Mukbang. It’s a South Korean online trend that involves thousands of fans tuning in to watch a broadcast jockey (called BJs) binge eat in videos that can last up to six hours. The trend got attention in 2013 on the Korean streaming site AfreecaTV, and has since spread to Youtube and Twitch.
Big Money Maker
There are about 5,000 mukbang channels on AfreecaTV. Popular BJs tend to have elaborate set-ups and consume enough food to feed three families. Popular stars can attract north of 1,000 viewers per session!
The Diva is one of the most popular mukbang celebrities, and in an interview with CNN, revealed that she makes $9,300 a month just for eating. She also commented that she spends on average $3,000 a month on food.
Fans of AfreecaTV can send “virtual balloons,” which can be cashed out after AfreecaTV takes a 30% commission fee. Other than the optional balloons, viewing is fee. Since mukbang has taken off, catering services and restaurants have been offering sponsored meals for celebrities to eat for their fans.
A Symptom of Loneliness
Why are viewers tuning in to watch others eat? Cultural critics, like Jeff Yang, theorize that it’s due to an increase of single households and loneliness.
Especially in South Korea, meals are seen as a social activity to partake in with family and friends. However, there has been a sharp increase in single households in the country, and it’s believed that people are turning to mukbang channels to substitute interaction. These virtual communal meals gives a sense of community, with fans having chats with mukbang celebrities or among other fans. In a way, it’s an escape from a real world issue.
Others see it in a more positive light. In the same interview with CNN, The Diva said that 60% of her viewers are women on diets, and that they are eating vicariously through her to help them stay on their diet. Other viewers are hospital patients, and get a sense of joy watching others eat regular meals.
A Trend That’s Here to Stay
What may seem like a quick fad is a long-lasting trend. Mukbang has not died down in terms of popularity, and has only grown since entering Youtube and Twitch. Viewers and eaters are forming a new virtual community over food – whether it’s to combat loneliness, stay motivated while on a diet, or just watching others down some spicy noodles, mukbang has a lasting place in internet culture.