Media Mix, Oct. 12, 2014

ido14092505020001-p6Here’s this week’s Media Mix, about the new idol group, The Margarines, and how the media conditions adolescent girls’ self-image. My main criticism has less to do with the overt sexual meaning of the group than with the less obvious message of what constitutes value. Sex, of course, is a central attribute of show business. The real issue is agency. When artists incorporate sex into their acts as entertainers it’s important to note whether or not they are in control of that image. The equation with prostitution follows this line of thinking. There are many professional prostitutes in the world who control their business activities, while there are probably more who are basically in thrall to pimps and people who have some sort of hold over them. What’s disturbing about the debt aspect of The Margarines is that indebtedness is an age-old justification for women entering into prostitution. As pointed out in a recent piece by Tokyo Shimbun columnist Minako Saito, until the late 19th century it was legal for Japanese parents to pay off debts by selling their daughters to “entertainment facilities,” a euphemism for brothels, where they were kept in virtual slave conditions unless some patron bought their freedom. Is it a stretch to conflate this historical fact with The Margarines’ business model? Perhaps, but the point is that the members of the group don’t have any personal agency with regard to what they do on stage. They are clearly there to pay off their debts, which means they have to do what they are told, and until they pay off those debts they belong to someone else. Or, at least, that’s the narrative. Though I don’t care for idol groups in general, if their members display a sense of personal involvement and accomplishment in what they are doing then they can own the sexual component that’s implicit (or explicit, as the case may be) in the genre. But most female idol groups don’t. They are going through the motions, and younger girls at home are thinking, “That looks fun,” even before they understand what sex really entails.

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