Monday, May 16, 2011

AKB48



There are 56 members in the idol group AKB48, all girls aged 12 to 24. AKB stands for Akihabara, the notoriously eccentric Tokyo neighborhood where the group was invented, and where they perform for creeps on the 8th floor of Don Quixote every day.

AKB48 members usually appear as schoolgirls, popping cute little blinky faces and wiggling their limbs in talent-show dance moves. When they're not dressed in school uniforms, they're in bikinis or sexy (but sweet) lingerie.

AKB48 is used to promote an incredible variety of mainstream products, and you see images of the group in convenience stores, on train platforms, on magazine covers, on drink bottles. Sometimes it seems like AKB48 is everywhere. This distresses me because in my dreams, Akihabara is a quarantine for this kind of gross lolita bullshit. The neighborhood, famous for its concentration of game and electronics shops, has cultivated a similar concentration of shopping and entertainment catering to the anime, video game, and pornography subcultures. What you can find in Akihabara ranges from awesome (vintage game consoles and offbeat memorabilia) to distressing (pornographic comic books featuring toddlers). Unfortunately, the neighborhood leaks.



About a year ago, my junior high school and high school students started showing up with AKB CDs and writing in their class journals about going to the convenience store to buy chocolates to get AKB member trading cards. Before long I'd lost count of how many times I'd watched groups of 12 year old boys unfold the jackets of AKB48 cds to exclaim over photos of the girls in thigh-high fishnets and skimpy pastel bras and panties making pouty porno-moe faces. I'd lost count of how many times I've heard 12 year old girls discuss which AKB member is the cutest.

This is a group that was invented specifically for otaku men who fetishize young girls. The idea was to assemble a bunch of fresh young female faces and bodies to be sexually idolized, and keep them close and accessible to the guys who idolized them. AKB48's fans get chances to meet them at events in Akihabara all the time, and, like most idol groups, AKB48 makes it a point to acknowledge its otaku fanbase and ply them with sweet comments like "I consider myself an otaku, as well!"


Choose your favorite member and pretend she's looking at you while she drinks juice!

Akihabara bothers me. Idol groups like this bother me. Adults drooling over young girls bothers me. Encouraging cuteness as a major female virtue bothers me. That a sizable portion of men in the world can only think of girls as a mystifying and intimidating species, approachable only when they act like talking cupcake babies, bothers me. But AKB48 in particular bothers me.


Kiss me...

It's disturbing that someone can create a product as a porno fantasy for men who like underage girls, and then, having cornered that market, push the same product onto children through heavy mainstream exposure with singalong songs on the radio and advertising tied to bottled soft drinks, chocolates, and snacks. It bothers me that parents of young boys and girls aren't disturbed by the idea of their kids sipping this sickly sweet lolicon brew.

33 comments:

Vivian said...

Great post. It's indeed so disturbing. I know exactly what kind of creepy dudes like that band... so twisted.

karisuma gyaru said...

yup... there are waaay too many things that are disturbig about AKB... so i've decided it's futile to keep arguing. that said, i really enjoy going up to my students, boy or girl, picking at the AKB keychains hanging off their pencil cases and going "eeeeww! she's really ugly!" and watch the dismay on their faces ^__^

Anonymous said...

It's true that a good portion of the japanese male fanbase are probably lolicon pervs...however its sort of a weird cultural thing that I think one needs to be there to understand. Most of the men swear they would never do anything with the girls if given the chance, they idolize and support them in a creepy, obsessed way, yet none sexual if it makes any sense. Which I'm not sure if it's any better...lol but not all of them are lolicon.

Anonymous said...

@karisuma gyaru
How immature.

Beth said...

Anonymous 1, yeah, I don't buy that. The attention these guys focus on young girls is absolutely NOT non-sexual. It might be presented as a bunch of sweet, awkward, misfit geeks idolizing sweet, pure, non-threatening little angels -- which might seem very innocent and quaint to Western eyes, which are used to sexual objectification being more clear and aggressive. But lolicon IS sexual, no matter how cutesy and sweet it gets, and no matter what these guys do or don't do in real life. THIS is the sort of weird cultural thing that certain people may need to have lived here to understand.

Anonymous said...

"Disturbing?"

