Last week, an original member of the Japanese girl band AKB48, Minami Minegishi, published a video of herself shaving her head in contrition for breaking one of the band’s house rules: NO DATING. The 20-year-old “child star” sobs for the camera, begging not to be kicked out. Her apology was viewed by millions before being taken down. Fans and cultural critics were outraged. AKB48 Management hasn’t responded to the public yet, but have demoted her to kenkyusei status (understudy, basically).
Bizarre acts of Asian culture are a boring nuisance for most Asians, but it’s a screaming baby in a four-star restaurant when you’re a Japanese woman. [I’ve been the apologist for everything from used panty vending machines to Bagel Heads.] While it would be easy to shore this up with footage of Brittany shaving her head, the fact is that “no boys allowed!” signs are responsible for the very sexual manipulation/exploitation they are trying to quash.
AKB48 is a conglomerate of girl bands with countless members including (in order of cachet) the Graduated Alumni, A Team, K Team, B Team and aforementioned kenkyusei. Their presence in the Japanese pop landscape is as ubiquitous as it is insurmountable.
Japanese women have argued with me that AKB represents whimsy and cuteness for generations of girls forced to grow up too fast by the rest of modern society (again, Minegishi is 20 years old. Plenty old enough for the real world), and I suppose compared to hostess clubs and soaplands, AKB is good clean innocent fun.
However, the work ethos commanded by the management is more akin to slavery, already a felony, if sexual exploitation isn’t. Members of the complex rehearse and perform around the clock (they have their own arena-seating auditorium in Tokyo’s Akihabara district) and their licensed images are private labeled on everything from Pocky to socks. Let’s just say for a minute that these products don’t then end up in the hands, correction—>hand, of borderline pedophiles liquifying their fantasies into play-action body pillows. The fact is that these girls make soynuts, and all for the opportunity to rise on their own as the ever-coveted role of “Idol”…?
These women are figuratively castrated when they join the band and sign on to celibacy. Management says it’s so as not to “shatter the illusion” of innocence. Illusion is a nice word for it. Smoking a dick-shaped crack pipe filled with hikikomori cum is more like it. The popular public insists there is no harm done granting the girls this fantasy world of frilly wardrobes and unanimous idolatry. One man I spoke to about the potential for abusing their hyper-innocence replied flatly, “the thing is they’re actually not pretty enough to masturbate to. They’re really just a bunch of weirdly cute girls.” For the record: Hundreds of girls show up to AKB auditions, clamoring to be adopted by the zeitgeist by pretending to be videogame virgins.
AKB48 is in other words, an orphanage.
As of today’s news, and if Twitter is really any indication of anything at all, the larger public fully corroborates the normalcy of an adult woman dating. Even a woman from Japan who spends 16 hours a day dancing her little toes off dressed like a 12 year old schoolgirl.
Might be too soon for me to declare Pandora’s Box open for business, but the blowback has been great. Some responding to the scandal have addressed the rampant sex that takes place BEFORE a woman joins the industrial pop complex. That is, in the age-old “sleep your way to the top” equation, many had suspected Minegishi and others had almost certainly been “screen-tested” in love hotels with old-boy AKB management. That’s right, AKB48—made up entirely of women—is managed… entirely by men. The celibate status of these orphans, in other words, has nothing to do with one’s actual purity/virginity. [So that I’m crystal clear though, the problem is obviously not that she only pretended to be a virgin, but that virginity was vaunted/bloated/exploited/heralded in the first place.]
This “no boys allowed!” bullshit is no more than a parody of a myth, but pop culture invented this kind of irony, so it seems triply unfair to punish Minegishi for breaking the most illusory delusion that she is anything more than the result of having been fostered in the ward of counterfactual and antithetical feminism. She publishes her humiliation on YouTube no less. Purity is a myth, virginity is a hoax and the people who orchestrate AKB48 have wagged the bitch out of their dog. Show’s over, guys.
A small part of me thinks/hopes Minegishi conspired all along to oblate herself to AKB48 precisely to perform ritual hair-kiri and expose the hypocrisy of staged innocence. If that’s the case, I hope Little Orphan Minami eventually gets to shut down the whole orphanage. Shave the whole thing down with clippers, Minami.
[Let’s also take this second to publicly acknowledge the man Minegishi was castigated for having slept with, as his name is curiously elided from much of English-language news on this matter. Alan Shirahama is a dancer in a boy’s band run by the princemaker, Johnny’s MGMT, which makes AKB48 look like Gertrude Stein.]