Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you
Greetings, Citizens of the Universe.
As you can gather from the title and the stalker-iffic lyrics at the beginning of this post, I’m sure you can guess its topic. It’s been making waves throughout the J-pop Universe in late May/early June, shaking it (and the quadrant called the idol scene) to its core.
That’s right. The attack caused one 48G member to graduate.
Mayu Tomita didn’t have that. While Kawaei Rina and Iriyama Anna were admitted to the hospital for minor injuries, Mayu suffered critical wounds to her chest and neck and was in a coma until June 7th.
When I first read this on Pure Idol Heart, my heart sank. (Yes, I know I began a comment with those exact words.) I shuddered to think that this could happen to anybody. The sad thing is that Mayu was only an idol for a year so the typical “dark side of idol fandom” narrative technically doesn’t apply to her.
However, as Kame mentioned, overzealous devotion and delusion can happen in any fandom. (Why else are the Powerpuff Musume ’16 pics my final pieces of PPG-styled art? That’s a topic for another day though.) One thing that keeps audiences is engagement with the audience, something celebrities are savvy to and idols are especially dependent on. In fact, the very mechanics of the idol culture encourage intense engagement and devotion through the massive commodification of the idol brand. CDs, T-shirts, glow sticks, the works! I didn’t even mention the “limited edition” merch, along with the swag bundled with goodies like photo cards. If you’ve backed your favorite Internet personality’s project on Kickstarter or Indiegogo (or preordered a game), this isn’t such a strange thing.
1000 “True Fans”
During my research on marketing and building an audience, I came across something rather interesting: In the creative community, there exists a concept as “1000 True Fans.” They are the fans who are so devoted to your work that they will support you no matter what, the amount of “1000” being enough needed to sustain a career. If you’re hoping to make your creative endeavor worth it, you’re encouraged to find those fans. (As you can kind of see, I’m still in the process of doing that to this day.) It is this aspect what kind of found.
In fact, the amount of sales needed for Morning Musume to even begin to have a career was well above that amount (500,000, just 100,000 above the Pre-2003 RIAJ Platinum certification threshold for domestic singles). Even then, it took quite a while for them to find those “true fans” in order to keep them afloat on the face of various challenges throughout their 18-year history.
Oh, can’t you see you belong to me
How my poor heart aches with every step you take
One other thing is the concept of entitlement.
Not long after staying up from five to seven in the morning to watch Zukki’s graduation via Twitcast (shout out to the Number 244 for the link and throwing any chance at righting my sleeping habits out the window ), I came across an article about fandom that was retweeted by the Ladies Night Anthology team. The article and ones like it were making their way through Twitter and like anything, it was scrutinized.
It also hit me why I was almost disgustingly fascinated with the Ghostbusters reboot backlash saga: because of this.
Just the night before (as I was writing this at least a month ago), I finally watched James Rolfe’s now-infamous Ghostbusters rant and someone’s analysis of it and the “reaction” it sparked. (Strangely enough, this was provoked by one of my favorite YouTubers talking about it.)
Needless to say, to the misfortune of my closest friends, I’ve been ranting about it all the following weekend (and beyond).
(I will admit that it’s not perfect, but in my sleepy haze, not to mention the memories and knowledge of how ugly fandom can get, I was intrigued.)
I began to wonder something: I’m not as into Ghostbusters as most of the Internet so why am I fascinated by the backlash and fan reaction? Then it hit me: because the emotions sparking this outrage was very reminiscent of what led to this tragedy.
It’s a polarizing topic that brought forth the topic of entitlement, something we as idol fans grapple with everyday. The “‘lax’ enforcement” of stalking laws in Japan barely helps, even adding to the tragedy. (It also doesn’t help that stalking is a crime that has a shaky track record regardless of geography. In fact, it is just one more complexity to this situation and I highly recommend reading the linked article.)
This is mixed with an engagement based on loyalty, hence the fan wars between H!P and the 48s. The idols themselves don’t see a reason to spark a feud and view their “rivalry” as friendly. (I remember how some fans initially interpreted Ikuta’s stoicness during photo shoots as a desire to be among the 48s.) Add in the whole “surrogate girlfriend” bit that comes with idols (which isn’t something all fans share! I admire them as the hardworking entertainers they are!) and it just might be the Chemical X to spark an explosion.
“If I can’t have you, no one else will.” Such a mindset is not normal. Sadly, at the time the story broke for me, I was becoming jaded from the Internet and the fandoms that exist there. Hearing the venom for the Powerpuff Girls reboot became unbearable with nitpicky fans pinpointing every single error with an almost maddening obsessiveness. (I know it’s not perfect, but I don’t hold it to the same standards to the previous series.)
I learned a lesson a decade ago when the original series was cancelled: don’t pour so much of yourself into something external and (in the end) ephemereal. I tried for the rest of my high school years to find something to fill the (later discovered to be nonexistent) void left by the cancellation.
However, so many people engage with these images, these faces with such a self-identification. In an era of Kickstarters and Patreons, fans feel extra engaged (and creators beholden to them) on account of the financial ties. It is very much like the business trying to satiate the worries of shareholders. “Vote with your wallet,” as the saying goes.
The relationship between idols (like any and all celebrities, which is what they are) and their fans work by the same logic. We enter into a quasi-relationship with them based on devotion and engagement. At best, we free them to do what we loved best about them. At worst, we feel they should dance like puppets on a string with us at the controls.
Well, now that Mayu Tomita is awake and conscious, let’s hope she stays that way. Iwazaki has long been brought to justice so we’ll see how things go from here. I wish Mayu the best in her health.
As for me and fans… I also hope for the best. Pardon me if I seemed to ramble on a bit.
Until next time,
Every move you make, every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you