J-Pop Idols in the Wild

This past Sunday the Japan branch of the Thomas clan (meaning me, the Mrs. and the son) were out playing in Ikebukuro, specifically the Sunshine building. It was a cold day, but we wanted our little guy to be able to move around and even run a little bit.

At some point we heard chanting and yelling. The Mrs. and I exchanged looks, knowing what this meant: another idol group was having a performance in the center area of the Sunshine building.

Long followers of this site will likely have noticed that I am a bit of a snob when it comes to entertainment. I try and tell myself that my standards are just high, and that is part of it. Another part is that I have a hard time just sitting back and enjoying a thing. Be it theatre, art, TV and movies, music, I find myself analyzing and picking apart elements that friends tell me I should just ignore and enjoy.

I’m saying this because I feel I am about to be quite strict with idols and their fans.

Japan’s idol industry is very hard for me to stomach. As far as clean entertainment goes, it is pretty sickening. Add in the fans, such as the ones on display in Ikebukuro this past Sunday, and it gets downright creepy.

For this particular group the girls themselves looked to be in their late teens and early twenties. All were in brightly colored versions of maid outfights. They danced and sang to pre-recorded music. I don’t want to be mean to them. They are young and following a dream. I don’t know their lives or their contracts.

What I will say is that there dancing was the basic hopping about that you would expect from idol rock. The basic steps that with a little practice most anyone would be capable of. The singing, well, the kindest way I can put it is I am sure it wasn’t pre-recorded because if it had been it would have more often been on pitch. Throughout the mall certain dissonant notes would set my spine crawling. It was sub-par at best. My disdain for idol music wants to say it was likely average.

If this were just a local group having a little show at the local mall, this would be the best end of it. Groups have to start somewhere and you are bad until you are good. Goodness knows me and my little ukulele aren’t any better.

What makes this worthy of comment is the fans, and the handlers.

The performance area is three floors. All three were crowded. Hundreds of fans were assembled. Most were men older than the idols. Many were dressed in the colors of their favorite girl.

They roared the chants along with the music. It felt rehearsed. Memorized. Obsessed.

Weaving throughout the crowds were scowling men in suits carrying “no photographs” signs. They would descend on anyone making an attempt. (They were less present on the third floor, where I took the photo for this post.)

The why can easily be explained by what happened after the mini concert. (No, we didn’t stay and watch, but as this took place in the middle of the mall we were able to follow the proceedings.)

It was photo time. The fans could line up for a specific girl, talk briefly and get a photo. After a few hours of that fans could get a picture taken with the group as a whole with the fan choosing the pose.

This was the greater performance by the girls, although it was the more sickening one. There moves and smiles were plastic. Over-excited gestures and squees designed to make the fans feel important and adored. The exact repetition of gestures showed them to be at least as rehearsed as the dance moves.

Throughout the event there was an air of something rotten. That fanboy obsession that these girls were theirs. An objectification in real time combined with the under stink of lust.

Some would tell me I’m thinking too much. Just let people like what they like. That this is no different from any other fandom.

But it is different.

If I were to meet Michael Keaton, I would not expect him to be Batman or Beetlejuice. There is absolutely the feeling that these fans tmwant the girls to be these images, these dolls they represent.

They are not allowed to be independent. They are dressed in cutesy attire with the right underpinnings of sex. There are taught to be the right amount of submissive and doting and thankful to their fans, most of whom are too old to buy into this false reality designed to separate them from their wealth for the promise of time with an idol.

The idol industry is a deceit and it is a sickness and it is by design. Girls looking to be famous, obsessive fans, mostly men, being taught that this is what women are or should be. A cooperation taking anbanyage of both sides as it corrupts both sides.

As much as I dislike idol culture, my wife dislikes it more. She grew up here. She lived with the dehumanizing stares throughout her school days. She still gets those stares. Walking by such crowds creeps her out in a much more visceral way than it does me because she has suffered h rough the attitudes such events breed.

Idol culture re-enforces the idea that women are objects and can be treated as such. It is not simple entertainment. It is a cancer.

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