A Korean woman, in a loose white shirt and pants, who never shows her face washes white onions. Through the subtitles, she explains that she makes bokkeumbap kimchi. The camera focuses on her hands as she cuts the onions into pieces. There is no background music, no conversation. She’s frying an egg, and you can hear the oil sizzling, a faucet running in the background. She eats this simple meal alone at a small table, a white napkin serving as a placemat. Afterwards, she starts the laundry, explaining that she stopped using fabric softeners after discovering that they contained fine plastics. The camera zooms in on the washer, the gray clothes falling inside. While doing evening work, she takes the time to pour water into a glass, adding dried beet shavings to tint it pink. When she wants a break, she takes her dog for a walk and orders a bingsu. She is showering, washing the dishes. At the end of the night, she tucks into her bed. We never see her face, and as the video turns black, I wonder, how did I get here, a year after the pandemic started, watching an anonymous woman on YouTube?
Let’s go back to early 2020. As Covid reached the East Coast, my husband and I were squatting in our Brooklyn apartment. I was pregnant, my husband was a resident doctor who didn’t know if he would be sent to the “front lines”, and we were scared. During those first few months, when the news and sirens were persistent, I lost my attention. I couldn’t work. I worried. I cried. In the evening, unable to participate in one of my usual pre-pregnancy vices, I went to TV. At first I turned to the drama, the action, the emotions and the heightened stakes. Give me everything Ozark, Itaewon Class, Succession, My Mister. For a while, I wanted to saturate myself with fictitious lives, thus erasing mine. But a year later, those shows were no longer the sedative I needed. My mind was overloaded with Zoom meetings, Zoom courses, Zoom blocking. Instead of blitz and spectacle, I wanted something soothing and easy, preferably Korean, which is my language of comfort. My friend Deb directed me to silent vlogging on YouTube. It was a growing community, she said, and maybe I would find what I was looking for.
This is how I ended up watching 슛뚜 sueddu for the first time. It looks like that I am not alone. Her 10-minute “summer night routine” video has been viewed over two million times. Like other Korean vloggers in this growing internet niche, 슛뚜 sueddu films himself doing things we tend to rush, like pulling back the curtains or wiping down a counter. These creators are mainly women and the videos are decidedly domestic. Although they may seem old-fashioned or outdated, reflexively devaluing the household setting is to miss the larger intention. Rather, in a year when the complete world has been stuck at home, these silent vloggers are part of a “slow culture” movement, highlighting an appreciation for silence and simplicity. Often there is a connection to minimalism, with some providing advice on how to reduce waste and lead more sustainable lives. Together, these creators embody the type of mindfulness that many of us have sought out, especially over the past year or so.
Clearly these vloggers are filling a need – they have huge, dedicated followers. There’s 해 그린 달 haegreendal, a stay-at-home mom whose most popular video – “11 Different Egg Dishes I First Tried” – has been viewed 8.9 million times. It’s not just about the eggs. The video opens with a dreamy shot of windblown white curtains, birds singing in the background. Through the subtitles, 해 그린 달 haegreendal explains: “I didn’t like ordinary things when I was younger. I thought the ordinary was lousy. As the video continues to show an egg frying in a skillet, the message is clear. Embrace the ordinary. Then there’s 수린 suzlnne, a college student whose most-watched video, with almost 2 million views, is 50 minutes of silent study. Can it get any more ordinary than that?
How did I get here, a year after the start of the pandemic, to watch an anonymous woman on YouTube?
These videos are obviously not exciting. Subtitles and deliberate shooting angles take away any sense of voyeurism. The shots focus on small, familiar moments. That’s where the charm lies – the videos are a hit not despite their calm calm, but because of it. Vloggers are adept at creating a dreamlike and warm aesthetic with soft, earthy tinted colors. There is very less conversation, featuring the noises of everyday life – coffee grinding, pen scratching on paper. If there is music in the background, it is soft and ambient. The videos are visually and phonetically beautiful, but the audience’s devotion runs deeper. In the comment section of 슛뚜 sueddu’s ‘summer night routine’, viewers gushed. One person thanked 슛뚜 sueddu for making her remenber the joys of living alone, revealing that she had recently separated from her husband. Another said: “It is a really calm video, it just makes me feel like my life is balanced ?.”
How much better watching an anonymous woman made those viewers feel better. How different from the usual culture of influencers on social media, which is so deeply rooted in making others in your life envious, creating feelings of jealousy and lust, which then leads us to sponsored ads. YouTube stars are often boisterous, with catchy taglines and loot. Emphasis is often placed on their face and appearance, especially for women. These silent vloggers take it all away. Without a clear identity, each of us can be this calm and collected character. Even me.
In this age of self-marketing and self-branding, these anonymous videos feel like an antidote. While many have turned to yoga, self-care kits, and other forms of mindfulness to fill the void formed by our information-saturated society, these women remind us that taking care of ourselves isn’t about to buy fancy goods and rely on capitalist indulgences for our self-esteem. Rather, it’s about paying attention to the little moments that make up our day.
These videos helped me when I felt like I was languishing, stuck in the same activity rut, restless and dissatisfied so many of us were last year. Vloggers are serious in a way that seems uncaring, too sweet for our underhanded internet culture. Yet that’s what I liked the most about them. The more I looked, the more my perspective changed. Instead of rushing through the endless chores that come with working from home while raising a baby, I found myself focusing on the tilt of the light coming in through the living room windows, the strong smell of parsley in it. cooking from my husband’s kitchen. The umbrella plant turns green on the windowsill. The red cheeks of my sleeping son in my arms. The longer I lingered, giving way to these little pleasures, the more my life seemed to open up, time stretching out to give me a moment to breathe. These Korean vloggers may be anonymous, but they are powerful. They remind us to be grateful, to live with intention, to be.