Eating alone can be lonely. That's why so many people take meals at their desks, or watching TV. But in South Korea, single eaters are adopting an odd but kinda logical solution to remedy the lonesome eater's blues: People are paying to see other people eat on the Internet.
The trend, called "meok bang", took off a few years ago on Afreeca TV, South Korea's webcast-centric answer to YouTube. People started preparing and eating elaborate meals over a live-stream, making conversation as they ate enormous helpings of bulgogi, pizza and noodles. The shows are free, but people watching show their appreciation by paying the eaters with a digital currency that could be cashed out for real money. Korean-American actor Steven Yeun discussed the trend last night on Conan.
Some of the most popular online food-eaters, like a woman known as The Diva, make over $US9000 a month for their virtual meal-time companionship.
This so-called gastronomic voyeurism seems like a scene from a dystopian film or the next season of Black Mirror, a voluntary Orwellian exercise where people crowdsource their income as they act as a food avatar for a public so alienated they are more apt to pay a stranger to continue slurping noodles on a screen for companionship instead of seeking out free, real life dining partners.
I am the first to say that this shit looks strange! And the people watching it who are on a diet, who use it as a visual replacement for actually eating, are both veering into a disordered relationship with food and basically the real-life equivalent of those College Humour Very Mary Kate sketches from a few years ago where Mary Kate Olsen pushes a diet where you only look at food instead of eating it.
Yet I don't want to dismiss this as merely another indicator of a high-tech culture's increasing isolation and reliance on the internet. Many of the reality television programs we watch in the US, often while eating alone, also hook us with a voyeuristic approximation of intimacy: The Bachelor is a manufactured simulation of dating, Keeping Up With the Kardashians is a strangely compelling show about family.
While the total lack of narrative and focus on the act of eating in meok bang appears bizarre, it's a more straight-forward replacement for face-to-face companionship than many of the programs people turn on in America to forget that they're eating alone. [BBC/ Time]