Friday, June 10, 2011

Feminism in idoldom, as inspired by Nishino Kana?

Being immersed in the world of idols often makes you blinds you to how strictly the gender lines are drawn in the idol world-- specifically, the female side of the idol world. Idols under the Hello! Project and AKB48 umbrella typically depict a very limited set of professions. When was the last time you saw your favorite idol depicted as one of the following-- a nurse, a waitress, or a stewardess? Chances are, every idol, most likely at multiple points in their career, will be shown as one or all of these people.

TL;DR: Feminism is a selling point when you're popular enough, especially if it makes your entire industry more mainstream and therefore more likely to attract positive attention, fans and customers. Therefore, idol groups like AKB who have a JE-like grip on the popular market should try to cement the idol footprint and pave the way a stronger idol presence later on in the mainstream market.

Yes, this is finally where the Nishino Kana bit of this article comes in. I found it to be a very eye-opening experience to see Nishino Kana stepping up to the plate as a role-model of sorts for her legions of female, teenage fans in her latest song, 'Alright' (watch it quick, before it's taken down)

How does this apply to the idolsphere? Comparisons and discussion after the jump.

Now, keep in mind the wide variety of professions you saw in the previous cheesy motivational anthem video and now watch exhibit A, Momoiro Clover's Ikuze! Kaitou Shoujo:

When not dressed in a school girl uniform or dancing in costume, the Momoclo crew are dressed as a nurse, maid/waitress, miko, and perhaps the only vaguely progressive costume-- policewoman. What do all of these professions have in common? They are a profession which typically in society is either a subordinate position or is a position that either by its nature or because of the way it is depicted in popular media gives off the impression that one can use 'womanly charms' to get by. Again, the policewoman is arguably the exception to this.

You also have entire groups based off the concept of a 'service' type job-- Passpo, Exhibit B:

Of course, idols do often role play and cross dress in PVs. The most memorable instance of this is perhaps the Morning Musume's I WISH PV (ah, what a trip down memory lane that is):

But even then, the majority of the female characters in the 'skit' were still put in very stereotypically female professions: the flower shop keeper, the pampered 'lady' etc. etc. Meanwhile, the postman is still a 'man', and Yossie the 'tomboy' gets to be a martial artist. Overall, a pretty good representation. Of course, I realize that a group's popularity plays into whether or not they have the financial resources to try and send feminist messages out to the public rather than pander to the lowest common denominator. I WISH is perhaps the best that Momosu could do in their peak of popularity. However, I'm still looking to AKB to come out with their vaguely feminist anthem now that they are clearly at the center of national attention.
And no, Beginner doesn't count.

That said, I do realize that it is not unheard of for even small time idol groups like Buono! to have feminist-themed songs. Buono!'s Independent Girl for instance, is all about standing up for yourself in an abusive relationship. However, such songs are far and few in between, partly because they just don't fit every group's aesthetic, and partly because well, cutesy songs are just more appealing to the general fan base.

They even play garage mechanics in one PV:

Honestly, I knew that I was entering a fandom that was primarily catering to a middle-aged male audience when I got into it. I understand what appeals to this audience, and I'm not here to argue against the will of the free market. But seriously, what does this say about modern society that we can only afford to support our idols when they are acting cutesy and subordinate?

Now, although one can argue that there are plenty of other role models for Japanese girls in popular media for girls, and that the primary fanbase of idol groups are men, the fact is that no matter what girls will take cues from idol groups-- especially popular ones such as AKB, whose pretty faces they probably see on a daily basis. The reverse can be seen in the fact that although Johnny's does not actually have a large male fanbase, the fact is that males do follow the example of Johnny's in terms of haircuts, fashion, etc. simply because of the sheer amount of exposure that they have. Moreover, the mere idea that idols represent ideal women for the very demographic that girls try to woo (okay, let's make the assumption that most of the population is heterosexual) makes them highly influential-- again, whether or not they are fans of AKB/any other idol group.

However, for the sake of not making this a wholly morally based discussion, let's look at the advantages of feminism in terms of profit:

Now, back to Nishino Kana. compare anything that you'e seen in this post to what you saw in Nishino Kana's 'Alright'. I have to admit that the PV really struck me, especially as a member of idol fandom. Seeing this made me want a high profile group like AKB to do something similar in order to use their popularity to become advocates for their mainstream female fans and gain some more recognition not only for themselves, but for the typically frowned-upon idol fandom. After reading AimxAim's post on the woes of being an idol fan and the comments some other readers left about how 'normal' Japanese people view your run-of-the-mill wota, I feel like popular groups such as AKB should take it upon themselves to reshape that image a little bit so that idol groups could appear a little more mainstream friendly. This would not only help the AKB boom have a later expiration date, but also encourage the longevity of the idol boom as a whole-- something I wholly encourage.


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