Binge Watching Binge Eating

As I re-visit my first experience watching mukbang, I realise that certain views I initially held remain unchanged.

Binge eating

I recall learning about eating issues in high school health classes. They warned of binge eating as a disorder; a mental health issue that reinforced fiercely negative perceptions of the self. Young adults, like those I’d observed in my first ethnographic experience, were understood as particularly vulnerable to binge eating.

It’s abnormal to me because such consumption isn’t commonly publicised. It’s institutionally treated as a health danger and taught to be avoided. Based on my experiences in the education system, in the home, and with medical professionals, I’ve come to understand mukbang’s binge eating as posing major health concerns for its hosts and idolising audiences.

Even BJ Fitness Fairy acknowledged this “dark side”. A lack of health consciousness exists among hosts more concerned with wealth, she says. I’m thus lead to maintain the belief that mukbang shouldn’t be advocated as a lifestyle worth normalising.

It also wasn’t just an ordinary act of eating, I thought. The act had an added sexual meaning that I couldn’t quite explain, and that’s probably because I’d never previously watched any of it.

Eating a meal in front of someone is to me an act of intimacy. To share a meal is even more so. It’s argued that mukbang’s popularity comes from rising loneliness amongst young South Koreans (Hong 2016), and that food can act as a substitute for a lack of intimacy (Psychology of Eating 2016). For this demographic, broadcasted eating is communally intimate, like being amongst friends. I understood this as a very plausible explanation for its reach, but it didn’t erase my concerns about other audience demographics.

That concern is its association with Asian female fetishism. From the previews I had seen in passing on social media feeds, my picture of mukbang was of petite, young Asian women binge eating for an audience of heterosexual men.

This was again a thought about ethics. I wasn’t worried that hosts were eating ‘sexily’; I was worried that straight white males were viewing mukbang to satisfy their objectifying fixations. Yet, it was a concern much harder to understand and justify compared to that of binge eating.

And so I really wanted it to be mentioned in the report. It was a documentary, and I expected this issue to be a major point of criticism.

It wasn’t.

So I feel like I’m left having to think deeper about where these thoughts have come from. And I’ve surprised myself by acknowledging my own preconceptions about what characterises a young woman from Asia, because it’s these thoughts that have paved my concerns about their (so far unproven) fetishisation.

Why did I suspect sexual undertones?

I know that intimacy isn’t always sexual, but I believe it’s my characterisations of young females from Asia that have me subconsciously associating mukbang with their sexual suggestiveness.

Those characterisations are of the ‘schoolgirl’ image:

  • Slim
  • Naive
  • Energetic
  • Physically/emotionally fragile
  • In need of a man
  • Britney in ‘…Baby One More Time’
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Britney’s character in this song is iconic. (source)

BJ Fitness Fairy is not Britney in ‘…Baby One More Time’. I’d never associated ‘fitness’ with ‘binge eating on camera’, and her carefully toned physique was an affront to my assumption that she would fit this image of ultra-femininity. She was not the stereotype.

Where does my stereotyping come from?

While I’m completely unsupportive of these stereotypes (and frankly embarrassed to have applied them), I could potentially stem them from a few factors of personal experience:

  1. I’ve lacked meaningful interaction with young women from Asia. While I do know young women of Asian heritage, these people have usually been second-generations of the West. They don’t fit the group being studied here.
  2. I rarely consume Asian entertainment media. I don’t know if Asian media depict young Asian women like Britney in ‘…Baby One More Time’. I do know from my consumption of popular Western entertainment media that their narratives tend to perpetuate those stereotypes (if they depict Asian women at all).  Examples are of the hypersexualised Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels and every film featuring a geisha, ever.
  3. I’ve been raised around people with very traditionally patriarchal values. While my immediate family hold relatively relaxed gender expectations, I have relatives who would for instance perceive a woman’s life incomplete without marriage – to a man of course, and only with the father’s permission – and child-rearing. Anything different is incomprehensibly foreign.

I’m a young Asian woman. This identity marker puts me at the target end of Asian female fetishism and is why I’m so adamantly concerned about it.

So what seems most absurd is that I would still apply those demeaning stereotypes to other Asian women.

What makes me different?

Perhaps it’s to do with my Western identity.

It showed when I separated myself from mukbang culture by considering it “abnormal”. As I recalled, I couldn’t imagine the broadcasted binge eating lifestyle being normalised or applicable to me. I could only empathise with the culture through a racial characteristic, but I realise that my own internalised Western prejudices surfaced to skew my image of mukbang’s participants.

