Why do Koreans love mukbangs?
We talk about the popularity of mukbangs in Korea and how that plays out in real life. Often western journalists want to reduce the idea of mukbangs to a simple sentence when they write articles about them but in reality there are many cultural reasons why Koreans love them.
Western journalists also have this idea that all mukbangs are about eating SO much food. While some people do that, it’s not what mukbangs have to be. It’s literally just someone eating while being broadcast, usually through livestreaming. Someone can even just be drinking as the Korean word it derives from means both to eat or drink. Often articles will say that mukbangs are popular because more and more Koreans live alone and are eating alone so if they are watching someone eat they feel less alone.
It can be part of it for some people, but that type of explanation ignores the fact that Koreans just love to watch others eat. It’s not surprising when you look at South Korea’s history of rapidly becoming a developed country. Even within Hugh’s lifetime he remembers not that much food when he was young and there not being much meat. His parents only had meat a few times a year when they were young because it was so expensive back then. Food is something still very special and in living memory there were times where there was not that much food. If a mother is able to cook well for her children she wants to see them enjoy it and gets enjoyment herself from watching them eat.
Hugh has a story from his grandparents that when people had a dried fish, they wouldn’t eat it right away, but would hang it from the ceiling and look at it while just eating rice and imagine they were tasting fish instead of rice. These days there are copious amounts of food in Korea, and it’s very cheap. There are many TV shows that show close ups of people eating food and food sounds are accentuated for the camera. Often in western cooking shows the eating part is just a small section at the end of the show, but Korean shows will show a much longer time of people eating and enjoying the food. For me as a nonKorean I really don’t like the sounds of someone eating or seeing a closeup of their mouth as they eat, but it’s very common on TV here. Korea’s relationship with food now has been shaped by their hard times in the past.
So now with food so easily accessible people tend to be more worried about gaining weight. People on diets like to watch mukbangs because they get satisfaction watching someone else eat. This plays out in real life too. Many times I’ve been with a Korean friend and at a restaurant and cafe and they will buy me food and when I ask them what they are eating they will say, “Oh nothing, I’m on a diet. I just want to watch you eat.” That would be very strange in Australia! When Hugh is sick he wants me to do a personal mukbang for him. So because he can’t eat he will watch me eating closely and even tell me what food to eat so he can feel satisfaction from what I’m eating.
People who do mukbangs, and are very popular, don’t necessarily speak a lot while doing them. They will answer some questions but often people are just telling them “eat this thing now” or “eat these together”. It’s not necessarily about the social aspect as much but the enjoyment of watching someone else eat.
What about in your country? Do you like to watch people eat?
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YTN was filming us for a segment about YouTubers in Korea. Sara and Yoojin joined us as we explored the Mangwon markets. Since we had to film for YTN’s filming we made a vlog of the day.
Visitors to Korea may notice Christmas decorations up when it’s nowhere near Christmas. I’ve definitely seen them up all year round. When I ask Hugh about it he says it’s just because people think they look nice. Christmas is a couple holiday in Korea but there are still a lot of Christmas decorations around, so they have adopted that element of Christmas culture, but not the culture of actually taking them down after Christmas! I think for western countries, besides from the belief some might have of them being bad luck if kept up, we take them down because they lose their importance and meaning if kept up all the time. I think in most countries Christmas trees are taken down in January, unless it’s a lazy university student’s share house. We appreciate decorations when we don’t constantly see them and that’s what makes Christmas a special time. Seeing a dusty Christmas tree in a cafe in July is just depressing (seen that many times in Korea).
I understand that Hugh really likes how pretty our tree looks, but I’m still going to take it down.
When do you usually take your Christmas tree down? Or throw out if you have a real one?
He likes the TV show “Luke Cage” but always calls it “Lucas Cage”.
There always comes a point in multicultural marriages where you get scolded for something your partner does constantly as well. I need to try harder to remember Korean names, but Hugh also thinks so many English names are interchangeable. Luckily he has never called me “Nicole” before…
Our first Halloween in Korea! Actually it’s the first Halloween we had celebrated together because it’s only just started getting popular in Korea and Australians don’t really celebrate it that much (or if you do celebrate it, there can be so much negativity about it being an American thing and backlash about American culture being in Australia). Australian Christian communities can be very anti Halloween as well, much to the surprise of my Christian American friends who celebrate it. I think there being so many Americans in Seoul has influenced how popular Halloween, especially with young people. Also older people complimented on our costumes as well, we didn’t feel any negativity about it (well besides from the girl that Alex scared!).
I was Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, though most people assumed I was a ghost bride or something. Hugh was an Australian bogan zombie. I guess ‘bogan’ can be translated as ‘white trash’. He also had racist tattoos on his arms, not just the Southern Cross but “Aussie Pride” and “F*** Off, we’re full”. His costume was a bit subversive because of course that type of person is racist to Asians and those types of tattoos proudly display that racism. So he was also poking fun at a certain white stereotype, while at the same time embracing other aspects of Australian culture (he wore thongs/flip flops, board shorts, a cricket singlet and sunscreen while holding a VB beer).
We try to focus on positive stuff but after being online for several years we thought we’d talk about some of the weird or mean comments we sometimes get, as well as what some people say in real life. We also wanted to give a space to other international/interracial married couples to talk about their experiences too. People usually comment more on YouTube to head over there to join the discussion.
If you are completely unfamiliar with Korean culture and respectful terms, this comic might be a little bit difficult to understand.
The longer we’ve been back in Korean culture, the more Hugh likes being called “Oppa”. Since it was my birthday recently, my age “caught up” to his. This doesn’t happen in Korean age because everyone’s age goes up at the same time at the start of the year. But in international age there are a few months where our ages are the same. Hugh pointed this out. In Korea if someone is the same age as you it means you are friends in the sense that neither person needs to use a respectful name for the other, because neither is older than the other. It allows for much more relaxed speech and manners usually.
So I took the opportunity to act like a “chingu” instead of a “dongseng” (the younger one in the relationship). Used to be an “oppa”, Hugh suddenly realised he had made a terrible mistake…
In English I am very free and comfortable and can tease him with no problems. But in Korean, in a Korean setting he suddenly realised how different it was if he wasn’t my Oppa anymore. Especially because I used the opportunity to be rude.
Hugh says: I was saying, “You are the same as my age now! Hahaha!” And making fun, but actually it’s not good for me. I still like to be called Oppa.