Park Seo-Yeon, a 33-year-old South Korean woman who lives in Incheon, just west of Seoul, has quit her job to spend up to three hours a day eating. The elaborate meals she consumes are eaten in front of a camera, the live footage streamed for a massive online audience. Think that sounds crazy? Maybe not when you consider how much she’s earning to do this rather bizarre work: more than $9,000 a month.
Yeah, it sounds like one of those ubiquitous ads you see on the sidebar of so many websites: “Make $$$ from Home!” But what do you have to do to get it?
In Park’s case, she pretty much just plants herself in front of a webcam and chows down: on four large pizzas, say, or up to six pounds of beef, reports CNN (which also notes that all this food is consumed over the course of several hours—it’s not like you’re watching a daily hot-dog-eating contest or anything).
And Park isn’t some strange, singular phenomenon in South Korea. Known as the Diva online, she may arguably be the most successful example of a growing Korean trend known as “muk-bang” (“eating broadcasts”), but she’s not the only one. Reuters estimates that some 3,500 South Koreans have taken to eating online in exchange for cash.
So what’s lost in the translation here? Voyeuristic Americans may automatically assume there is more to the story; surely the Diva’s online “performances” involve more than just eating (like, say, lingerie or whipped cream).
Nope. In fact, her audience skews decidedly female—about 60 percent are women.
As one regular female viewer tells Reuters, “It feels as if I’m eating that much food with her. I think that’s what the show is about, and probably it’s comforting for people who eat alone.”
Indeed, Reuters reports that if current demographic trends hold, one-person households could make up a third of the South Korean population in the next 15 years—and that’s a lot of lonesome eaters yearning for some companionship.
“A lot of my viewers are on diets, and they say they live vicariously through me,” Park tells CNN, “or they are hospital patients who only have access to hospital food so they also watch my broadcasts to see me eat.”
Park’s daily broadcasts are shown live on South Korea’s popular AfreecaTV streaming site. It’s free to watch, but viewers not only can chat with Park but also voluntarily send “virtual balloons” that she can convert to cash.
That’s right: The more than $9,000 Park makes each month appears to come entirely from donations, though she has been approached by food companies seeking to sponsor her show.
Clearly it would be all too easy to make fun of what Park is doing, and plenty of her viewers already have. “I get some really awful commenters who make me reexamine ‘why am I doing this again?’ ” she tells CNN.
But ultimately Park appears to be fulfilling a necessary—if somewhat depressing—cultural niche, one born of an increasingly tech-driven yet socially fragmenting society. “At the end of the day, the positive feedback overwhelmingly outweighs the bad,” she says. “So I am happy to continue.”