I’ll continue to watch (or ‘binge’ on) mukbang for the rest of my project. But it’s necessary that I stay aware of my misconceptions so as not to further them.

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References

Ambrose, D 2015, ‘Blog: My experience as a webcam binge eater’, SBS Dateline, 20 October, <http://www.sbs.com.au/news/dateline/article/2015/10/20/blog-my-experience-webcam-binge-eater&gt;.

Hony, E 2016, ‘Why some Koreans make $10,000 a month to eat on camera’, Quartz, 16 January, <http://qz.com/592710/why-some-koreans-make-10000-a-month-to-eat-on-camera/&gt;.

Rosen, E 2016, ‘Food and Intimacy: What’s the connection?’, Psychology of Eating, <http://psychologyofeating.com/food-intimacy-video/&gt;.

 

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Mukbang

My paranoia about being watched while eating in public or through my webcam – or both happening simultaneously – would make me an awful host of mukbang.

The Korean term combines parts of the words meokneun (eating) and bangsong (broadcast) to label the phenomenon of people eating huge amounts of food in front of an online audience.

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‘BJ (Broadcast Jockey) Fitness Fairy’ is a body-builder turned mukbang host, and a prominent face of the South Korean subculture. (source)

My prior knowledge

I knew of on-camera eating before understanding it as ‘mukbang’. My interactions with the subculture however, were limited to social media excerpts which previewed young Asian women eating. I still managed to cast pre-judgement and scepticism. One of those ideas concerned the ethics of binge-eat broadcasting. It was the “think of the children” argument.

In a much more personal respect, I’d felt a sense of repulsion towards the activity. I considered it a platform for Asian female fetishism; a place for men to satisfy their sexual fixations with young Asian women. I was repulsed because I thought it turned the act of eating into a kind of pornography which objectifies and devalues my identity as a young Asian woman.

I chose for this autoethnographic project to immerse myself into the culture. Regardless of how I might initially feel, it’s a chance to investigate my assumptions and to possibly dismantle them.

My first encounter with mukbang for this project was through a journalist’s report.  The segment (7:00-17:00) followed the routine of BJ (Broadcast Jockey) Fitness Fairy, emphasising the preparation and dedication it took to be a successful mukbang host. It also presented the opinions of a few dedicated mukbang followers and the personal reasons for their idolisations.

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BJ Fitness Fairy’s preparation routine includes 5 hours of daily exercise. (source)

Things I noted

  • Hosts aren’t exclusively female. But in the montages shown in this video, they appear to be people aged between 20 and 30.
  • Fitness Fairy challenges what I understand about the ideal petite body image that is valued particularly throughout Asia. Despite no longer body-building, she maintains a toned physique which she says has encouraged her audience towards greater health consciousness. I wonder how this might change her audience’s opinions about the conventionally slim and dainty body.
  • She talks about her audience’s open judgement and commentary about her physical appearance. She adds, “I once told them that when I get too fat and don’t look good, I’ll start a diet broadcast. People are hoping I’ll gain weight, so they can go on a diet with me.” These exchanges make it seem like a very personal relationship exists between Fitness Fairy and her audience, but I can’t help but feel uncomfortable at how they idolise her. The overt pressure she seems to face from viewers – to be fit or become obese – are confusing to me and even appear manipulative.
  • Fitness Fairy acknowledges a “dark side” to mukbang. She considers some hosts short-sighted as their eyes rest on earning income without health considerations – “the equivalent to strangling yourself.” I view her as someone who’d have to be very self-disciplined to be able to lead this lifestyle as healthily as she claims.
  • She asks her mother if the growing of her biceps look “ugly”. Does this imply that Fitness Fairy still holds value to the body image ideals of her greater society? What does that tell her viewers?
  • I found myself more empathetic towards the interviewed mukbang viewers than the broadcasters. They expressed how hosts offered solace from young people’s struggling realities, which are of high unemployment and loneliness. Mukbang stars are viewed in a more humanised way than other types of celebrities, but they still remain idolised.

“The food is healing for us”
– dedicated mukbang viewer

My cultural assumptions

My concerns about fetishism weren’t addressed in this video. When a “dark side” was mentioned, it was about health concerns rather than the cultural implications I’d imagined prior.

Questions that I raised during this interaction primarily relate to body image in South Korea. I’m interested in further investigating how my understanding of beauty standards – of my own and of the broader South Korean culture – are applied while watching mukbang. I’d also like to continue addressing my concerns about Asian female fetishism by analysing viewer’s responses to the broadcasted content.

