In today’s technology-filled world, the most intimate interactions some get are through their computer screens.
Broadcast Jockeys, or BJs, can fill the empty void that comes coupled with your cheap instant ramen. BJs spend hours cooking and consuming food while live-streaming themselves on platforms like the Korean video streaming site “AfreecaTV.”People around the world tune in to hear their favorites slurp their noodles and crunch the crispy exterior of their chicken wings. Many viewers eat along as they watch, enjoying the sensory experiences from the steady staccatos of knives chopping chives against wooden cutting boards to the sizzling of fish cake upon the electric grill.
This Internet phenomenon is known as mukbang (pronounced “mook-baang”), a portmanteau combining the Korean words for “eat” and “broadcast.”
“When I’m lonely I can watch it, when I´m happy I can watch it, when I’m on a diet I can watch it,” said @mukbanq. An Instagram user who reposts popular mukbang clips, @mukbanq has amassed over 264,000 followers, attesting to the popularity of this subculture.
Mukbang broadcasts all tend to follow a similar set-up. BJs typically stage their entire videos from the perimeters of their quaint bedrooms. They begin their broadcasts by chatting with their audience members within the chat box below their stream. This chat box allows them to crank up the intimacy and engage in conversations with their viewers. Another important aspect of the chat box is that it serves as a lucrative hotspot for the BJs, as this is where viewers may send them “star balloons”—the site’s unique form of cryptocurrency which can be exchanged for regular cash. This aspect is the cherry on top of eating delicious food.
“Mukbang first intrigued me as I saw these thin females, like me, who would eat so much. The only difference was that they could eat so much more than me, which sparked my curiosity,” said Wanyi Chen, a John D. O’Bryant student. Like Chen, many American high schoolers enjoy watching these videos, demonstrating how the trend has spread far from its origins in South Korea.
Seeing how many have made this their full-time careers—with some top tier broadcasters harnessing “as much as $10,000 a month by some accounts, not including sponsorships,” according to an article in Quartz— I decided to get into the fun and take a stab at this potential career option. Following the traditional mukbang set up, I visited my local Korean supermarket and purchased the traditional items for about $20—store-made kimbap, pickled radish, and Samyang’s infamous spicy ramen (popularized by the viral Internet trend “Fire Noodle Challenge”). After placing all of these atop a small wooden table in my room, I nervously began my broadcast.
As I slurped my first noodle, I realized how awkward this practice really is. I'm not Korean and don't know how to speak Korean, so I just ate silently as viewers began to slowly trickle in. My anxiety was running high. After amassing 20 viewers and consuming a row of kimbap, a couple slices of the radish, and a spiral or two of ramen, I had to conclude my broadcast, too uncomfortable to continue.
The actual experience made me realize how glamorized this peculiar occupation really is. I had difficulty splitting my attention between the aromatic food in front of me and the chat box (which had surprisingly more messages than I expected), making me realize how challenging it is to monitor the live stream and eat at the same time.
Apart from the few messages that came off a tad bit creepy, the messages were delightful. For example, people had noticed me tearing up as I consumed my spicy ramen, and they were kindly encouraging me to continue eating. They certainly added a dash of spice into this otherwise solitary occupation.
“I would consider doing mukbang as it appears to be a lucrative, yet easy, way to work,” said Noelis Tovar, a senior at John D. O’Bryant.
Prior to my broadcast, I would have agreed with Tovar. However, when I checked my star balloon count afterward, I realized that this was an optimistic viewpoint. During my brief mukbang, I accumulated only about 10 “star balloons.” This translates to roughly 70 cents.
However, I was surprised to find myself making any amount at all. On top of that, I found my profile landing a spot on the streaming site’s ranking chart. With a few more sessions, I may gather enough of the knowledge that high-ranking Broadcast Jockeys know so I actually take in more money than I spend.
But until then, I’m going to pocket my 70 cents, queue up some mukbang, and keep slurping noodles with Internet strangers.