Mukbangs: The West has hijacked South Korea’s hunger for watching strangers eat online

As I have stated in previous blog posts, my knowledge of ‘Digital Asia’ was limited to non-existent prior to this subject. Though, one topic I am vaguely familiar with is the online video trend of ‘mukbangs’, due to seeing similar content on YouTube by Australian creators. However, the Australian mukbang is slightly different to the original South Korean version.

An in-class discussion about autoethnography and the upcoming Digital Artefact assessment led my classmate Aysha and I to begin researching South Korean mukbangs on YouTube. When reflecting on my previous viewing of Western mukbangs, I have come to realise some fundamental cultural differences between Asia and the West – particularly food. According to Ellis et al (2011), “The purpose of this [reflection] is to help facilitate understanding of a culture for insiders and outsiders, and is created by (inductively) discerning patterns of cultural experience—repeated feelings, stories, and happenings.”

The very first South Korean mukbang video we watched – and yes, that is SPAM.

The term mukbang stems from the Korean terminology ‘moukda’ which means ‘to eat’, while ‘bang song’ means ‘to broadcast’ (Pereira et al, 2019). What began as an originally Asian phenomenon in 2008, the ‘mukbang’ has now traversed the globe to the West (McCarthy, 2017).

My research led me to discover American YouTube creator Trisha Paytas, who made her own mukbang video in which she ate cupcakes, chips, eggs, and toast. Since it was uploaded in April 2015, Paytas’ first mukbang has gained more than 2.3 million views.

Judging by subscriber counts on YouTube, Trisha is the most popular American mukbanger. Trisha is known for emphasizing chewing, slurping, and smacking sounds as she eats, and the stream-of-consciousness commentary that she shares during her meals (McCarthy, 2017). Though I had heard of Trisha before, I had never watched her videos – mostly because I can’t relate to her like I can to someone like Sammy Robinson (and I also cannot stand the ASMR style of Trisha’s mukbangs).

A key part of the autoethnography process is considering the potential difference in the way others may experience the same phenomenon as me. Ellis et al (2011) states “Autoethnographers must also consider ways others may experience similar epiphanies; they must use personal experience to illustrate facets of cultural experience, and, in so doing, make characteristics of a culture familiar for insiders and outsiders.” Considering my own preferences of mukbang video styles led me to question what others would prefer.

So why are mukbangs so popular, both in Asia and the West? Well, dining has always been inherently social. Despite the proliferation of smartphone apps that can deliver food to fuel the most furtive binges, humans still have a natural desire to share a meal with good company (McCarthy, 2017).

In that way, American mukbang videos are quite different from the original Korean style. Korean mukbang are most often broadcast online to a live audience, while American & Australian videos are generally pre-recorded and uploaded to YouTube. Also noticeably different is the talking. In Korean broadcasts, the hosts are largely silent, which means that the focus is almost entirely on the actual act of eating. In the West, though, mukbang more closely resembles dining with a friend, involving conversation or a question and answer component – like in the Sammy Robinson video above (McCarthy, 2017).

A big part of the mukbanging experience is the potential ASMR component. ASMR stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response” and people who experience this phenomenon claim they experience immense euphoric pleasure from watching certain videos or hearing certain sounds (McCarthy, 2017).

Pereira et al’s (2019) research found that Asians tend to watch mukbangs due to “host attractiveness and social normative influence,” while Westerner’s generally watch due to “perceived novelty.

Personally, I would rather watch videos where the host and food being consumed reflects my preferences (and videos that strictly DO NOT have an ASMR component, lol). I would also prefer a Q&A element, rather than complete silence. What would you prefer? Let me know!

 

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., & Bochner, A.P. (2011). ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

McCarthy, A. (2017). ‘This Korean Food Phenomenon Is Changing the Internet’, Eater.com. Available at: https://www.eater.com/2017/4/19/15349568/mukbang-videos-korean-youtube

Pereira, B., Sung, B., & Lee, S. (2019). ‘I like watching other people eat: A cross-cultural analysis of the antecedents of attitudes towards Mukbang’, Australasian Marketing Journal, 27. P.78.

3 comments

  1. Hey Montana, 

    I love this topic, any chance to eat food and I am there. I didn’t even know what a Mukbang was until I started this class (here I am doing Mukbangs without even knowing) hah! I really love how you have related the Ellis et al (2011) reading, by highlighting the role of your cultural upbringing, and reflecting that with the differences between Asian and Western versions of the Mukbang. I also liked how you included the videos with examples of the Western and Asian Mukbang to compare the two.

    You have really grasped the concept of an autoethnography, and I can’t wait to see your digital artefact evolve. This format of content is specifically a great area as food is a universally shared language, although there might be cultural differences in what food is on the table for mukbangs, the concept, which can be interpreted to suit any culture, and I really like that. 

    Heres an article I thought you might find useful for your digital artefact. It discusses the origins of the Mukbang, and how this form of media has transformed the internet.

    http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2018/11/30/mukbang-is-changing-digital-communications/

    Like

  2. Hey Montana,

    I found your blog quite engaging and interesting! I am also looking at studying Asian food culture and Mukbangs for my DA so I found it interesting to see what your take was in relation to mine!

    I found you did a great job at drawing on aspects of Ellis et al. (2011) to demonstrate your understanding of your experience with the differences between your cultural upbringing and Asian culture and also in relation to how you perceive different videos.

    Upon my research of Asian cultures and specifically Mukbangs I found this journal that might help with your research as well.
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1441358218300600
    It’s a cross-cultural study that examines different cultures attitudes to Mukbangs which is not only similar to what you are looking at doing but also provides additional information for you to have a read on!

    I look forward to seeing how your digital artifact turns out!

    Like

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