Japanese pop culture can be fascinating, but from time to time, it can also be very bleak.
Japanese culture has fascinating traditions and products they share with the world. Besides being a dabbling fan of anime, I think their food is delicious (and no, not the processed sushi you have at fast food court, but the real deal), their architecture is mesmerizing, and their popular music is a breath of fresh air. Moreover, the color and liveliness of their traditional rituals and festivals keep charming people from all over the world. Japanese culture has had such an impact in the world that it's impossible to overlook one of the most popular currents in their music: the Idol Culture. Sadly, recent news about harassment, sexual abuse, and exploitation have put the otherwise "pure" and idealized world of idols under the spotlight.
The social phenomenon of Idol Culture, as it is known right now, is attracting people not just from this country. Fans from all over the world are also obsessing over these idealized Japanese superstars. The concept of “Idol” (アイドル) is used to describe young people that engage their professional path to the show business in Japan. They usually start at a very young age and are heavily trained to be flawless. Idols are known to be very skillful people: they can sing, dance, MC, voice act, entertain, model, and play musical instruments. As much as they know how to entertain their audience, idols also are bound to be a role models for their fans. Therefore, they have to be the most perfect reflection of an ideal Japanese citizen. This image entails purity, chastity, getting away from any kind of vice (alcohol, drugs, or tobacco), and remaining single in order to create the idealized image that makes them so popular.
Idols are impeccable artists. They always seem to be happy and enjoying life (I mean, they're a living example for thousands of fans, so how could they influence others if not being happy?). Their clothes tend to be provocative, and their personality fluctuates between sexy and innocent. To maintain this perfect image, idols go through hard work all day and every day. They have to complete heavy workouts to stay in shape. They're constantly pressured in voice and performance training, while holding tons of interviews, and of course, engaging with their fans (the most important part of their routines, since it's the most profitable).
The secret behind idols’ huge fandoms is keeping people hooked. Since these characters are seen as pure and mysterious beings, people always want to know more about them. They become so heavily idealized that their fans' obsession with them grows minute by minute. Fans have turned into such an important part of the Idol Culture that a couple of years ago it had been established that this phenomenon was going through "Warring Idols Period." This means that idols’ devotees now compete against other admirers to see which idol has the most loyal fandom. Clearly, this has led to serious rivalry during live presentations.
Being an idol is not an alluring profession at all. In fact, it’s a very stressful job, especially in a country where social pressure is so evident. They're paid poorly although they work for long hours. Besides, their lifestyle is truly demanding, and the things they sign for in exchange of superficial fame are far from glamorous. Among their responsibilities, idols are asked to present an image of innocence and purity (especially female idols) that entails being romantically unattached and sexually inexperienced (this includes pretending that they don’t even know what a penis looks like). Sure, many idols have been caught having secret relationships, and as long as the news don’t find out, their managers don’t make a big deal about it. However, the moment the ideal image of pureness and innocence is broken, fans go away and so does the money. Their lack of sentimental life (romantically and sexually) becomes a very stressful task to achieve, especially when idols are teens that naturally have the urge to engage in romantic relationships. Sadly, this is not the worst part of being an idol.
In the last few years, there have been many complaints from idols who have been sexually harassed by their staff members (both male and female). Unfortunately, no one has taken action against these terrifying situations. In 2016, the Cabinet Office (department of the Government of the United Kingdom) held a survey with 197 women who had previously signed a contract with a talent agency. Turns out that almost 30% of the female idols that took the survey had been asked to perform sexual acts while being recorded. From this group, 35.3% said they did it for money, 29.4% were told it was stated in their contracts, and 23.5% were afraid of bothering other people (including their managers) if they didn’t do it. This is by far the darkest side of being an idol. Unfortunately, most of them are very young and attracted to fame, so they do whatever it takes to be under the spotlight (even though some of them know this is not the best way to go).
This gloomy reality shows that there’s an evident downside on the Idol Culture that's barely discussed. The fame and countless admirers an idol can have come with bleak consequences that are often worse than a lousy paycheck. Would you dare to go this far in exchange of fame and fortune?
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