BCM320 DA – South Korean Food Fads

By Jennifer Ong, Corey Moore, Ibby Tubaro

Our group has chosen to examine ‘South Korean food fads’. Specifically ones that are uploaded online by independent internet creators or companies using celebrities for the purpose of gaining widespread attention. We all have varying knowledge and experience on these Korean food trends and challenges. The aim was to project our own unique experiences and opinions on these general food fads, and also encourage any onlookers to try for themselves or check out the South Korean food fads mentioned. This makes for an autoethnography with an interesting scope in which to investigate this topic.

Ellis et al. (2011) states a “thick description” of a culture is necessary in an autoethnography in order to produce an understanding of a culture for insiders and outsiders. The South Korean Wave (AKA Hallyu Wave) has brought exposure to the country, as a sort of soft power (Nye and Kim, 2013). South Korea is home to many successful trends and pop culture influence. These include fashion, music (K-Pop) and most significantly regarding this particular autoethnography, food. Among the food culture, the emergence of Meokbang shines. Meokbang (먹방) combines the words eat (다) and broadcast (송) that forms its meaning. Like the name suggests, people (most notably South Koreans) film themselves eating and interacting with viewers. Live stream eating paved the way for another Korean trend.

Although our group is looking at the overall South Korean food fad culture, we focused on recreating one particular challenge, called the “After Mum Is Asleep (AMIA)”. This involved us recording ourselves cooking and eating quietly. There is typically a dosimetre with a sound decimal system. When you go above a certain sound decimal, you get punished.

Jennifer’s Reflection:

Before I go into the filming experience and answering the overall objective, I would like to explain to you my upbringing on this Korean Fad. I first encountered Meokbang in 2016 when I was watching this Youtube Channel called FBE which people react to YouTube videos. This video on Meokbang really intrigued me and I started viewing all of these channels that were centralized on eating such as Keemi and Banzz.

For a while this consumed my whole life and also was the time period where I stopped eating in general since watching other people eat was enough for me. I watched less and less it over the years due to my busy schedule, but I still continue to follow the trend ‘connecting the personal to the cultural’ (Alsop, Christiane K.,2002). It should be notated though that I find ASMR Meokbang uncomfortable and cringy.

As an autoethnographer, we use our personal experience with recreating an ASMR Meokbang to produce a blog and video to represent our understanding on this popular Korean Fad (Ellis et al., 2011). Filming for this was actually very fun. It may have had to do with my role in choosing the punishment and the food, but it was great to see my groupmates eating all this unique Korean food for the first time. It also made me realize the work it takes before filming. We had to figure out the placement of me to be not in the recording view but still be able to see the Dosimetre. We had to prep this food before hand to make it easier for the other team mates and also background noises were also an issue while filming. It made me realize how praised the camera crew needs during productions even though they are rarely ever praised (Ellis et al., 2011).

One thing that I noticed during this study on Meokbang broadcasting is that the foods that Offical Korean variety shows do and Youtube channels do is use Korean foods. While this may not seem much, to cater to a worldwide audience, they aren’t changing to suit other cultures but sticking to their own. This can be seen as a marketing technique from the Government to promote Korean culture. An example of this is during the food selection for the Digital Artefact, I discovered so many Korean food that I haven’t heard of before including, Jokbal (pig’s trotters) and Hotteok (sweet syrupy pancakes).

Jokbal at Jang Choong Dong Wong Jokbal in Koreatown
Jokbal, from Eater Los Angeles
hotteok (호떡)
Hotteok, from Maangchi

Corey’s Reflection:

My experiences of Korean food culture before doing the subject Digital Asia was almost non-existant other than Korean BBQ which I first experienced in a restaurant in Japan and thought it was Japanese. I’d never heard of Mukbangs, sneaky eating challenges or After Mum is Asleep before. After experiencing these things via youtube and other streaming services that a classmate showed me, I became extremely interested. At first, I was confused and bewildered by these Korean food broadcasts not understanding their rules and if the people playing were trying to win or just losing on purpose to be entertaining to the viewer.

Looking back at my viewings of Korean food challenges reflexively (Alsop, 2002) before attempting to recreate a Korean food challenge to experience and understand why they exist. I had an epiphany (Ellis et al., 2011) that these food challenges and broadcasts while very unique and quite entertaining they are innovations on things that have existed for quite a while. people have been filming themselves eating things or trying to eat things in different ways and creating new trends, for example, Cinnamon challengeGallon challenge, and Consumption of Tide Pods the most dangerous of them all.

