Latest AKB Scandal Re-Ignites Familiar Idol Dating Rules Debate

Hirajima Natsumi and Yonezawa Rumi quit AKB48 – Aitakatta!
Two Scandals with One Stone – New School Kaidan
Hirajima Natsumi & Yonezawa Rumi Leave AKB48 – Pure Idol Heart
Hirajima Natsumi, Yonezawa Rumi leave AKB48 over photo scandal – Tokyograph
It’s Not Over Yet For Nacchan and Yonechan – IXA Ready

If you haven’t read yesterday’s Rec Reading post, you may want to do so, since those are the first posts about the scandal. However, there’s more reactions today and even some interesting new wrinkles. First off, it looks like Hirajima and Yonezawa will be attending an AKB48 handshake event even though they’ve already resigned. I agree with IXA Ready, that can only spell trouble – but I’m willing to be proven wrong. Also, it seems like Akimoto Yasushi has made some kind of comment that the girls’ careers don’t end with AKB48 and that they still have a future in show business they can look forward to. Quite magnanimous of him, considering he just kicked the two out of the country’s most popular idol group at the very peak of their popularity.

These new wrinkles aside, what it boils down to is the same issue behind any idol scandal having to do with an outed boyfriend: the ban on dating for female idols, which is deemed necessary for the wota fanbase to remain interested. There’s a bit of kabuki every time this happens: the news is reported, some people side with the idol, some people side with the management, the unfairness of the dating ban is excoriated by some, the necessity of the ban is defended by others. On the one hand, it can grow tiresome. On the other hand, it’s good to have these discussions with each scandal because it does expose one of the important contradictions of the idol world.

This time around, Cat of Aitakatta! sums up the absurdity of the situation and asks that the wota holding back the natural urges of young female idols should get a reality check. I can see the unfairness of the dating ban, but I also understand why it’s in place. The fantasy of Japanese idols is a rather specific set of expectations and if these girls weren’t putting on some kind of bizarre virginal charade, would the experience be the same? I’m thinking not – at least not for everyone, and definitely not for the wota that the idol industry caters to. Cat may tell them to grow up and face reality, but to me that’s like telling sports fans not to riot when their team wins a big championship, or fanboys not to rage over the liberties taken from comic book movie adaptations. Weird as it sounds, the irrationality and fucked-upness is a necessary part of the subculture, even if it casts that culture in an ugly light.

Moreover, I also believe that the contract an idol enters is binding and must be observed, so if they do get caught breaking it, they have to pay the price. Or to quote New School Kaidan, “Every dream job has a catch.” It’s just like the so-called “slave contracts” that caused such a stir in Kpop: If you’re willing to make a deal with the devil, don’t be surprised if you suffer some hellfire. The demand on the idol may be unfair and go against human nature (a ban on dating, a protracted length of service), but the idol entered into the agreement willingly in order to reach a certain goal. Nobody twisted their arms to enter the agreement, they could have said no at the beginning and remained nobodies (or found some other avenue to success). The companies are very aware that there are dozens of other equally semi-talented wannabe’s waiting to take that idol’s place and sign their own souls over.

As far as moral conundrums go, the idol dating rule is a minor one at best. And ultimately, there IS a realpolitik solution to this moral conundrum: dating in private and not letting the public find out. As Pure Idol Heart points out, members of Onyanko Club (Aki-P’s previous group), admitted to dating in secret during their time in the group. Of course, that requires the public to respect the private lives of idols and to understand that the fantasy on stage and screen is just that… But if anything, our modern age has been moving in the opposite directions: finding better and better ways to invade privacy, as well as mixing up facts from fictions. I tend to recall that weird character in the classic idol movie Morning Cop who spoke boldly on the proper balance between adoration and distance that an idol requires. But what if an idol group promotes itself on being “idols you can meet” and start to tear away at that line of privacy?

So I guess we’re kinda fucked and back at square one. And once again waiting for another scandal to break so that the ritual will happen all over again.