Why More and More Koreans are Eating with their WebcamssteemCreated with Sketch.

in #food5 years ago (edited)

Endearing “Food Porn” Culture

Muk-bangs (먹방) or “Eating Broadcasts” have become a mainstay activity in South Korea. If you haven't seen some of the latest Youtube videos or Vice documentary of the phenomenon, to explain it simply: individuals prepare and eat meals on a live-stream as a digital audience converses with them through chat and offers monetary tips. The streams are usually hosted on AfreecaTV, Korea's equivalent of Twitch. Muk-bangs have been around since 2010 and have been increasing in popularity for both aspiring stars (called BJ's or Broadcast Jockeys) and the growing user base.

  • Highest Grossing Broadcaster: The Diva (디바). Image Source: cyberspaceandtime

So why the craze?

“Room” (방 Bang) Culture is HUGE in Korea- citizens spend a great deal of their time in little rooms all over the city.

There are 2 major reasons for Bangs. The first is that in larger Korean cities, people split up their daily activities into various physical and now digital spaces. “Bang” in this case means broadcast (방송 - bangseong) but the term is also attached to other programs. Norae-bang (노래방) or “song room” is a rentable karaeoke space. PC-bang is a computer hall to play games or browse by the hour. Jjimjilbang (찜질방 - steam room) are communal saunas. Most of Koreans live in dense urban areas, for example almost 50% of the entire country resides in the capital Seoul, in apartments that typically have no more than a small living room, kitchen, and 1 bedroom. Most young people and students live in “one-rooms” which are tiny studio apartments. For much of the population, the home is simply a place to shower and sleep.

  • Typical Apartment Complex Interior and Development. Image Source: kimchiicecream

Second, more people are living alone. The rate of marriage and childbirth is declining and the traditional lifestyle of living in large households with your family is disappearing. The once social activity of sharing every meal shrinks as a result. What compounds this problem is that it is very difficult to meet new people in Korea as social circles are tightly knit around school friends and work colleagues. If you're an introvert or outside in any way, maintaining social relationships is a great challenge.

  • Left- BJ Patoo, Right- BJ Hyo-Jjang. Image Source: Terafar, ABC News

This environment has led to rise of stars such as Patoo who is known for being the most successful 14yr-old on the broadcast, making an average of $1,500 per show. Broadcaster Hyo-jjang used to be a translator and now is a full-time Mukbang star. Lawyers, doctors, and many other well-respected professions are restarting their careers, attracted by the opportunity and autonomy of being a broadcaster.

The Opportunity and Societal Failure of the Muk-bang

When I first learned about these types of broadcasts, I was extremely optimistic. Young Koreans are rarely able to pursue a self-driven lifestyle in a country that is extremely conservative, hierarchical, and formulaic in terms of working in an office. I as a Korean-American have witnessed the incredible success stories of people who make a name for themselves through Youtube, Instagram, and Twitch among other more democratic platforms. There was, and still is, great opportunity in diversifying what these hosts offer to the general public and establish a living doing what they love. Muk-bangs can easily translate into other lifestyle activities, DIY tutorials, hobbies, and so on, providing an outlet for creative energy and potential entrepreneurship.

But that diversification has not caught on in a productive direction for many. Many broadcasts have devolved from being rich sources of engagement and content to becoming “on-demand” services that have worrisome implications. Some self-mutilate or self-humiliate on camera, for example being willinging run over by a car, in the desire for tips. Many young girls act alluringly on camera which seems harmless behind a digital barrier but is terrifying when you learn many of them agree to meet high bidders in person, in private. Obscuring prostitution is not uncommon as well (a very common practice in China on Instagram for instance). This all translates to an attitude completely opposite of autonomy- doing whatever substantial bidders demand.

  • Sample AfreecaTV dancer. Image Source: Youtube

  • Left - Left- BJ eats Ceiling Light, Right- Young BJ drinks Bleach. Image Source: YTN News, Naver

We see similar developments with platforms such as Twitch or Youtube Streams and every new social media platform experiments with the boundaries of edgy or productive content. I’m super pumped by the idea of new “entrepreneurial” platforms (Steemit included) where it’s incentivized to put out good content. Yet it’s interesting to keep track of how some exploit or are somewhat exploited by these emerging systems. What kind of broadcast do you guys think would do well and do good for the public?


I hope you enjoyed the post! I'm a strong advocate for cultural exchange and as someone of Korean heritage, I am committed in tackling contemporary issues and explaining aspects of the culture. This is really what I believe to be a chance to bring new ideas and perspectives in and out of the country. Please leave any comments and suggestions below, I would love to get your thoughts as I write more on cultural innovation in the future!

PS: For the next post, I’ll be posting my favorite Korean recipe, FIRE CHICKEN.

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Great post i upvoted and reblogged it! So is the idea of eating on camera to give you or the person watching you the feeling that your not alone? And that your actually haveing a meal with someone!? This is guess the future of whats ahead! And im looking forward to your FIRE CHICKEN recipe! Mmmm i think i will follow you so i dont miss it! Thanks for shareing! 👍⤴😉

AWESOME thank you!! I can't speak to why every watches these broadcasts (I think for many it's equivalent to watching TV or youtube while eating) but on many interview occasions, yes people say it's because of the camaraderie. Having a meal seems overall much more social on a daily basis in Korea and if you don't have a circle to be a part of....

Definitely stay tuned! I'll be trying out and posting many unique korean recipes and brews in the near future.

Thats really something and shows what the future will truely be like for many sof us! Thanks so much for the reply! And im looking forward to more great posts from you! STEEM ON! !♨♨♨

Hi Karen, the fire recipe is up!

When I visited Seoul last summer, I saw bunch of people on the metro watching videos of people eating on their smartphones. I was wondering what they were! This is great. Thank you!

Haha yes! I didn't go much into where and how they watch these broadcasts but in the subway/on your smartphone is not uncommon at all.

Fascinating stuff. I had no clue that this was a growing trend. It's interesting how globalization (via the web) is beginning to generate isolationism (among it's users). Are "cities" really just becoming urban cubicles?

Great post! You've highlighted some super unnerving issues. Interesting that something as social (and inherently human) as"cooking" could become such an isolated practice. Looking forward to some FIRE CHICKEN! Hopefully not as dangerous as drinking bleach. (Yikes)

Fire chicken recipe up!