Methodologies

I don’t have the guts to be a mukbang host (get it?). So to further investigate these questions using ethnography, I’ll instead be a participant observer. I’m going to watch several mukbang videos.

Participant observation will be a way of cultural immersion. It involves my note-taking of cultural happenings and how I and others engage with those occurrences (Ellis et al., 2011). My research will include analysing things like the way people speak – both hosts and audience members – and making sense of them autoethnographically by using my own cultural perspectives and existing literature. I want to know how commenters judge hosts and how hosts may respond.

There are some limitations to my method. I refuse to pay a subscription to view live streams, so I’m choosing to view mukbang videos that have been uploaded to YouTube. This means I won’t have live interaction with broadcast jockeys or other viewers in the way mukbang was originally intended. However, I still may be able to engage in commentary should others wish to respond.

Final thoughts

The last time I ate in public, I was being watched by a seagull. That was already highly uncomfortable, so I couldn’t see myself eating in the public scene of an online broadcast. The broadcast jockey lifestyle remains to me a bizarre activity. This perspective is influenced by my identity as a young Asian woman, and it will likely direct how openly I engage with the subculture, including the ways I might judge mukbang enthusiasts.

I await a challenge – not of how much I can eat, but how much I can watch and read.

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References

Al Jazeera English 2015, South Korea: Kimchi Crazy – 101 East, online video, 24 September, Al Jazeera, viewed 29 September 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llS8qtvFSPA&gt;.

Ellis, C, Adams, TE & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: an overview’, Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung, pp.273-290.

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Understanding the Craft

Digital Asia

il_fullxfull-286888959 This is what ‘StarCraft’ means to me. (source)

I’m no gamer. I didn’t think I’d be able to connect with a story about eSport athletes. I didn’t even know eSport athleticism was a thing.

State of Play is a film about a South Korean gaming subculture. Watching it was an ethnographic experience. It was ethnographic in that I was observing and noting the practices and experiences of the of the gamers. My analyses of these observations using selective personal retrospect is autoethnographyEllis describes the method as an acceptance of the researcher’s subjectivity in which personal experience is used as a means of understanding another culture.

My cultural identity has shaped how I’ve interpreted this film – autoethnography says it’s totally valid.

Ethnography – observations of the film I considered worth noting:

  • A narrating voice tells us that most people follow the paths given to them. I might be cringing a little because I don’t know if…

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digging into the picture

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Screenshot of Google definition for ‘dignity’

World Vision ads are the worst. At least according to the memory of them they’ve engrained in my mind. They, and charities like them, deliver mantras of “hope” that accompany images of perpetual poverty.

Perpetual poverty is the systematic cycle that maintains the state of a disadvantaged life. Undignified representations only help to further entrap these people.

Such images on my television equate poverty with destitution. They frame entire populations as little more than ‘poor’. It’s a real disservice to its audience – ordinary people who are undermined and marketed to know no better. More significantly, they are patronising and disempowering to the subjects they depict.

Ja’mie King is probably the best representative of World Vision the world has ever seen (2:23-4:00):

The [world] vision of the far away continent

“Be grateful – there are starving children in Africa”

Western mothers like to use this one when their children refuse vegetables. What’s wrong with it is not that it isn’t true – there’s no denying the existence of starving African children – what’s wrong with it is the implied ignorance of anything but starvation in Africa. Aren’t there starving children on all continents? Reminding children of their privilege like this isn’t going to make vegetables taste any better to them anyway.

Essentialism in identity politics is a practice which defines a population’s entire character by a stereotype. It is reducing the African race to “hungry”, “uneducated” and “penniless”. It’s what Gorski (2012, p. 86) considers “deficit thinking”, as there’s no encouragement to see problems as systematic consequences. Instead, deficit thinking identifies the “cultures” of other people as the source of their disadvantage.

This invites a wrongly implied “culture of poverty”.

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“We don’t like pictures like this. It is not good to deduce an entire country to the image of a person reaching out for food…” (source)

The importance of dignity

Dignity does not exploit.

Dignity gives worth.

Dignity is the work of photographer Brandon Stanton. A street photographer and photojournalist, Stanton creates an intimate bond between the subject and the audience which often provoke self-reflection. The simplest anecdote can have incredible consequences. The way that Stanton can bring me to tears is through accounts which are raw and honest. There is no need for special camera effects. The people have real faces and real stories, and they are their own narrators.

