Beyond Exoticism: From Epic Meal Time to HowToBasic
A look at the emerging popularity of alternative content.
Exoticism, as described by Abidin (2018), is a form of internet celebrity that is generally understood as a culture that is so far removed from the general populace that it seems nearly alien. This definition is inconstant, as different cultures would view exoticism quite differently. An East-Asian audience would view Western content as exotic and vice versa.
Abidin (2018) talks about Japanese youtuber and competitive eater Kinoshita Yuka as an example, emphasizing her heritage as an East-Asian, her sex as a female, and her iconic performance, where she consumes an ungodly number of calories for a person her size. These factors contribute to the exotic celebrity she enjoys, with viewers leaving her videos bewildered and in awe. However, it is explicitly stated that the popularity she enjoys often comes from a place of prejudice, especially from Western viewers that look at these videos through an ethnocentric lens.
Epic Meal Time
However, these very tropes were being exercised in the Western media-sharing communities long before Asian content began making its rounds on international multimedia sites. The concept of mukbang as a term did not exist, but channels on YouTube such as Epic Meal Time strongly challenged the notions of normality, especially within typical Western ideals of cuisine and food consumption. They embraced the North American stereotype of being large, crass, and drunk, and took it to the next level with their over-exaggerated videos, where they constructed massive portions of fried food joined together in creative, yet grotesque ways. Finally, at the end of each episode, their morbid creation was devoured with impunity, with members choosing to use their hands and any other tool lying around in lieu of proper utensils.
While Epic Meal Time certainly did challenge normality in the Western sphere of multimedia, they were still coherent, and each episode had a stimulus behind it that was explained throughout the video. A form of organized chaos, if you will. Now on the other hand, there was a slow emergence of channels that focused entirely on nonsensical humor that strayed beyond the conformities of usual exotic celebrity (Gilbert, 2021). A form of celebrity that was independent of cultural, economic, and social contexts. A brilliant example of this is HowToBasic.
HowToBasic is essentially a channel that misleads viewers into clicking onto videos disguised as “how-to tutorials”, where one may gain some knowledge on how to do a particular task, such as tying their shoelaces. However, the catch is that none of these videos actually have any tutorials and feature the total destruction of whatever object was mentioned in the tutorial alongside a hefty handful of cooking ingredients, such as eggs. This sort of nonsensical content is highly typical of Gen Z humour, and has, since its inception, garnered over 16 million subscribers as of 2021.
In conclusion, while socio-cultural factors most definitely contribute to the generation of exotic celebrity, they are mainly in use when discussing individuals and cultures that are greatly different to each other, such as the juxtaposition between Western and Oriental norms. Furthermore, there exist individuals that exist above the usual exotic celebrity.
Abidin, C. (2018). Internet celebrity: Understanding fame online. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited.
Gilbert, J. C. (2021). A comic road to interiors, or the pedagogical matter of Gen Z humor. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 20(4), 69–88.