I love watching South Korean mukbang. It’s a genre of online video in which streamers eat excessive amounts of food (usually very unhealthy) in front of a camera. The term roughly translates to “eating broadcast,” which I think encapsulates the primary purpose of mukbang pretty well. However, the genre also lends itself to a surprising amount of depth. In this post, I’d like to speculate about why one popular mukbang personality—tzuyang—is able to consistently enthrall her 5.58 million subscribers and other YouTube-watching enthusiasts. I find tzuyang’s videos appealing because they seamlessly integrate “textual motive” and other kinds of motive.
Traditionally, mukbang is done in the comfort of one’s home, and the unmoving camera simply captures 1) the food and 2) the person who eats the food. Within this setup, the host answers “textual motive” questions (What does the food taste like? What’s the best way to prepare and eat the food?) by “analyzing” her “primary sources.”
This is tzuyang in a more “classic” mukbang setting.
Although tzuyang has, of course, recorded these more “traditional” mukbang videos, most of her videos actually blur the boundaries between traditional mukbang, vlog, and even documentary. Tzuyang’s most recent video, in which she visits a traditional market in Daejeon, South Korea, exemplifies this genre-bending style. The video was sponsored by the Daejeon Tourism Organization, and it clearly aims to display the appeal, variety, and authenticity of traditional market food. Thus, the video not only focuses on the delicious food (and tzuyang’s astounding appetite) but also captures the environment/atmosphere of the traditional market. Tzuyang, then, embeds her eating within a larger context. In writing, we might think of this move as situating our main analytical work in a “scholarly conversation.”
In another recent video, people in the fish market abandoned their stalls to watch tzuyang eat.
Another aspect of tzuyang’s videos are her interactions/conversations with food stall and restaurant owners. Although many of them recognize tzuyang, they are nevertheless amazed upon seeing how much food she can consume. (These owners, who are generally older, also love to give tzuyang extra side dishes and tea. They treat her like she’s their granddaughter.) These live interactions are both funny and heartwarming; altogether, they add yet another dimension to the “scholarly conversation” of tzuyang’s videos. Some shopkeepers initially express skepticism, while others wholeheartedly cheer tzuyang on. Regardless of what onlookers say, tzuyang responds to all of them through her engagement with food.
This informal analysis now brings me to why I (and millions of others) keep returning to tzuyang’s videos. Although eating remains a focal point of tzuyang’s channel, her videos are also engaging because they show how tzuyang navigates different food landscapes and converses with local people. Together, these elements also allow tzuyang to promote older or lesser-known food locations across South Korea, which have been heavily impacted by the global pandemic. Mukbang videos can have a global motive!
Drawing inspiration from tzuyang’s multilayered videos, I would encourage students to incorporate different layers of motive in their own writing. While watching—or, in my case, describing—how people eat lots of food is somewhat puzzling in itself, this content allows us to simultaneously think about larger environments, communities, and global contexts.
–Christina Cho, ’24