I think your existence is disburting, you piece of shit. Now get the fuck off of my web and out of my world.

You are an uptight, repressed moral guardian who, failing to live up to being free, is now obsessed with depriving others of freedom.

Beth said...

Hahaha. Chill out, buddy, I ain't legislatin'.

Anonymous said...

Why are they one of the most famous groups in Japan? I really don't know.
But I do know that things are perceived differently in other parts of the world.
I love how people comment without knowing anything about culture or what is normalized as beauty. You can choose to think anyway you like. At least get the facts strait or you'll just sound like a dumb ass. Facts and opinions are two completely different ideas. I believe this was taught at grade school in America.

Beth said...

http://kotaku.com/5816135/girl-after-girl-throwing-themselves-at-you

It's not just Japan, you old turkey. And tell me where I mixed up facts and opinions in this post. I showed you pictures and videos and then wrote what I thought about them.

Letrice said...

Much of what you said in this post is true. I'm not a huge fan of AKB48, but a couple of their singles are admittedly a guilty pleasure for me. And it bothers me that they always perform in school uniforms.

However, they are EXTREMELY popular among all ages these days. I believe they were created to cater to the "Italy" fandom, yes, but since last year their popularity has exploded. You seem to think that creepy older men are the majority of their fan base and that's not true.

The infantalization and objectification of young women is something that always bears discussion and is super relevant to me. I appreciate your straight forwardnes in addressing it since many AKB48 fans I've encountered refuse to even consider the less than innocent parts of their formation. There's no doubt in my mind that there is a big amount of that going on with the group. But I think you're
being a bit too harsh and come off as one of those people
determined to see something you don't understand as
"perverted" and "weird". I think much of it can be attributed to the universal act of female objectification but some of it also just comes down to cultural difference. Have you ever spoken to a Japanese person about your thoughts?

As I said I'm not a big AKB fan, as in I don't actively follow their activities. I know they were created as kind of a "personal idol" group, so their fans can meet and have conversations with the girls rather easily. To me that doesn't scream objectification, but rather catering to a fan base that wants their idols accessible and intimidating. It's very clever, but like you said, it may or may not be attributed to the kind of men/boys who are intimidated by women. But I am pretty sure that the girls don't act like sickly sweet little girls in real life.

Meh, I'm just kinda rambling now, but that's how I feel. Also, as for the girl who called herself an otaku, sure it may just be fan service, but how can you be so sure she isn't genuinely into the culture? I'm also kind of put off by your dismissal of Lolita fashion as gross bullshit.... It's so much more than that.

Beth said...

1. I know they're extremely popular with all kinds of people. Why else would I bring up the kids in my classrooms discussing them or the merchandise in every convenience store?

2. This isn't a social critique of Japan. It's a lecture on something that makes me barf. Other things that make me barf: Twilight, the movie Sucker Punch, the Chronicles of Narnia, Katy Perry.

3. Of course I have spoken to Japanese people about my thoughts. It really astounds me that no one seems to think there are Japanese people who SHARE my thoughts. Not everyone in Japan thinks these things are appropriate. I wish you would all stop painting people with the same brush. Every time someone criticizes something that comes from Japan, a bunch of Japan fans jump up and cry "cultural differences" as though everyone in Japan must be okay with these things. They are not. There are plenty of people in Japan who hate AKB48 and similar pop products, who wish the sexualization of schoolgirls would stop, who don't like erotic animations featuring little kids, who are disgusted by underage pin-up idols. They don't make the international news, obviously.

4. I am not dismissing Lolita fashion AT ALL. When I say "lolita" in the context of "Akihabara should be a quarantine for that nasty bullshit," it should be obvious that I'm not talking about kids constructing eccentric get-ups out of a love of underground fashion. I'm talking about the lolicon stuff you see in Akihabara.

Thanks everyone for your comments, but I shouldn't need to clarify that I love Japan, have spent a lot of time in different places in Japan, speak Japanese, have Japanese friends, am not pro-censorship or puritanical at all, and don't need anyone to take me seriously here.

tabahiko said...

Hi, I performed dance”AKB48” at wedding party.
AKB48 is very famous idol in Asia.
I succeed to please guests.
AKB48 has something attractive.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5McGB552Dc
Thank you.

