The Weird Wide Web

From live-eating to ‘bread-facing’, Emma Norris investigates the voyeuristic side of the Internet—and why we keep clicking...

It’s a morbid thought, but I’m willing to bet it’s crossed your mind during a bumpy plane ride or gruelling gym sesh. So, what are these digital skeletons in the closet we’re all so eager to hide? Chances are, they’re not just traces of your ex-boyfriend’s cousin’s party photos from 2010 or, heck, even porn!
There is a bizarre new video phenomenon sweeping the net, and as much as we’d like to deny it, we’re all tuning in. If the success of YouTube tells us anything, it’s that we humans like to watch other humans do things. It used to be that YouTube stars needed a killer set of pipes or epic make-up skills to attract their viewers. Now, when it comes to achieving Internet fame, it’s better to do things weird than to do them well.

Screen Queens
A 20-something sits down in front of her webcam. She places three fresh croissants on the desk, but instead of tucking in, she slowly rolls her face through each pastry, while I watch her intently from my sofa.
Now, covered in crumbs, she face-plants the croissants over and over again as Elvis Presley’s Don’t Be Cruel plays in the background.
No, it’s not a bizarre new Harvest Gold commercial, or a scene from a really stuffed-up horror film; it’s just one of many strangely hypnotising videos from popular Instagram account @breadfaceblog.
Bread Face, as she calls herself, is just an average girl who lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she works as a copywriter. But in her spare time, she’s amassed over 89,000 followers by mashing her face into baked goods. Her most watched video, of her face-planting a Mexican pastry, has over 2,00,000 views!

Then, there’s Park Seo-Yeon from YouTube channel TV Diva. The South Korean vlogger makes over Rs. 6.5 lacs a month stuffing her face on camera! Park Seo-Yeon spends hours every day live-streaming herself gorging on massive meals (we’re talking 30 fried eggs or four pizzas) for her 1,30,000 subscribers. She’s part of a growing Internet trend in South Korea: meok-bang or ‘broadcast eating’.
There’s more. Like, Webcam Tears. The blog by Paris artist Dora Moutot features over 100 crowd-sourced videos of people just sobbing into the camera! For those of us with cast-iron stomachs, you can even watch people having their zits popped! The YouTube channel
Dr Pimple Popper shows close-up footage of California dermatologist Dr Sandra Lee squeezing pimples and cysts. And over 1.6 million people tune in.
A new trend is the hashtag #bundrop, where long-locked women let their buns, well, drop. Much to the amusement of thousands of eager viewers. If all that isn’t enough to quench your digital thirst, you can even watch aspiring US rapper Kasper Knight shoot himself in the face. The clip, which shows Knight pressing a gun to his face and lodging a bullet through his cheek, has been viewed 5,00,000+ times.

But Why?!
Why do people feel the need to broadcast mundane, strange or disturbing moments...and why do we all tune in?
“A lot of people in society feel ignored and excluded, and some feel almost invisible,” says Dr Wayne Warburton, a psychologist at Macquarie University, Australia. “So some people whose needs are not met in the ‘real world’ turn to the virtual world to feel valued, connected and noticed.”
But while loneliness may explain why these vloggers make their first videos, the reason they keep making them simpler: demand. As long as we keep watching, Liking and Sharing, they’ll keep ’em coming!
One reason we watch them is curiosity. “Due to a biological need to observe whether there is any threat present, we tend to be curious about the world around us,” explains Jocelyn Brewer, psychologist and digital media consultant. “Thanks to the Internet, there are now billions more things to observe, beyond what we experience in real life.”

Then, there’s the buzz that follows. “Whether our first reaction is excitement, disgust, anger or fear, the videos elicit a strong, emotional response which leads to an adrenaline rush,” says Melbourne, Australia-based clinical psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack. It’s like watching a car crash: the brain can’t determine whether the experience is positive or negative. It just knows that it can’t get enough of it. There’s also an element of FOMO. “We see that other people have already watched the video, and we want to be kept in the loop,” says Brewer.
Or, it could simply be put down to good old-fashioned entertainment. There’s so much disaster and destruction in the world that sometimes we need to take our minds off it all with a bit of harmless fun. The videos are only going to get more outrageous as Internet stars continue to push boundaries. But the one thing that’s for sure is that there’s no need to be ashamed of your browser history—we’re all guilty of it.”

This article was originally published in the November 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan India.