Thinking about mukbangs and vlogs

I’ve been a moderate Youtube fan for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching nigahiga, smosh, and thewinekone. When I hit high school, I discovered and followed some beauty gurus like Michelle Phan, bubzbeauty, and beautifymeeh. One progression that I like to think about is how what we’re looking for when we go online has changed over the years.

I remember using Myspace during my middle school days, when you carefully planned the profile picture you wanted to use and admired the aesthetic lives of others who showcased their best selves and the fun in their lives. You looked up to these folks and their seemingly perfect lives and tried to replicate some parts in your own ways. When you went on the internet, you looked for and followed influencers who were living interesting lives. I think this continues to be a common pattern on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram today, but I believe a new pattern has emerged in attempt to fulfill a need we’re starting to seek online: a sense of closeness with others.

I started watching early vlogs of a Youtuber named beautifymeeh, who started incorporating videos of her husband cooking meals for her and their adventures around their then-home in Boston. She eventually moved to the suburbs of Dallas, Texas (where I’m from). Even though her videos no longer helped me vicariously imagine an exciting city life, I was still drawn to her seemingly mundane videos where she went grocery shopping (at a market that I frequented with my own family). I enjoyed watching these video logs (“vlogs” as the cool kids say these days) so much that I started following other folks who were doing it as well, like WahlieTV, who I follow and cheer on to this day.

When I followed those cool hipster kids on Myspace and Tumblr, I didn’t feel personally connected to them in any way. They were cool and untouchable. The same applies to some of the influencers I follow on Instagram, who serve as inspirations and ideals to aspire to. But these vloggers, you feel some sort of personal connection with them when they show themselves doing the same mundane things you do, like cooking, taking care of dogs, running errands, etc. Yet, even though I have my family, my roommate, my friends, I don’t find myself sharing these moments with them that often. I wonder if there was a turning point, when we were on the internet so much that it isolated and disconnected us from other people… only for us to want to turn to technology itself for a remedy. I was trying to reason through why mukbangs and vlogs are so popular these days. I wonder if it’s because of something like this. We’re all a bit more disconnected than generations before, we all eat some meals alone or do some chores alone. Those of us who have a strong online presence film a mukbang or a vlog during these moments. Those of us who don’t, we turn to watching these mukbangs or vlogs during these moments to feel a bit more connected.