Have you ever heard of Meok-Bang? It is an abbreviation for Meokneun Bangsong, which means eating broadcast. When it first appeared several years ago, many viewed it as a bizarre, weird phenomenon, and predicted it would be just a short-lived trend. Yet, its popularity continues to grow, and does not seem to perish easily. In fact, Meok-Bang is a unique cultural phenomenon that can only be found in Korea, and here lies the unique aspect of Korean society.
▲ Ha Jung-Woo in his film The Yellow Sea. Provided by movie.naver.com
Desire for sleep, desire for food, and desire for sex are the three fundamental human desires that should be gratified. In Korean society, while the desires for sleep and sex were not often dealt publicly, the desire for food is considered as important and proper. The most extreme case of it can be found on our greeting words. Koreans often ask each other, “Have you eaten?” or “Have you been eating well these days?” which is a rarely used way of greeting in other nations.
▲ A famous Afreeca TV BJ, Bumpreeca, showing Meok-Bang to his viewers. Captured from afreeca.com
However, at the same time, our society faces increasing need and desire for beauty and being in good figure, which ultimately results in increasing needs for going on a diet. Yet this is sharply opposed to our traditional values and beliefs of putting importance on eating well. Therefore, many choose to get vicarious satisfaction by watching others eat what they cannot eat, and relieve the excessive stress they get from dieting. This is the fundamental power behind the growing popularity of Meok-Bang. Initially, Meok-Bang began in Afreeca TV, a one-person media popular among teens. A number of Broadcasting Jockeys (BJ) started to show their viewers what they are eating through their broadcasts, which brought them huge fame.
Another force behind the Meok-Bang fever can be found in the personality of Koreans. Koreans view the act of eating alone as an extremely unpleasant and sorrowful behavior, and often try to avoid it. This certainly is not a phenomenon spotted in other nations other than Korea. This is because Koreans regard eating as an opportunity to communicate with other people, and a place for interactions. This is also reflected in babyak culture of Korea University (KU), which is the act of treating meals to freshmen in order to interact with them.
However, as the society is becoming more diverse, the number of single-person households is increasing in Korea. More than 25 percent of households are classified as a single-person household. This makes the conventional habit of eating together with family members difficult, and increases the rate of eating alone, an act Koreans condemn. In order to get rid of the feeling that they are eating alone, many resort to Meok-Bang, and get a sense of relief from watching people eating, which makes them feel as if the people in Meok-Bang are eating with them.
Another change in Korean society that can be spotted from the Meok-Bang fever is that people are feeling lonelier and stressed, and that they are resorting more than ever to Meok-Bang to fulfill their deficiencies. The contemporary people are put under stress and a sense of human alienation from their workplaces more than ever. According to pop culture critic Jung Duk-Hyun, people often are stressed out and wounded from the exhausting present and frustrating future, and seek to heal themselves by watching Meok-Bang, resulting in the rise of Meok-Bangs these days.
Of course, this trend did not spread towards the mainstream network channels, until a famous actor Ha Jung Woo showed Meok-Bang in a few of his movies. Since then, the media started to use the word Meok-Bang more frequently, and a number of TV shows started to implement the concept into their shows.
▲ TV show “Let’s Eat.” Provided by TvN.
When looking at the successful TV shows which implement the Meok-Bang concept, they are designed to effectively fulfill the unfulfilled desires of the viewers, like desire for rural lives or having meal with their close friends. For instance, TV show “Let’s Eat” does not use a sophisticated plot line or beautiful and handsome actors and actresses. As a matter of fact, a vast portion of the drama consists of the characters in the drama eating meals, which grab the viewer’s attention.
▲ TV show “Three Meals a Day.” Provided by TvN.
Another TV show called, “Three Meals a Day,” which is a variety show in which the casts go to a rural area and make three meals themselves, without using materials that can be bought at ease. This makes the viewers experience the rural, slow life, which lacks in their fast, urban life. Specialists claim that the show is more than just Meok-Bang show. Rather, the main point lies in making the viewer gain vicarious satisfaction from slow and rural lives, and Meok-Bang serves just as a side-menu in the shows.
In fact, recent trend shows that in order to become successful, shows need to present more than just Meok-Bangs. Recent advent of Cook-Bangs, which are broadcasts showing cooking, can be explained on the same context. TV shows like “What Should I Eat Today” and “Please Take Care of My Refrigerator” show simple cooking recipes that can be done using everyday materials. This can be explained on the same context, as it gives busy contemporary people the opportunity to relieve stress from their workplaces by watching TV shows that can satisfy one of their fundamental desires, the eating desire.
The craze for Meok-Bang cannot be viewed only in a positive light. The act of trying to satisfy fundamental needs not through the tangible actions, but through acts of viewing other people eat paradoxically shows that our society is severely distorted and in an unhealthy condition. People are resorting more to vicarious satisfactions, rather than real gratifications, and are consciously suppressing their desires. There are not enough concerned voices about the Meok-Bang fever, and it is time that we start questioning whether we are truly living in a healthy society.
▲ TV show “Please Take Care of My Refrigerator.” Provided by JTBC.
▲ TV show “What Should I Eat Today.” Provided by Olive TV.