Dec 14 2007
Hoo boy. I didn’t want to write this post, and I know I’m heading down controversy lane again, but I feel that a bit of a reality check has become necessary. There’s a perception that’s becoming more and more prevalent in the blogosphere (eww, I used to word blogosphere), that idols amount to little more than slaves. That they are worked to within an inch of their lives, exploited, severely depressed, and are generally tragic creatures to be treated with great pity. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that serious, but you get the idea. Personally, I don’t feel guilty for patronizing Hello Project, and I hate being told that I should. I’ve considered the possibility that I’m in denial about this and only believing what I want to, but after careful consideration, I think I have some good reasons to feel this way.
Yes, they work hard. There is no disputing that. However, the idea of working hard is something that’s deeply ingrained in the Japanese culture. Your average salary man works from early in the morning to late at night and probably has to come in for at least part of the weekend. Your average student goes to school 6 days a week, cleans the classroom, does club activities, and spends all of their remaining time studying or in cram school. Such is their life, and I doubt they expect anything less.
There are big differences between said salary man and a h!p idol, however. Shukan Gendai Magazine from September of this year reports that Morning Musume members makes around $230,000 American dollars a year (25,000,000 yen)). Some make more, and some make less, but that’s the average. Ayaya makes about $320,000 a year. To a successful American entertainer that may be pocket change, but
Monetary compensation aside, what idol work actually consists of cannot be ignored. Dancing and singing, being photographed and interviewed is harder than it looks, but you can’t really think that our salary man is having more fun sitting at his computer all day number crunching. You can’t think that a normal teen flipping burgers at McDonalds eight hours a day for minimum wage has a better job. How about janitors, construction workers, or all the other people working unpleasant, boring, or strenuous jobs? Those people are working no less hard, but there’s no way in hell that they are having more fun. I’m not saying that being an idol is a non-stop party, but I do believe that they genuinely enjoy at least some of what they do. I know from experience that there is not one iota of fun to be found in spending your summer sweating over a deep fryer and waiting on cranky demanding customers for eight+ hours a day. Not only that, all of the above mentioned groups do their work day in and day out almost completely unappreciated. H!P idols are not only appreciated, they’re adored.
Let’s not forget that the girls chose this line of work for themselves. No one forced them to be idols. They chose to audition. Some of them were very young when
they auditioned, and maybe it wasn’t what they expected, but the good news is that those contracts were not signed in blood. They can choose to leave, and some have. Maiha from Berryz is probably a good example. If they are really that overwhelmed/unhappy with idol life, there is nothing stopping them from quitting as soon as their contract expires. They probably won’t be able to work in show business again, but if they were unhappy enough to quit, why would they want to?
People tend to latch on to every negative example out there and project that onto all idols. The young idol mentioned previously in this journal, Yukiko’s, suicide is tragic, but not an excuse to assume that all idols become depressed. She committed suicide, and she also was an idol, but we don’t know if those two were related. They might have been, but she most likely also had some sort of mental illness or issues in her life, or every idol would be committing suicide. Thus far, no one from h!p has, thank God. Another often cited source is Goto Maki’s supposed reason for leaving Hello Project: a combination of health problems and being overworked. That raises some questions though, because there’s no way that she was working half as much as when she was in MM during its heyday and doing everything that came along with that, filming hour long episodes of Hello Morning, doing Pucchi Moni, doing TV dramas, and doing various commercials. The amount of appearances for Morning Musume alone should have been more than she has done with her solo career this year. She only released one album and one single! There was also the 10nen stuff, but Koharu and Risa managed to do that as well as outside anime projects and everything for MM. I’m not saying that Maki wasn’t working hard, but I think the issue was much more her health problems being aggravated by her work than an inhumane schedule. The company gave her plenty of time off to rest when she wasn’t feeling well. She missed most of the 10nen concerts and some of the shows on her own tour as well. For a final example, Kago Ai’s mom has stated that her daughter wanted to quit when she first joined MM, but decided to stick it out for a year. The often ignored continuation of that quote is that after she settled in Ai came to love her job and would often tell her Mom how lucky she felt to have it. As for the ‘problems’ Ai has had post MM, I think her family life was a major contributing factor. Her parents were very very young when they had her, her father was not in her life, she had mentally disabled younger siblings, and her mom did not seem like the most responsible person/ the best role model. Coming from that kind of background, I’d say that some underage smoking does not constitute her becoming a delinquent.
Finally, the intense work schedule of active idoldom isn’t forever. Morning Musume members seldom stay past their early 20′s. When a h!p idol gets a bit older and doesn’t possess all the energy of her teenage years, she is allowed to sit back and take on a much less demanding work schedule while still being gainfully employed. The company doesn’t just use her up and dump her. She’ll appear a couple times a year in concerts, maybe release a solo single, or take on her own projects like a stage play or a drama. Basically, she has the option of remaining in the entertainment industry with a lower commitment level. Some girls don’t choose that path and opt to return to school or perhaps get married post MM, and that’s all good too.
In short, I acknowledge that some h!p idols have very busy lives and that they may feel overwhelmed at times, but I don’t think they should be viewed as circus animals who are kept chained up and whipped until they perform. They’re not the helpless victims of a cruel and inhumane system. They are well compensated, doing temporary and enjoyable work of their own choosing, and they do have the option of leaving if it turns out that idol life is not for them. Therefore, I’m going to go ahead and listen to their music and blog without guilt, and I would advise you to do the same.
Love and Peace,