When it came time to attempt recreating the sneaky eating challenge, I wanted to also express not only the scene of the food challenge and being filmed but also with no prior knowledge of the foods we were eating so that my reaction captured on camera would be a genuine reaction to a first-time eater of Korean food culture to further gain an understanding of “Who am I in relation to the research?” (Pitard, 2017).

This blog also comes as a form of writing therapeutic for my author’s sense of self and experiences (Ellis et al., 2011). As the experience of the Korean BBQ plate at the centre of the table and everyone working together to cook and share a meal isn’t very similar to how I’ve experienced my meals.

When it came to being filmed the cameras became the furthest thing from my mind, as the art of eating silently and actual winning the challenge was my sole focus while eating. It was so much fun to experience and myself consciousness wasn’t an issue. The punishments while humiliating as they are intended to be, which I was also unaware of what they would be prior, but they didn’t affect my mood much which I personally think is why the contestants doing these challenges are also so willing to accept them also, they really just had to the experience.

While I expect I’ll never ever attempt filming one of these food challenges again. I can see myself thinking back on it and the Korean broadcasts I’ve watched whenever I attempt to eat something quietly or open something noisy and remember that the simple art of eating quietly can entertain a lot of people.

Ibby’s Reflection:

My personal context regarding South Korean culture is average. I became a fan of K-Pop in 2010, from there my interest in South Korea in general began to develop. I have familiarised myself with aspects of the culture through online browsing. I had no prior knowledge of this challenge, but I’m accustomed to ‘mukbangs’ and things like ‘the sneaky eating challenge” (the video involves a K-Pop group I’m a fan of, Red Velvet.) I always felt awkward watching mukbangs. I thought they were exaggerated to create a ‘fake’ relationship with the viewer.

Reflexivity is important within autoethnographic research (Pitard 2017), so I acknowledged that my own values can affect reliability. To understand and soften any prejudice or bias, I researched further on the Mukbang culture. Kim (2015) states the success of Mukbangs comes from the fact that people’s desire for food can be satisfied by viewing. Mukbang hosts interact with the people who are watching the broadcast (usually live, but sometimes through comments when video is posted).

I now understand better why Mukbang’s are successful. Mukbang’s require a relationship between the viewer and host, the “AMIA” challenge however doesn’t necessarily require that. Berger and Milkman (2012, pp.194) state in terms of online trends, “people share interesting or surprising content because it’s entertaining and reflects positively on them.” In these food fad videos, the people are professionals in terms of entertainment. When they successfully engage and invoke positive emotions, regardless of cultural or personal context, a successful form of entertainment is produced and has the potential to garner widespread attention. In my case, I’m not Korean, but I was still entertained by watching different “AMIA” videos. Watching them hopelessly try to keep quiet and fail, hence being hit with a toy hammer- or simply giving up and making loud noises because they just want to eat the food? Quality content.

Ethnographers become ‘participant observers’ (Ellis et al., 2011), so our methodology involved viewing examples of these Korean food fad videos and also attempting to recreate the “AMIA” challenge. The awkward silence and then a sudden crunch from a chip or sizzle from the hotplate created an almost cathartic experience where I was compelled to laugh. I personally found doing the challenge and watching others do it entertaining, but in different ways.

My first epiphany (Ellis et al., 2011) was realising through actually attempting the challenge, it’s difficult to keep the sound decimal low enough to not be punished for it. When I first watched “AMIA” videos, I thought the reactions were exaggerated by the contestants, and that it couldn’t be that difficult to eat those foods quietly. Although I now believe such reactions aren’t completely exaggerated, I still see these videos as a sort of ‘performance’.

Another epiphany was even though I enjoyed doing this with my group mates because we’re friends and they understand the struggles of this challenge, I realised that wouldn’t be enough to completely engage any random viewer. I knew I was filmed, but I was more focused on doing everything quietly, rather than entertaining the audience. I’m arguably not an entertainer, just an awkward University student. So not everyone would necessarily find it as funny as we did together.

Overall, even though it was somewhat frustrating to do the challenge in terms of not being punished, it was still very fun to do. I also now have a new outlook on South Korean food fads. For mukbangs, the experience of viewing someone else eat can be satisfying. For other food fads, the exhilarating situations where when presented with a challenge involving food, the performer can deliver an entertaining experience for the viewer that transcends cultural and personal context.

Conclusion:

Evidently as shown in each of our reflections, we were impacted differently from this overall experience. But we all definitely agree that we gained a better understanding of South Korean food culture than before we did our autoethnographic research, and in extension have new perspectives regarding these South Korean food fads.

References:

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