Beth said...

Tabahiko, I'm glad it went well and I hope you had fun.


Pop is pop. Criticism is criticism. I'm not surprised or bothered by people having different opinions.

Pandy said...

I happen to like AKB48, or at least some of their songs, but unfortunately, I sort of agree. I mean, school uniforms, an entire video with them in lingerie, having pillow fights, eating sweets somewhat seductively, kissing one another and sitting in the tub with one another while singing 'I want you, I need you, I love you' is failing miserably at trying to hide child porn under cute and 'innocent'.

/rant

Anonymous said...

Just because you see links to lolicon and dwell on it doesn't mean that every other person has to. Its even made obvious here that the only people dwelling on any exceeding seediness are the critics. Why dont you people ever criticize male idol groups selling crap to young girls presenting ridiculous portrayals of fabulous successful gorgeous men, ripped and dancing around half naked. OH WAIt thATs WHAT EVErY GIRL WaNTS. What hypocrisy, a girl selling chocolates in a bikini is somehow the epitome of distastefulness and pornographic. There is a line, akb48 dont cross it, but thats only my opinion.

icreek said...

Thank you for this - I too am disturbed with this group and what it represents. I have been writing some entries on AKB48 on my blog as well, which you might find it interesting. I'd like spread the words as much as possible. Hopefully everyone on this thread will give me feedbacks,
http://isseicreekphilosophy.wordpress.com/2011/07/

icreek said...

just one more thing, I completely wholly agree with your view, Beth, as a Japanese person who has lived with these pop-culture growing around me throughout my life. I also agree with your responses to these people who say 'you need to be in Japan' or 'you need understand their culture' - I am a Japanese person from Osaka (which recently established itself a base for NMB48), and I know only one person among my friends who like AKB48 (though he is not in love it them). The majority of people I know are wholly against this kind of group. It may sound too harsh, but just need to get this out, anyone who says 'you need to understand their culture' must know the culture you are trying to defend, otherwise you too are in the same boat as someone who has no idea what the culture is about and criticizing some aspects of a certain culture. At least you guys all sound like you don't know what you are talking about whenever you say 'you must understand Japanese culture', from the point of Japanese persons. Just like atheists can't make good arguments without having read the Bible and being familiar with the things you are criticizing of, I think it's important to do research and try to understand what you are talking about before you resort to saying 'you need to take into account of their culture' type of arguments.

riririri said...

No one has posted for a while but hey I happened to be bored so why not...

Indeed some things you've said are true and make sense but maybe you haven't seen enough to really fairly comment on these girls (yes, I'm a fan).

If you watch their comedy program "Bimyou" you'll see they poke fun at their own bad un-cute parts and thereby admitting they are not all just cute things pretending to be cute things. In fact not a lot of them act all cute, it's really just Kojima and... Kojima? There are probably others but I can't really think of any others at this moment. Then there's Sashi (Sashihara Rino) she doesn't even try to make herself into the "cute" image you were going on about them being. Also, this is kinda off topic but the "otaku" in their group you're talking about, Mayu is actually a otaku. I didn't believe either until she walked into an anime shop (in some AKB TV program -dw I didn't stalk her...), stayed their for hours and went on about different anime so much that she couldn't have just made it up. She also draws really well and really obviously anime styled. That would be some dedication in acting like an otaku if she wasn't actually one.

Just to make things clear, I'm not saying all the other stuff you're saying is wrong but the girls themselves are not what you think.

Oh, and while I'm at it, it's not just AKB who does that kind of thing but all the other idol groups and many young actors (maybe not to the same extent but to some extent definitely), so what you are saying really applies for a large portion of the entertainment industry.

And @karisuma gyaru: just because you don't like them that doesn't mean you need to make others upset, especially since they are your students. Besides, AKB being ugly and "disturbig" (as you put it) are 2 different things. (Sorry for being rude but I hope you're not teaching them English, now that would be "disturbig")

Anonymous said...

Though AKB do do bikinis, they also do model for women magazine. Even though they do some cutesy confession songs, they sang songs about suicide (Keibetsu) and how people in society turned away from crime (Mokugekisha). Isn't it unfair not to acknowledge these kind of things especially since songs like River and Beginner actually gave people strength and supposedly save a fan from suicide?