In 2015 amongst the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, Stanton travelled to Turkey and Jordan. He interviewed and photographed refugee families whose stories connected and resonated with his audience of predominantly U.S Americans. Themes of valuing family, education and belonging struck the audience who shared their own stories, support and gratitude towards the subjects interviewed.

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Stanton depicts refugees exactly as they are – people. (source)

What develops from dignified representations of people is a sense of profound human connection. It is the difference between evoking momentary sympathy and evoking life-long empathy.

 

References:

Gorski, PC 2012, ‘Teaching against essentialism and the “culture of poverty”, Cultivating social justice teachers: How teacher educators have helped students overcome cognitive bottlenecks and learn critical social justice concepts, Sterling, VA, pp. 84-100.

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selfie-consciousness

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Screenshot of Google definition for ‘selfie’

 I’d respect it if someone considered a daily selfie necessary. But it’s not my “style”.

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My latest Instagram selfie

My eyes were closed. It was captioned: “i dream of méxico #:(“, and the lack of eye contact was not an accident. Only with context would people like my friends know that I had recently been to Mexico and was not just suddenly dreaming about it. I prepared it carefully in concern for my appearance and the kind of reception I could’ve expected from it.

I’ve already written a bit about my online self-consciousness – it’s my preference to be relatively inactive.

The concern of self-image is practiced across all my profiles. I’ve curated a particular online identity that is dynamic with time and with each platform. I used to have almost no limits on what I posted. Now, it’s a strict rule of being low key, following processes of thorough contemplation, hesitation and the odd paranoia about how my content will appear and be received by others.

Why ‘low key’?

Each platform has different audiences. Facebook for instance, is the most personal to me. All contacts are people I know in person. It has an affect on what I say, and how I say it.

I often consider my family’s judgement. Probably because they’re the ones most likely to misinterpret my humour, which could perhaps lead to a misreading of my character. It’s partly an issue of intercultural miscommunication – something that can be harder to decipher online. They’re also the most likely to report to my mother, who while is not active online, has that motherly way of finding things out…

Social media presents a “multiple audience problem” (Rui, 2012) that challenges our control. How much can we manage if family, friends and colleagues are able to see, comment and post on our profiles? I find it both interesting and odd to be able to read conversations between an acquaintance and their family. I choose to remain low-key partly due to a discomfort with the idea of openness to lurking eyes, and partly because I wouldn’t consider most aspects of my personal life as interesting enough to share anyway.

What do I upload?

mmm

A snapshot of my Instagram profile

I prefer to upload things that aren’t about myself. It might be a link to an event, music, or photos of things and places. I keep a monitor on the things people tag me in, and I think twice about ‘liking’ things.

Rui (2012) writes that a protective self-presentation is a consequence of low self-esteem, greater concern of perception from others and a tendency toward social comparison. I’d agree that this is the case for me, but to different extents on different platforms, and according to different moods. One day I might consider ‘liking’ everything I see (knowing that people will see the proliferation of my activity), and the next day I might feel like being invisible and not ‘liking’ a hilarious meme or a friend’s new profile picture. Just for the sake of not being seen online. Even if that friend’s picture is absolutely lovely.

How do I upload?

  1. Contemplate the message – What am I trying to say? Do I even want to say anything?
  2. Hesitate – Am I considering my audience? Will my family see this? What would they say to my mother?
  3. Post content – Whatever happens will happen, right? My message might be useful. It might make people think.
    or
    Do not post content – The content is not meaningful enough. Maybe I don’t believe in what I am saying. Maybe I am seeking attention that I don’t need.
  4. (optional) Worry – Someone is going to misinterpret this. I don’t want people to think that I am this or that.

A crucial thing to note is that I’m not necessarily discontent with my current approach (steps 1-3, at least). Online, it helps me reconsider how my thoughts stream through my fingers. Offline, it manages how those thoughts stream through my mouth. My selfie-consciousness is a useful thing.

 

References:

Rui, J & Stefanone, MA 2013, ‘Strategic self-presentation online: A cross-cultural study’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 110-118.

 

 

 

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Looking Over My Yesterdays

So many drafts, yet such inconsistent publishing.

Time after time

My experience of writing in public is one of self-consciousness — whip-creamed with “Is this right?” and sprinkled with “I feel like I have no idea”. It’s not as though this is new to me — just check out that menu bar! I’m also well aware that there is no correct way, but the criticism I have for my own writing is a definite barrier to consistency.

