The Potentially Dark Origin Of Mukbangs

If you're not yet turning a profit from your quarantine hobby, you might at this point be side-eyeing influencers on TikTok, Twitch, or even OnlyFans and wondering if you could make easy money doing what they do, and you wouldn't be alone.

Take mukbangers, for example. The name sounds... questionable, but in reality mukbangers are internet personalities who make a living (and sometimes a very comfortable living) by streaming or recording videos of themselves eating (via QZ). The trend originated in South Korea to combat the cultural stigma against eating on one's own. However, as with most internet trends, it quickly spread internationally, and when it reached the U.S., it got supersized in every way.

Now mukbangs are often more about the spectacle than the company, with higher calorie-count binges and eating challenges raking in far more views than the simple dinner shows (via Vice). For instance, one look at YouTuber Nikocado Avocado, real name Nicholas Perry, and you'll see dozens of thumbnails that look almost identical showing Nik crying or screaming behind a massive quantity of processed or fast food (via YouTube). As dark as that premise alone might sound, its origins and continued success might say more about us than we care to think. According to Michael Hurt, director of cultural studies at South Korea's Busan University of Foreign Studies, the popularity might have more to do with our decreasing number of face-to-face interactions (and that was from before the pandemic!).

The darker side of mukbangs

There are some genres of internet video that outlast the term "trend," and mukbang is definitely one of them. For some, the eating sounds offer comforting ambiance during a solitary meal or at the end of a hard day, however, some of the videos seem more geared toward inducing schadenfreude. 

For example, YouTuber Nicholas Perry has over 2 million subscribers tuning in to watch his unique blend of messy drama (he regularly click-baits fighting/breaking up with his husband), crying and screaming, and eating huge woks full of spicy ramen, Hot Cheetos, and fast food, sometimes all at once (via YouTube). Unfortunately, the nature of the content has led fans to become concerned about Perry's physical and mental health (via Insider). In an interview with Men's Health, he confessed that, in addition to the nearly 100 pounds of weight gain, he also experiences frequent diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach pain, and erectile dysfunction. While he and others admitted to suffering from negative effects from eating such large quantities of, "the money (and attention) they're collecting in this strange digital age mean it's a sacrifice they're willing to make." The only question that remains is how will these creators continue to increase the drama and spectacle as the audience grows desensitized?