As I start writing this paper, memories of my grandmother writing her diary flash through my thoughts, during previous generations, people used to like writing down their precious thoughts and exciting events using blogs, now in the presence of a Millennial generation, vlogs are becoming trendy and convenient. Videos certainly are more attractive and entertaining than plain text, technologies are making our daily lives more interesting. I personally get tired just after a few minutes reading interesting blogs, but switching to videos, I tend to easily get addicted and cannot stop watching series numbers of related videos for even several hours. Despite seeing different fields of videos, some contain risky challenges, which is often more popular but also debatable on rather the impact coming from the video is good or bad.
The objective of this paper is to argue that the content some YouTube vloggers create these days seem to be controversial but are actually beneficial towards viewers and even the society in different ways. I will be specifically using examples of vloggers that film themselves eating large amount of food. These vloggers are popular but some comments appear to be sarcastic on doubting the meaning of them creating this kind of content. The visual methodology that I will be using to support my research is Gillian Rose’s Semiology. I will explain how vloggers are becoming “social semiotics,” the roles that vloggers play these days and what code they belong to. Vloggers to me are like signifiers but the content, code and meanings towards their videos become signified which gives viewers whole new interpretations. My argument on vloggers sometimes being misunderstood by people is important because it presents a new way of understanding why millennial vloggers enjoy this kind of risky fame and the courage they spread towards viewers. Through this paper, I will show my interpretation and perspectives towards my argument followed by literature and semiology aspects.
“In 2005 vlogging took a leap forward with the launch of YouTube — a free, searchable video hosting platform available for anyone to take advantage of” (Mediakix Team, 2016). This is when all kinds of vloggers started to create and compete, to stand out in the crowd.
“A study by Wu (2016) stated that the YouTube need to constantly balance their financial interest with sponsors as well as uphold their obligation to viewers” (p. 3). These days there are many full-time YouTubers out there which becomes more stressful because it is competitive on the internet. Everyone likes to be their own boss, being a YouTuber is obviously one relatively easy way to make that dream come true, to be eye-catching enough, vloggers start to think of challenges that are not easy to achieve which leads to some risks. Once a YouTuber becomes popular from the content he/she has done, in order to maintain popularity, they cannot let their subscribers disappointed by doing those low-key video, they need to maintain or even go beyond the standard point.
One day when I was on YouTube, a guy with an appealing face with a huge amount of food in front of him pulled away my attention, that was the first time I knew about the word Mukbang. “Mukbang is a portmanteau word that combines the Korean word for “eat” (muok-da) with the word for “broadcast” (bang song)” (Hong, 2016). This kind of way of eating large portion of food through broadcasting started in South Korea and is now like a tornado sweeping over the US. Nowadays when you search for Mukbang videos, individuals from all kinds of countries, all kinds of age groups are making their own style of Mukbang videos. While everyone is enjoying creating their own content and becoming more and more popular, hate comments and doubts are also rising quietly form behind. Everything has a cost, eating large amount of food affects individuals diversely, some still can maintain a perfect body but some become obese and put their own lives at risk.
Being a vlogger that does Mukbangs and being in the situation of gaining weight from keep doing Mukbang videos, I here have two different vloggers’ examples and what they think towards this phenomenon. “Women who make these videos regularly have to deal with trolls attacking their weight. Chunky, who has 40,000 followers, addresses this issue head-on; her tagline is “stay chunky because chunky is beautiful”” (DeFabio, 2016). “Banzz, who has to eat a staggering amount of food for Mukbang, was revealed to be 177cm (~5'9”) tall and weigh 70kg (~154lbs). To maintain such a frame even with all that calorie intake, Banzz was said to dedicate 6~10 hours just to exercise, composed of two sessions of 3~5 hour aerobics and 1~2 hours weightlifting. Oh, and a diet consisting of chicken breasts” (2016). As these evidences show, vloggers that do Mukbang videos have their own perspectives on their body weight and they are satisfied with their current situation. Haters’ doubts and complains and other points of views are pushing this topic to the mountain edge, but as vloggers themselves, they are certainly not stressed about their weight and they have a positive attitude towards it. They either eat really little amount during non-filming days to balance out metabolism or do work outs after or before eating.
“In South Korea, millions tune in live every evening to watch their favorite Mukbang hosts, forming a cultural phenomenon that makes its most popular creators thousands of dollars per night in advertising revenue, viewer donations, and sponsorship” (McCarthy, 2017). The money that Mukbang vloggers can make is attractive which becomes another factor that leads more and more people towards this direction.
