qz.com/1024923/exhausted-by-the-herd-single-south-koreans-are-gingerly-embracing-the-yolo-lifestyle/ >
Yagi, N. and Kleinberg, J. (2011). Boundary work: An interpretive ethnographic perspective on negotiating and leveraging cross-cultural identity. Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 42, No. 5, pp.629-653, date accessed: 10 Sept 2017, < http://digitalcommons.butler.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1107&context=cob_papers >