Even if they do sell sex, they also donated 29 million USD to charity and donated 30 vehicles for tsunami victims as well as dedicate Kaze wa Fuiteiru song to give strength to tsunami victims. Isn't it unfair to just see them as "bikini girls peddling to male" when they did so much to help out others?

Also AKB wasn't intended as an Otaku thing. More like they target people who are into idol groups. And not all idol fans are "creepy old men" ie Yukirin, Kojima, Sashihara, Amina are idol fans of MM or Amina joined because she love AKB. Are these girls creepy? AKB was formed in Akiba wasn't to target Otaku, it was because the producer wanted to take advantage of the Akiba boom at the time. In fact, many AKB girls used to hate it and refused when otaku asked them to do "moe" things.

From what I read in a book about the history of school uniform, the idol group concept came from post WWII where school girls sang in the street to cheer up people after the war and the uniform they wore became a trend because idol music is about cheering up people, hence the upbeat sound.

AKB do sell sex but don't other idol group do it too? Hello Project, Idoling, Super Girls, to boy groups like JE doing naked photoshoot for AnAn.
It's unfair to ONLY criticize AKB.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you are distubed because you are old and ugly, these girls are beautiful lolitas, these girls are the fantasy of many men...and you are nothing but a girl with a blog. Pitty you

Beth Roeser said...

Maybe you are distubed because you are old and ugly, these girls are beautiful lolitas, these girls are the fantasy of many men...and you are nothing but a girl with a blog. Pitty you

You're so right! I'm an ancient hag, I look like shit all the time, and I never, ever, ever get laid. I'm nothing but a girl with a blog who's wasted her life traveling and studying. No one is ever interested in me at all. My life sucks so bad, I just spend my weekends at home watching AKB48 videos and cursing them for being everything I wish I could be: CUTE, CUTE, AND CUTE.

Ugh! If only I were an underage girl! I could dance, and sing, dress up like a maid and a schoolgirl, and no one would ever expect me to articulate my opinions or educate myself about theory or politics or physics or culture. My only purpose would be to embody the fantasies of for millions of leering men with fucking lolita fetishes!

OH FATE IS CRUEL, SO CRUEL!

Anonymous said...

I really want to show this post to my friend who recently became a fan. He tried to explain how it was a culture thing, and how people are just ignorant of what idols really are. But to me, its just an excuse for guys to watch underaged girls dance around and act cute. To check out girls and such. The worse is their youngest group, which have idols that are 13/14 years old. The youngest is 11. But to them, its not a problem. Theres nothing wrong with it. How can people be so delusional.

Anonymous said...

I think, because the Japanese culture puts a restraint on openly talking about sexual stuff (not necessarily perversely), people find themselves being drawn into these fetishes even in their adulthood. If they were to "express" themselves, they would be criticized by the rest of society. In the U.S., I do believe we are more open-minded to the fact that we should explore this growth in our teenage years and acknowledge that sexual needs with a more "realistic partner" (however you want to define it as) makes a healthy relationship. (Though sometimes we may need to put up some boundaries ourselves. ;)

Bob said...

Some people read way too much into anything.These are just a bunch of cute girls performing songs that are for once uplifting and fun,not about death or repression or drugs or all the other crap bands write songs about.
Stereotyping the word "creep" just because someone might watch their video or listen some of their tunes is utter nonsense.
If some are that worried about who is watching,then be more concerned about the agenda the manager/producers put on this group.They are used as a marketing tool and that would NOT be aimed at young teenagers but an entire demographic otherwise it would not be good marketing.
Go take a look at Italian commercials they almost always have sex,nudity in them and guess who watches the most tv and is going to see that stuff?

Anonymous said...

Beth, if you are so concerned about influencing young people, perhaps you should learn to watch your language and endeavor to teach more than four letter words.Poking fun at students in class because they have an AKB pencil case is rather ill advised as well. You will probably make them dislike you more than they undoubtedly do already.

Beth Roeser said...

Anon, please tell us more about my impact on society.

Erik Delfin said...