Until now, you might be asking so why are Mukbang videos so popular these days? Why do people enjoy watching strangers eat on camera? How do Mukbang videos satisfy viewers, because generally, when watching others eat delicious food without having anything to eat makes people even more hungry and be eager for the same food. Also “people watch Mukbang so they can pretend to be dining with a friend. A hugely important aspect of Mukbang is the noise made while eating: the slurping, chewing, smacking, and swallowing noises” (Hong). We see countless of people dining by themselves, this loneliness decreases the passion towards food over time and eating soon becomes something optional. In this case, watching a Mukbang video will help, lonely people will feel accompanied by a “friend” around, which lights up their eating experience and their spirit.
“You can hear the meat sizzle and the mustard squirt. After cutting a particularly juicy piece of steak, Park spears it with her fork and holds it before the camera, turning it just slightly until it glistens in the light. She takes a bite. “Juicy,” she says, between chews. “It just melts away in my mouth” (Rauhala, 2014). Viewers are satisfied by the appealing and aesthetic look of the foods especially in front of a big screen which stimulates their appetites and makes them willing to also grab something and eat. “In comments on the videos, fans confess to feeling full after watching. Mukbang, a form that seems to exalt gluttony, is instead playing a role in dieting” (DeFabio). When Mukbang vloggers are eating and enjoying their food, the sense of satisfaction can be transmitted to viewers from the other side of the screen. This is like a psychology affect, viewers watching vloggers eat all the food with a satisfying face, even if the viewer did not eat anything, the feelings of belongingness is still transmitted. The power of Mukbang is to connect vloggers with viewers.
McCarthy stated in an article that Mukbangs can even comfort viewers to get into sleep, some people seek out to provoke ASMR which is also called autonomous sensory motor response which is described as a “brain tingle” that are intended to calm people down while listening to some soft noise. What I noticed when watching ASMR videos is that they are slower than actual normal Mukbangs, along with the quiet surroundings in the video, chewing sounds and the sounds of different textured food can calm people down which help them slowly fall asleep, the sound of chewing seems like a melody that can create a calm atmosphere,
My research question is in what ways and to what extent do Mukbang video’s delicious appearing representation of food satisfy viewers.
As observing the above three figures, we can tell that Mukbang vloggers commonly bring their food very close to the camera so that it creates a satisfying, delicious atmosphere and also the point of view looks like the vlogger is sharing the food with viewers. This technique gives viewers the feeling as if somebody is trying to invite them to join eating. The food here is like the signifier and vloggers give it meanings by presenting it as in the above three figures. The signified here is that the food now has the power to either comfort or increases the appetites of viewers through presentation by vloggers.
Figures 4 to 6 show three kinds of Mukbang vloggers, they all can be labeled into different tags such as female, male, obese, skinny, healthy or unhealthy. The common point that they have is that they all seem to be pretty real in front of camera. As shown in figure 4, Nikocado revealed that he was suffering from organ failures and he chose to expose his health condition on camera, despite the critiques that he received, he still chose to continue his Mukbang career because that is what he loves to do. Peggy on figure 5 has been growing her channel recently and viewers have been suggesting her to try out different foods as shown in figure 7. The interactions between vloggers and viewers are based on food, irresistible foods seem to be the bridge between them and giving viewers the chance to approach their favourite vloggers. Generally speaking, Mukbang videos’ delicious appearing representation of food can also be seen as a platform for viewers to interact with their favourite vloggers.
Vloggers are also willing to tell viewers what equipment they use for filming, just like figure 8 where BenDeen was talking about and reviewing the camera he has been using because many viewers have requested him to share his thoughts on it. Figure 7 and 8 show signs of vloggers becoming social semiotics. Viewers tend to rely and follow their favourite vloggers style and trust them by deciding on whether to purchase anything based on their reviews and comments. For example, on electronic devices, apps or even clothing style, Vloggers are becoming “Social semiotics” or role models. Although many YouTubers share these common facts, Mukbang vloggers slowly transits their content from an eating show into depth, becoming more and more focused on role modeling. The more a viewer watches a vlogger the more he/she pays attention to what he says than what he really eats. The presentation and content of the food is crucial but what topic the vlogger is talking about also needs to be attractive because an interesting topic can make the eating setting more active.
