With the vaguely sinister idol documentary Tokyo Girls having been shown on the BBC recently people’s ability to have a blinkered perspective on things has been on my mind a lot. I say “vaguley sinsiter” as the director was clearly biased from the outset and when you film a whole documentary and find nothing to back up your view of a sexual motive for the idol industry and you instead show a handshake event and say “to the girls this seems innocent but for the men there is probably a sexual aspect” that doesn’t seem like honest documentary film-making. It feels more like trolling. “Well I found nothing to back up my opinions so I’m just going to presume anyway”. There’s also a part where someone is talking about the young idol still developing in her skills and it’s translated in a way where it’s clear that any western audience will just see it as meaning physically developing and will then exclaim that everyone involved is a pedo. It’s a shame because these kind of sad individuals in the documentary have a story to tell that implies things about Japanese life in general. The work ethos in Japan seems quite harsh and seeing men supporting a young girl because they feel like they have failed but she can succeed says a lot about people’s low self-worth in such an environment.
However the point I want to make in this post is more general. It’s about perspectives and how the media have so much power. So let’s start with Muslims. If you only read newspapers like (in the UK) The Daily Mail or The Sun then you will be familiar with Muslims already. They are all terrorists, rapists or other criminal types who want to impose sharia law on everyone. If however you are a well-rounded intelligent human being you will know that a tiny minority are such things. The author JK Rowling made a good point recently when she said that the Welsh man (or “Welsh terrorist”) that drove to London so he could run over Muslims had been radicalised by the media. In response someone tweeted a photo montage of front page headlines from the last year or two all of which were scare stories about Muslims. Muslims beat up a schoolboy, Muslims in prison forcing others to convert, terrorism, etc. If you were to read these papers day after day then the drip drip effect on your perception of the world around you would likely make you damn paranoid. Yet there are a frightening number of people who read this stuff and judge the entirety of the Muslim population on these news “stories”. I dare say in America there are a hell of a lot of people seeing Mexicans as rapists and drug-dealers now after Trump’s comments in the election campaign. It’s a depressing trait to jump to conclusions with no real understanding or attempt at understanding.
Another area that’s closer to my home is how people from Liverpool are perceived. When I was a teen there was a rather unfunny sitcom called Bread. It was written by a Livepudlian woman and featured a family of unemployed Liverpudlians trying to make money in dodgy ways. It fed into this perception in the rest of the country that everyone in Liverpool was unemployed and a criminal. It’s odd really as the most popular sitcom in the UK was Only Fools and Horses which was about a dodgy Cockney doing much the same. Except with that people just think of cockneys as being a bit dodgy and not the entire city of London. Liverpool had been a very poor city for a long time though and there had been riots in Liverpool (and London simultaneously) in the early 80’s so it’s reputation was quite poor in the wider country. Things took a sinister twist in 1989 when 96 Liverpool Football club supporters were tragically killed in a crush at a football stadium. The blame lies with the police who opened an extra gate just before kick-off in order to get everyone into the stadium in time but this led to a crush. The resulting cover-up relied a lot on the media and especially The Sun newspaper that started printing ridiculous stories about drunken behaviour before the game and “eyewitness” accounts of Liverpool supporters stealing money from the dead or in one case urinating on a dying supporter and laughing. Now due to problems in the UK with football hooliganism in general the public perception of football supporters was quite negative anyway. This, coupled with the impression people in the rest of the UK had of people from Liverpool, made these absurd and incredibly hurtful stories actually believable. They weren’t true but the cover-up was successful for many years until eventually the truth came out in a coroner’s inquest in 2016.
People across the world behave much the same. They base opinions on something just using little snippets of things they see in the media. It’s incredibly frustrating that we aren’t more sophisticated by this stage of our evolution. This leads me to public perceptions of Japan. As a child I grew up in a time when there was still general distrust due to the second world war (even though that had ended many decades earlier). Add to this the Australian tv presenter Clive James showing clips of a Japanese game show that showed contestants going through quite heavy ordeals (it looked a bit like torture but nowadays looks like a tamer version of I’m A Celebrity Get me Out Of Here). Then add to that scare stories in the media about the dangerous new craze coming from Japan. No not Pokemon, anime. I remember a clip on a news program showing a pre-pubescent looking girl about to be sexually attacked by a monster while tied up. ANIME IS DANGEROUS. BAN IT! was the general response of newspapers. Even to this day the myth that anime is sexual and perverse continues with some. The vast majority of it is very ordinary really. Sci-fi or Studio Ghibli. Yet what the public think of when they think of anime is the tiny minority of weirder stuff because that’s what the media would show and in more recent times that’s what gets shared on social media. I remember a clip of a “Japanese game show” doing the rounds on social media a few years ago. It went something like this…there’s an audience of single women and some men on stage. A seat number is drawn and the audience member goes on stage and eventually if answering questions or doing tasks right she gets to perform a sex act on a man. Queue comments of “those perverted Japanese. Look what they do on tv”. Well if someone shared a clip of an American tv show called “America’s Got Sex Talent” where people went on stage and blew the judges would everyone presume it’s real? Of course not. They’d know it’s a porno. The Japanese clip was also a porno but people’s perceptions of Japan are so warped they don’t question. They presume the clip is real. It’d be like Japanese people sharing British porn clips as documentaries and saying “have you seen British women? They’ll fuck any tradesman that calls to their house”.