Student blogging

My understanding of ‘student blogging’ is that it is a task. That fact itself influences my lenient attitude towards this blog. I’d imagine blogging to be less pressuring — but not necessarily ‘simpler’ — if it were, say, a hobby. There’s something about things feeling like a ‘task’ that don’t particularly motivate me to complete them.

Regardless of work ethic, writing in public presents an opportunity for collaborative learning. Ellison & Wu (2008) consider blogging a means of opinionated exchange and negotiation of meaning. These aspects of collaborative learning aren’t necessarily fostered in other writing assignments — the typical ‘major essay’ assessment for example doesn’t quite allow for peer input.

Blogging may be an individual task, but it can foster collaborative thought. (source)

Possibly the greatest benefit of collaborative learning is the encouragement it can generate. I find others’ positive reviews a pleasurable read. It indicates at least the slightest interest in my work, even if expressed with exaggerated praise. Ellison & Wu find that this kind of activity and the response it generates leads the student to spend more time doing other course-related activities. Investing more time in reading course material and attending classes obviously results in better grades and student satisfaction.

Through the mirror of my mind

Using public writing for research communication

Public writing has been a way of reflecting. I can reflect by responding to feedback, comparing with fellow public writers and referring to previously published communications research. This has become a platform for building experience and questioning the effectiveness of my research practices. With each new communications subject I take (that menu is definitely going to get longer), progress can be recorded by myself and seen by others.

“Information technology skills” sounds clever on a résumé. The experience applies beyond academia. According to DiBiase (2002), the benefits of e-portfolios have more to do with their development than the end product. DiBiase lists the following potential opportunities provided by public writing (p. 10):

  • increased learning effectiveness
  • modelling professionalism (in writing, not fashion)
  • enhancing information technology skills
  • gaining academic credit for learning beyond the classroom

Finding my voice

While still self-conscious about it, my writing has become a lot smoother.

My preferred style is much clearer to me. The type of personality I want to portray online — which is definitely different to that of my offline profile — is both casual and somewhat professional. Well, enough to get hired, maybe.

Kim et al. (2011) study the differences between offline and online identities. It is argued that it takes less time and effort to establish an online identity — there are no physical self-defining barriers. Things like race and age are self-characteristics which can be hidden in an online identity.

In this way, public writing provides a very open platform for self-expression.

(All the tears) All the tears

While my writing has improved, I haven’t quite established a comfortable online identity. There’s no particular aspect of my offline life that I’d like to share online — what would be of interest to other people? If I knew, I’d undertake this platform further than simply a ‘university blog’. What would the ‘genre’ of my blog be — or could there be several genres in one?

A regular audience would help to clarify this.

Building an audience

The engagement between me and an audience is just about non-existent on this blog.

This is the aspect of public writing I’ve definitely struggled with most — maintaining attention… of others. The biggest audience interaction I’ve experienced was from last year (2014) — that was through BCM110 — in which commenting on others’ posts was compulsory.

Blog statistics, 2014.

In that period of blogging, I received a burst of attention in my first few weeks. But, my online identity was very vague: my introductory post spoke about my liking of pistachios — it has since been deleted.

Blog statistics, 2015. As we can see, interaction has dramatically declined.

Although I’ve published the same number of posts this year, my promotional efforts have been poor. This probably comes back to my lack of consistency in publishing (attributable to my lack of organisation, which is also reflected here). I promise you, prospective employer, I’m not that terrible.

I keep holding on

Goals

This blog needs to be more than an ‘assessment’. That means crafting and publishing my overwhelming collection of drafts. It would also really help if I established a greater presence in other online spaces — Twitter especially. Creating this presence and building my consistency will help my writing to flourish. Hopefully then I will see a cycle of audience interaction, encouragement, and continued writing.

This could be me, but I’m playin’. (source)

References:

DiBiase, D 2002, ‘Using e-portfolios at Penn State to enhance student learning: Status, prospects, and strategies’, Penn State University, viewed 05 October 2015, <https://www.e-education.psu.edu/files/e-port_report.pdf&gt;.

Ellison, N & Wu, Y 2008, ‘Blogging in the Classroom: A Preliminary Exploration of Student Attitudes and Impact on Comprehension’, Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 99-122.

http://genius.com/Diana-ross-and-the-supremes-reflections-lyrics

Kim, HW Zheng JR & Gupta S 2011, ‘Examining knowledge contribution from the perspective of an online identity in blogging communities’, Computers in Human Behaviour, vol 27, no. 5, pp. 1760-1770

 

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