Therefore, Mukbang vloggers are becoming social semiotics or in other words spiritual sustenance, viewers not only like seeing reviews on delicious appearing foods but also defining their favorite vloggers as an advisor, a friend that can give suggestions. ASMR videos help then go to sleep, food videos help anorexia patients, they are like symbols like doctors. To conclude my research question, I find that Mukbang videos satisfy viewers not only by the delicious looking food, but also the process on what attractive topics they talked about.I decided to use semiology because Mukbang vloggers are like signifiers, the food, the topic they choose to talk about are signs and the signified meaning behind this is that Mukbangs are not insignificant, meaningless eating videos, they benefit viewers in different ways and spread positive attitude towards viewers. “Semiology is also influential as an approach to interpreting the materials of visual culture,” “Social semiotics is the way in which the meanings of signs are more socially. This focuses on the environment that the advert is in what power does it have or what role does it play in society (2016, Rose). The interpretation on Mukbang is that it not only can present food but also comfort or cure anxiety and loneliness that bother people from all over the world. The purpose is to let more and more people realize that Mukbang is not just about showing and eating massive amount of food, the eating process can actually do more than it looks and that is the key to why more and more start creating Mukbangs or start enjoying watching them.
The presence of vlogging has built up a platform for vloggers and viewers to interact. Although eating huge portions of food is not medically good for health, vloggers have their own perspectives and ways to live how they prefer. Vloggers use their selves as examples to show viewers that it is not impossible to eat and still maintain a healthy body at the same time. Just as YouTubers always say in their videos, they would never be successful on YouTube without the support of all viewers, this used to sound like something that anyone can easily say, but after analyzing and researching trough this topic, I realized that vloggers and viewers are not separable and they deeply influence each other.
Korean and American Mukbangs are different in some ways, the edition initially from Korea was just for entertaining and to give people that eat alone a sense of belongingness, on the other hand the American version is for helping people with eating disorders or on diets. The two of them can be combined and take advantage of each other because I think that both ideas are beneficial and can help different individuals differently.
Do Mukbang vloggers think that they are risking their lives? As shown in the above sections obviously, they seem to enjoy their Mukbang journey and enjoy sharing their thoughts with viewers. They might not see themselves as role models, but the fact that viewers like hearing suggestions from them portrayed them as social semiotics. Summarizing what I mentioned in the paper earlier, Mukbang videos influence viewers and helped viewers on diet or eating disorders, increases appetites and also acts like a friend that is there eating with you., but on the other hand this may also cause people to eat more than they can because seeing Mukbang vloggers successfully managing to eat that much food sometimes will trigger people’s mind to also challenge themselves, but this impulsive decision might result in having stomach aches or worse.
I decided to use semiology because Mukbang vloggers are like signifiers, the food, the topic they choose to talk about are signs and the signified meaning behind this is that Mukbangs are not insignificant, meaningless eating videos, they benefit viewers in different ways and spread positive attitude towards viewers
Vloggers represent social semiotics because they are revealing meaningful and effective messages through Mukbang videos that can comfort and help viewers that needed accompany. Vloggers are signifiers and the videos signified the effect that these eating shows can provide to viewers and the society.
Viewers also can encourage vloggers by providing feedbacks which are important to them and can encourage vloggers just like how vloggers encourage viewers. The relationship between vloggers and viewers are unique and connected. It is not simply about vloggers risking their health for videos, it is about encouraging the people that need the love and regard from the videos. On the other hand, health is still a concern towards this kind of video but as long as you control your diet and figure out a way to balance out the extra calories, you can still stay nutritious and pleasant at the same time. Simply by watching how other vloggers plan out their routine can also help a lot.
Mukbangs should become a positive phenomenon, there are a lot of individuals out there suffering from eating or sleeping disorder that need more belongingness and supports to help them recover soon.
There are also many other vloggers out there that create no risk contents, but since Mukbang is controversial, so I chose this topic specifically. Mukbang videos are rising and becoming more popular towards the society
To sum ups, all types of vloggers should be respected and I believe that whatever they do, they must love the way they live and never feel too late to change. Honestly, at first, I see them as some vloggers that are just passionate about eating and with poor self-discipline abilities, but after researching and realizing that a lot of them actually do have a strict plan on maintaining health and what they are doing also benefits others in some ways, it made me feel delighted and proud of them.
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Hong, E. (2016, January 16). Why some Koreans make $10,000 a month to eat on camera. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from https://qz.com/592710/why-some-koreans-make- 10000-a-month-to-eat-on-camera/
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