The popular variety show I Live Alone (나 혼자 산다), Point of Omniscient Interference (전지적 참견시점), which aired on MBC, and Heart signal, which is a South Korean variety show distributed by Channel A, received great attention from viewers. What these programs have in common is that these are entertainment shows that make viewers feel through the emotions of panels, rather feeling their own emotions that have for themselves. There are panels in these programs watching videos together and expressing their thoughts and their emotions vividly by laughing and expressing their emotions. That is, the programs create a system by which viewers feel emotions through other people’s reactions.
In these times people mainly consume entertainment so they can feel emotions by proxy. The book Trend Korea 2019, which was a bestseller in November 2018, attributes one of the reasons behind the program’s success to the way viewers have become accustomed to relying on emotional agents to express emotions for them. An emotional agent is a person or product service that represents emotions. Nowadays, people have a hard time expressing their feelings. In dealing with these difficulties, modern people simply express their feelings with emoticons on SNS instead of words in everyday life. Moreover, people look at other people's daily lives and feel their emotions through emotional cues indicated by others in entertainment programs.
In observational entertainment program, TV viewers empathize with panels expressing emotions like theirs that support their feelings. The popular love-reality TV program Heart Signal, which tickled viewers' minds last year, is also a show using an emotional agent. Similar shows include the taste of romance and wife's taste, and through these programs, viewers enjoy romance by proxy. Similarly, people enjoy watching purchase and music video reactions on Internet broadcasts such as YouTube. Also, social network platforms such as “Page to anger instead” (대신 화내주는 페이지) and “Page to curse instead” (대신 욕해주는 페이지) representing emotional reactions have become increasingly popular.
One of the reasons for the situation of consuming emotional agents using TV contents can be explained through the concept of the "Emotional Happy Meal." Of course, a “Happy Meal” is a famous menu item at McDonald’s that refers to instant food served as a light meal. While McDonald’s are loved around the world, the food served there is very unhealthy. In a similar way, the consumption of McDonald's emotions is highly cost effective. For example, we can watch funny videos on our hand-held smartphones at any time and get a good feeling immediately. It does not take much money, effort, or time. It is like eating cheap fast food and being satisfied quickly. Likewise, people have become accustomed to these emotional Happy Meals. In other words, they like to feel the sweetness of dating, but they do not want to feel the pain of falling out of love. Thus, people want easy-to-consume emotions administered through shows that require little commitment and intellectual effort from viewers.
However, as people get used to feeling shallow emotions, negative emotions no longer have a way to be expressed. The reason is that people want to live an emotional life where conflicts are quickly resolved and a happy ending is always reached. People are not only unable to show their depressed feelings, but they are also rejecting others' expressions of grief. For example, according to the survey in which 847 adult men and women responded to Trend Korea 2019, 40.3% of the respondents said they have felt depressed seeing someone crying recently, suggesting that they are unable to adequately process negative emotions. Similarly, people tend to avoid face-to-face conversation, and more people are unsure of their feelings.
There are definite side effects to this phenomenon of always wanting to end up with happy emotions. Modern people tend to seek only temporarily good, shallow feelings, not to feel emotions deeply. It is undesirable to keep eating emotional Happy Meals, just like eating Happy Meals in McDonalds every day. Reality is not just full of good, easy-to-process things such as drama and SNS. Therefore, people should be able to accept and digest the tough and deep feelings that they get from hard, sad work, and uncomfortable experiences. The remedy for today’s “fast food” emotional diet is the same for unhealthy eating practices: mindfully looking back to ensure that we minimize our consumption of Happy Meals.