Noteworthy

Aitakatta! Ponders The Recent AKB Scandals

About AKB’s new scandals

With her latest post, Cat turns her attention to the scandals that have recently plagued the AKB franchises, helpfully placing them in the larger context of past AKB scandals (Kikuchi Ayaka and Akimoto Sayaka’s, specifically) as well as the general situation behind each of the idols currently facing problems. What emerges is a strong sense of how connected the various current scandals are, not so much like a line of dominoes as it is a jigsaw puzzle illuminating the inner workings of the AKB empire as well as the hidden world of these idols’ private pasts.

Shimada Rena of NMB48, the newly formed AKB48 Team 4’s Mori Anna and Oba Mina, as well as Team K’s Nito Moeno are all being investigated – but more than that, they are contending with the politics of management favoritism and fan popularity, showing once again that what you do wrong isn’t nearly as important as who’s rooting for you.

The mosy intriguing point Cat makes is the seemingly well-based suspicion that these scandalous revelations were not discovered by he tabloids, but rather by angry wota who believed Shimada escaped punishment too readily while others had been kicked out for milder infractions. Not content to let AKB management be so capricious in their policies, these angry wota have decided to force management’s hands by making them face other, highly embarassing, lapses from other AKB idols.

If so, you gotta hand it to wota – they have a finely honed sense of justice if this is true, albeit of the frontier vigilante brand. The potential for collateral damage is quite real, but what is the higher principle being sought: that all scandals shold be punished equally with the same finality, or that the standards being applied are too draconian, and so should be re-evaluated to more accurately reflect the realities of being a young modern woman? In other words, is it meant to place more idols on the hook, or to ultimately let all the AKB idols off the hook?

Cat finds this wota manuevering unusual and claims it hasn’t happened in Hello! Project. Actually, one such example DOES come to mind for me: the fan who stalked Murakami Megumi and posted online photos of her with her boyfriend. That actually ruined Megukami’s career, as she left H!P under a cloud and has only recently re-emerged as a dancer for a non-idol troupe. So this isn’t unique to AKB fandom, there are doubtless wota in every idol fandom who feel they work for a higher power and so cross that line between the idol world’s constructed persona and an idol’s personal, private life.

This again brings to mind one of the most vivid differences between domestic wota and overseas wota. For the most part, overseas wota are willing to forgive the transgressions of idols, while fomestic wota are more intent on the spirit AND letter of idol-ness remaining sacrosanct.

When overseas wota do lay the blame of a scandal on an idol’s feet, it isn’t so much about the moral lapse as it is about he idol knowing the rules of the game but neveretheless failing to heed them. In other words, it becomes more of a technical quandary than a moral one, despite moral outrage being the very raison d’etre of most scandals.

Domestic wota – or at least a very vocal minority of them – are much more interested in holding their idols accountable to the standards imposed on them, and it seems to come from the belief that idols do indeed have an ideal they must live up to. The buy-in to the idol mythos is much more pronounced, it seems, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s their world, it’s their values – us overseas folks are just taking what we can get, we can afford to hedge our bets and not think twice about it. Stakes are higher for domestic wota, this is an actual lifestyle choice for them – which isn’t meant to excuse the behavior here or to condemn it, simply to note that it IS their world and their rules, and so a different experience from what any of us outside of Japan can know.

The fallout from these scandals has yet to be determined – more slaps on the wrists, or something more permanent? A maintenance of the status quo or a change in attitudes and rules? And what will happen when another scandal inevitably occurs? Maybe the best way to look at it is as its own form of theater, a kind of undesired side-ritual to the main idol rituals we all enjoy. That way, at least, the sense of familiarity and recurrence won’t be lost on us as the scandal cycle renews itself time and again.