Dr Glen Donnar’s recent research focuses on overeating celebrities— through the South Korean new media phenomenon of "mukbang" and American "dude food TV".
What is mukbang?
Mukbang is a South Korean phenomenon in which broadcasting jockeys (BJs) sit nightly in front of webcams, live-streaming their consumption of enormous amounts of food.
On the internet channel Afreeca TV, BJs like The Diva can earn thousands of dollars each month as they interact with their fans, who offer financial gifts during each performance.
Popular performers can earn enough money to quit their day jobs to become professional eaters, with fan clubs managed by their most committed fans!
How does mukbang relate to South Korean culture?
Mukbang shows us how social media can create more intimate and immersive interactions between fan and celebrity.
It also resonates with deeply embedded Korean cultures of eating together, with "sharing a residence" roughly translated to "eating rice from the same cooking pot".
In recent years, however, an increasing proportion of South Koreans live and eat alone. For fans seeking companionship, watching mukbang can function as a sort of "eating with", which at least momentarily disrupts loneliness and alienation.
South Korea is known for its "beauty obsession", how does mukbang fit in?
The well-documented South Korean obsession with beauty regulates many women’s relationship to food.
By watching mukbang, some dieting female fans not only enviously celebrate overeating while remaining thin, but also watch to avoid actual eating.
At the same time, the visible (and audible) pleasure gained from eating in mukbang also disrupts notions of "ideal" or "appropriate" femininity associated with self-denial and restraint.
What is "dude food TV"?
Dude food TV sprouted from the masculinist chef culture of the 1980s and '90s, and celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain in the 2000s.
The number of shows exploded in the wake of the global financial crisis (GFC) on cable food TV.
American food-travel show Man v. Food is a perfect example of dude food TV. The host Adam Richman travelled across the US attempting “big food” eating challenges at local restaurants, like trying to eat the 8-pound Sasquatch burger.
The emergence of dude food TV post-GFC celebrates "blue-collar" foods and – however tongue in cheek – white male performance, excess and hypermasculinity.
Man v. Food seemingly offers an antidote to white male anxieties about cultural relevance in this period of risk and uncertainty.
Beyond this, what do performances of overeating tell us?
I examine how popular broadcasted performances of overeating and celebrity navigate cultural and economic tensions, anxieties and passions specific to each society and culture.
These touch on notions of selfhood, gendered performances and cultural rituals of eating, questions of consumption and taste, as well as the commodification of eating.
Speaking of eating, you ate fast food during your conference presentation at the Celebrity Studies Journal Conference in Amsterdam.
I was awarded an Ian Potter Foundation travel grant to present at the conference, the key global meeting in this still emerging field.
I ate a large Big Mac meal as I spoke about mukbang and dude food TV – my first work of academic performance art!
Story: Alicia Jennings