Youtube has emerged as a dynamic medium for cultural interaction and exchange, offering easy access to entertainment around the world. Within these ripe conditions for intercultural exchange, several distinct genres of videos have exploded in popularity. Reaction videos, adventure videos, and review videos have become veritable fixtures of Youtube entertainment. The respective premises of these three genres are fairly straightforward: reaction videos capture people reacting to something they have not experienced before, adventure videos offer viewers a slice of life in a foreign place, and review videos revolve around evaluating products or services. However, a trend within all three categories indicates more complexity than is immediately discernible. Westerners reacting to Asian music and food are a staple among reaction videos, videos about Asian travels and outings dominate the adventure video category, and reviews of Asian products abound.
Digital media companies like Buzzfeed have been hugely influential on the evolution of Youtube entertainment. Buzzfeed is a Youtube giant that informs the trends of all kinds of smaller channels, and boasts an extensive repertoire of reaction videos. Among these, videos of employees reacting to Asian foods are particularly popular and prolific. These videos generate interest by shocking American palates with authentic Asian food, with participants expressing simultaneous trepidation and excitement. This thrilling sense of risk is very deliberately complemented by neoliberal ideals of cultural sensitivity and racial colorblindness. The non-Asian participants make noticeable effort to be make up for their shock and disgust, while Asian-American participants (who are noticeably more represented in Asian-themed reaction videos than in comparable reaction videos), offer exaggerated reactions that would seem to dispel any misgivings about the videos have anything to do with race. Although Buzzfeed attempts to distance its videos from conspicuous racism, given that Asian-themed reaction videos are both published earlier and significantly more popular, it becomes clear that these videos are complicit in a history of orientalism, and at their core exploit racial voyeurism for profit.
Orientalist ideology is more apparent in the adventure videos of Youtube Channel ChoNunMigookSaram. Megan Bowen, the creator of ChoNunMigookSaram is an American expatriot living in Seoul, South Korea who originally moved to Korea to teach English but is now a full-time Youtuber. One of the most notable things about her channel is the focus on romance. In her Date In Paradise (DIP) series, Bowen films herself on blind dates with Korean men. The DIP videos are so successful because they are targeted to a non-Korean audience that has been primed by Korean dramas and K-pop to have certain fantasies about Korean men. Bowen invites other foreign women into her own personal Korean drama and encourages them to imagine themselves as objects of Korean men’s affections as well. Despite claiming to let viewers into her daily life in Korea, Bowen skillfully crafts a romantic illusion of life in Korea that feeds off of the delusions of her audience. Rather than humanize Korean people or society, Bowen positions both as highly fetishized commodities.
Bowen is not the first Youtube star to have moved to Korea as an English teacher before pursuing a career in online entertainment. Simon and Martina Stawski, a married Canadian couple and creators of the Youtube Channel Simon and Martina (more commonly known as Eat Your Kimchi) followed the same trajectory years earlier. During their years active in Korea, they maintained a weekly schedule of series such as K-pop Music Mondays and Wonderful Treasure Find Korea (WTF Korea), which both revolve around reviewing Korean music and novelties. In these review videos, the Stawskis do not attempt to humanize Korea like Bowen or even mitigate their reactions like Buzzfeed. While any place in the world has its fair share of strange novelty products and bizarre pop music, Eat Your Kimchi conveniently ignores this universality in favor of portraying the products to be strange by nature of being Korean.
The common theme of all these videos is that they are all based in orientalism and voyeurism. While some, like the Buzzfeed videos and to some degree the Bowen videos, mask this ideological foundation with neoliberal rhetoric and ideals it is clear that anything about Asian society or culture from food to people to music can be exploited for profit and popularity. If Youtube is any proof, as long as it is Asian, there will be an audience.