“Mukbang” is a type of performance in which someone eats large quantities of food, while interacting with their audience. Usually done through a webcast, mukbang became popular in South-Korea in the 2000s.
NY based filmmakers Tn’T (Tarik Malak & Timothy Douglas), in collaboration with Vogue Korea and supermodel Jessica Stam, wanted to take the first “haute couture” spin on this digital phenomenon. The film is also a tongue-in-cheek homage to the glorious days of “porno chic” fashion photography, as well as low-fi internet graphic design, and a genuine love letter to modern Internet culture and Korean food.
By accumulating so-called “star balloons,” mukbang (which comes from the Korean words eating (muk-ja) and broadcasting (bang-song) broadcasters can gain up to several hundred dollars per session. The phenomenon is hugely popular in South-Korea and has created real celebrities, such as “The Diva,” earning about $9000 a month. An explanation for this trend could be the increasing number of one-person households, wherefore mukbang would provide online interaction and company for lonely diners. It brings people with a passion for food together, but also those who have more of an obsession. Indeed, there might be more psychological reasons too for paying people to watch them eat. Struggling with today’s beauty ideals that are unattainable for a lot of people, one might choose to watch others eat in order to provide satisfaction for themselves, or to be put off by the overload of food. One viewer said:
“I lost eight kilograms watching you as I carried the satisfaction of you eating.” (read more)
Ironically, high fashion used to always be repugnant to large quantities of (fast) food. The catastrophe of anorexic models dying still lies fresh in the memory of couture history. The ideal image of the slim and muscular body is completely opposed to the fast food industry that is now so prominent in our modern lives.
However, with the fashion image entering the digital world and becoming more and more engaged with it, it cannot ignore the popular virtual culture that it is embedded in. The fashion film as we know it, can only exist through the online world and the digital platforms on which it circulates. While traditional fashion images have been widely criticized because of their unrealistic an unhealthy representation of (fictional) bodies, the fashion film cannot afford to go further in this direction. Instead, it has to open up towards what is actually happening in society, and respond to its needs.
Tn’T recreated The Diva‘s setting with a Western model, plunged in Eastern comic/manga culture in order to connect the western high fashion image with eastern popular culture. A clever combination, as with globalization “the West” has developed an increasing interest in “Eastern” cultures, whilst “the East” has been overloaded with “Western” images and culture, in a way blending the two together. As a result, their fashion film is likely to appeal to a worldwide audience that is interconnected through the web on which it is screened. However, even though the imagery is visually stunning, one might ask to what extent this is a “genuine love letter to modern Internet culture and Korean food,” or an “exoticizing” of a cultural phenomenon that seems alien to those outside of it, and use it in favor of promoting fashion.
This works because even though “high fashion” and “food” may have first seemed to have nothing in common, Tn’T shows that mukbang can create a really interesting haptic experience in which the food on screen can almost literally be tasted by the spectator, hence one viewer’s comment: “It feels like I am eating with her…” The fetishization of food is touching upon our biological sense of taste. And fashion film, after all, is about bringing across a physical experience, as film is the perfect medium to let fashion be sensed by the viewer.