It's really reversed for me, honestly I'm in love with the tune and harmonizing melodies of their songs. Especially Gingham Check and Sh┼Źnichi. The thing that upsets me the most though is the creepy part of their fanbase, as mentioned by this post. I'm a guy, and yes, I'll agree that most of the members of the group are cute, but I'm not going to waste time ogling and jacking off to bikini photos of the group. Seriously, isn't the whole point of AKB supposed to be their music?

Anonymous said...

blah blah blah... feminist bullcrap

Anonymous said...

Get over it - the girls are cute, the songs are catchy, and they're a huge improvement over Lady Gaga, Madonna, Justin Bieber, and the latest thug to make it big in our brilliant U.S. pop scene.
The girls work very hard, go to school, build careers for their lives after AKB48, and are positive role models - much more positive than the bright lights of most pop cultures.
And one thing all you brilliant critics don't seem able to figure out - this group gives the chance for success to kids who love to perform. Could YOU stand up and perform before 50,000 people? Neither could most other human beings. These are special people - they have the guts to go out and perform in huge venues. It's a great match of kids with the rare ability to do this, who love doing this, with fans who enjoy seeing them.
The girls are happy, their fans are happy, no one's forcing anyone to do anything.
Why not attack the Easter bunny?

Anonymous said...

I remember reading somewhere one of the girls got caught coming out of her boyfriends house and was basically (for lack of a better word) criminalized for it by management. The bastards expect all the girls to hold up virginal non-dating status in the public eye since management basically built the group to make money off of middle aged guys (the way I understood it), older guys paying tons of money for personal interaction passes and crap like that. Kinda sad actually.

Don't get me wrong, I think they're hot, hell I have a thing for asian women, Japanese being my FaV, and as a guy I'll tell you I'd happily do imaginative naughty things with each and every one of them! (Figured I'd try and be polite and not say f@ck, heh;). ..,and I'm 46. Hey if some old rich and/or famous guy or girl can date and marry someone half their age I should be able to fantasize about it happening to me, right?!

As for the lolita complex crap... Well remember the age of consent over there is pretty low, added to the fact that quite a large number of young girls over there actively persue middle age salarymen for, ahem, compensated dating (why the girls dont think its prostitution I cant figure out!) and its no wonder its so common.

As for the whole schoolgirl look, hey it works for me too... The body ages but the male brain still thinks we're young and often locks in on what you liked, or missed out on, at a certain age. What I thought looked hot 20 years ago STILL looks hot today! I still look! Hell my wife points out hotties for me once in a while ;) (is she awesome, or what?!;)

...as for corrupting young girls with media etc, well way too late to think its something new, and besides I know damn good and well LOTS of younger girls arent that innocent or nieve... Their parents may think so, foolishly, but thats not the case. ...when I was in college I LOST COUNT of the number of girls in the 12 to 16 age range that were actively persuing, dating and having sex with guys from college age up into their 30's. (Big metropolitan area here). Freaking sad, but puts a whole new light on the 'he took advantage of the poor, innocent, nieve girl!' Hah!

Media has corrupted our society, doesnt matter what country you are in.

Anonymous said...

On the other side of the coin though,some "romance" novels written for women can be quite graphic... and these aren't read by cougars either.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like all the hate is distilled by putting the (in)famous "Heavy Rotation" video first-up as a way to "introduce" AKB48 to the reader. How horrible! girls in lingerie, girls kissing each other, such an awful, awful group this surely is...
Have you actually listened to their songs? Actually read the lyrics? While there is some ear-candy, quite a few of their songs have deep meaning, and are really up-lifting, far more than songs from other more "proper" groups.

Beth R. said...

Yes I have read AKB lyrics. And I'm completely serious when I say that if you can make an argument for any AKB song meeting a higher critical standard than prefab bubblegum JPop, I 100 percent want to hear it. It would be nice to see some dissent that doesn't rely on oddly simplistic talking points like "they are uplifting" or "their song supposedly prevented a fan from suicide." What on earth kind of arguments are those and how do they relate to anything I said above? Did I ever say the songs had a gloomy tone? If a fan finds meaning in an AKB song does that mean the group's image, production, marketing, etc. shouldn't be criticized?

If you like AKB you like AKB, but why bother to rebut my opinion if you're not even going to think it through or offer counter-evidence? I'm not afraid to change my mind.