I’m not trying to claim there isn’t weird sexual fetish stuff going on in Japan. Of course there is. There is in every country. I’m not trying to claim Japan is perfect. Of course it isn’t. No country is. But the western perspective is so negative and so sexually driven. It’s interesting. Following the Tokyo Girls documentary there are people on Twitter talking about how young the girls look. They claim it must be for pedos. Yet sex is never really mentioned in the idol culture. The girls don’t sing about or talk about it. In the west sex is everywhere. If Miley Cyrus is anything like her public persona she must have been clinically diagnosed a nymphomaniac already. Then there was the abundance of lads mags a few years ago. The most hilarious one I remember had squeeky clean Irish pop group Bewitched wearing latex in a photoshoot and talking about sex a lot. Charlotte Church a year ago was complaining about how her pop career was blighted by management trying to sexualise her. Trying to get her to wear certain outfits. I have no doubt that if Japanese idols talked about sex then western non-fans would scream about how disgusting the male fans are. Because they don’t talk about sex and look young by western standards instead non-fans scream it must be for pedos. So to a western perspective everything boils down to sex one way or other. This says more about the west I think.
One thing that makes idols popular in the west I think is that sex isn’t pushed. The idols gain popularity through their personalities whether it be through humour or through weirdness or a massively sunny disposition. I think that’s maybe why there are a lot of young female fans in the west. They don’t feel pressured to conform to sexual stereotyping. They don’t feel like their worth is judged on their ability to please men sexually. Either way when idols work so hard to improve their performances, work so hard with recording sessions, publicity work, concerts, fan meets and so on, when idols work so hard with other types of work too such as acting, musicals, solo DVD shoots, etc, when idols are working so hard to improve themselves and gain success but then western non-fans say it must be sexual, that is really incredibly insulting to the idols. Hey your worth IS just sexual.
Is the idol life perfect? Of course not. There are some horrible fans who are stalkers. There are idols who are dumped when the idol days are over. There are many negatives I’m sure. Although as a H!P fan I’m proud at how the idols go on to other entertainment work when the H!P days are over. Look at Momusu. Kaori is still popping up on tv sometimes, likewise Yuko. Nacchi had a solo album out last year, Yaguchi is still on every tv show in Japan, Kei does musicals, Tsuji is still popping up on tv, Konkon too. Reina has a group, Miyabi has a group, Airi will have a solo career, Maimi an acting career, Chissa a tv career and so on. The idols are looked after well. The idol period leads to other entertainment work if they want it to. Of course other groups might not have that level of support. But there are clearly positives and negatives just like with any form of entertainment. The problem is Tokyo Idols gives non-fans an impression that isn’t accurate and people love to judge the entirety of something based on very little. As a human trait it has similarities to bullying in as much as, by putting down others you feel better about yourself. Slag off them lot over there and you feel you are superior. It’s a depressing thing. There will be incredibly racist people in Britain feeling a greater sense of identity by hating on Muslims or immigrants. People feeling stronger by hating minorities. What is that if not bullying?
I’m sure there are better examples that could be used for this post but I’m not best placed for them. Maybe being black in certain parts of America for instance? But going back to the idol documentary it’s frustrating that people are ignoring the empathy and emotional attachment fans have for idols, the sense of going on a career journey with them. Instead sex sex sex. Some of it is absurd. The constant mentioning of young teenagers in a documentary about a 21 year old for instance. Non-fans saying she looks young so her fans must be pedos when there are actual young girls they could be following instead. The idea she looks young itself is based entirely on a western perspective. It reminds me of Momusu meeting American group Coconuts Musume for the first time on a tv show. Coconuts were younger but Momusu members were commenting on how mature they looked. Different cultures, different perspectives. Ultimately people are self-serving. The director was. Her interviews make it clear she was biased. Those viewing who have no interest in Japan are happy to use this documentary to make mass generalisations as it makes them feel better to look down on others. That’s pretty self-serving too. It’s a shame. A well-balanced documentary showing the happier types, the drop-outs, the dangers and the benefits of idol culture would be far more interesting to me.
I’d like to finish on a positive note though. The non-we may have all kinds of misconceptions but out there in our own little pockets of social media or even in the “real world” there are fantastically loving, funny, intelligent, well-balanced, supportive, passionate and caring friends. There are of course some terrible idol fans but there are many fantastic ones that give a great sense of community. These people show the positives of the idol culture just in their personalities. It’s a shame I always feel like I can’t talk about my hobby with non-fans that openly but the friends in the fandom I have online are fantastic. Haters are missing out on so much that’s positive!
Well this post was kind of rambling but I hope you got my points a little. I’m sure my next blog post will be back to the usual pic-spamming and nonsense. 🙂