[Update: The apology video has been removed following an official response by AKB management. An English-translated transcript of Minegishi's statement is available at the bottom of this post.]
Ah, an "Oh, Japan" moment. Or rather, an "Oh, Idol Industry" one.
Unfortunately that mild, half-amused admonition's a bit too light for what AKB48 member Minami "Mii-chan" Minegishi was forced to go through just recently. I'll leave Hiroko's words to describe it:
"The whole thing is disgusting and underlies so much of what's wrong with Japan."
Pretty much. More details and a bit of rage below.
Earlier in January, the 20 year-old Minegishi was sighted leaving the apartment of one Alan Shimahara, a performer from the boy band GENERATIONS FROM EXILE TRIBE . Paparazzi saw through her surgical-mask-and-hat disguise and snapped photos, which ran in the tabloid Shukan Bunshun.
The photos and sight of Minegishi violating AKB's strict policy against fraternizing with the opposite sex (a policy whose issues merit a separate discussion) caused an uproar among idol otaku (known as "wota"), who, predictably, demanded apologies for her "infidelity" and decrying the "sex scandal" (though for what it's worth there's no evidence that such activity went on at Shimahara's place).
And normally, that would've been that. Like other idols (AKB members among them) caught violating the "purity" rule, Minegishi should've received a slap on the wrist, the wota would either be placated or left to fume, and eventually everyone would forget about it.
But for some reason things escalated, and in what can be described as no less than an insane stunt, Minegishi appeared in a video on AKB's official YouTube channel (and embedded above) bearing a shaved head*, delivering a teary apology to her fans. In addition, starting this month Minegishi will be demoted to "understudy" status within AKB, despite having been a founding member of the group, present since 2005.
Hey Japan, this is absolutely not the kind of story you want to get out when your country is placing 101st (out of 135) on the 2012 Global Gender Equality Ranking, in such esteemed company as Burkina Faso and Cambodia. And of all things, that's after a four-rank decline from 2011!
Now, it's worth noting that head-shaving is culturally accepted in Japan (and other Buddhist-influenced countries) as a gesture of contrition, which also happens to work for both men and women. As such the connotations of abuse aren't as strong as in western cultures. But still, the fact alone that she was forced to do so (and I don't buy for a second that this was her idea) in some stunt to placate the worst nerdkind has to offer is despicable.
And even if it was her idea, management was certainly in a position to stop it, and should have. The fact that they not only did not but also publish the apology on their official page - in video format - is a sign of tacit endorsement.
At least there are some signs that the stunt may be a step too far. Some fans who actually believe Minegishi had it coming (she did technically violate AKB's cardinal rule, after all) are still somewhat shocked at the severity of the punishment, given that other members caught doing worse were let off with little more than a suspension or transfer to a sister group. Why Mii-chan specifically warranted the riot act, only the management truly knows. What we do know is that no one deserves this.
Yes, AKB48 and its ilk are indeed in the business of selling the illusion of virginal purity to lonely men and maladjusted nerds, but the fact alone that the management perceives its target audience as so emotionally stunted that this kind of punishment is the appropriate response to even the most minor violation of the illusion, is a serious problem. Not every nerd that's into idols is the type to act as if the idol is their property, and it would be better for everyone if the folks in charge quit acting as if those are the ones running this train.
A transcript of Minegishi's YouTube speech follows, courtesy of AKB48 Wrap Up (emphasis theirs).
I’m Minegishi Minami from Umeda team B of AKB48.
I’m very sorry to have caused enormous worry to members, fans, staffs, my families and a lot of other people with the article in the weekly magaizne that is published today.
As the 1st generation member of AKB48, the group that has formed in 2005, it’s my responsibility to always behave as a good role model to juniors. I deeply regret what I did this time. It was a thoughtless deed and I was completely lacking self-awareness as a senior member.
My brain blanked out and I’m still unable to figure out what to do, what I can do. But after I saw the magazine a little ago, I couldn’t help but doing something. And I decided to shave my head without consulting any member or staff at my agency.
Although I don’t think I would be forgiven by doing this, the first thing that I went through my head was that “I don’t want to leave AKB48.”
This is a place where my dear members, who I spent my blossom of youth together, are. And it’s unimaginable to even think about leaving the group where I’m with so many wonderful and sweet fans.
I understand it’s wishful thinking, but if it’s possible, I would like to still be AKB48′s Minegishi Minami.
This is all my fault.
I’m truly sorry.
I will leave my hereafter to the hands of Akimoto-sensei and management.
Though I haven’t been able to tidy my mind up, but I just wanted to tell my current feeling to you.
Thank you so much for listening to me.
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