In The Firing Line
The attacker slashed at people with a saw blade as he entered a mini concert and a meet and shake hands event in Iwate in north-east Japan. Two teenage members of the group, Rina Kawaei, 19, and Anna Iriyama, 18, were injured with cuts to their heads and hands and some broken bones in their fingers.
There is a lot wrong with the idea of AKB 48: the girls are massively controlled: they cannot have boyfriends or voice opinions on anything and they have to wear and be whatever the management tell them, all to preserve the fantasy that they are part of their fans’ lives. The group was formed on the basis that fans can actually meet the singers and dancers and the often erotic lyrics and videos (despite some members being legally children) appear to sell the idea that real romance is a possibility. This is perhaps not unusual in pop music but the AKB fans themselves are rather strange and many seem to prefer the manipulated flirtation the management leave them with to a real relationship with a real woman.
While there is a lot wrong with AKB this attack was not, it turns out, part of that. The attacker was a 24-year-old, unemployed man called Satoru Umeta who surprisingly wasn’t even a fan of the group and just went there because he wanted to kill someone, anyone.
I feel sorry for the girls that have been attacked and hope they have a speedy recovery. They are very young and have to deal with a serious amount of oft unhealthy adoration. This event, though not connected to their fan base does show up how vulnerable they would be to a frustrated fan who has been sold on the the sex and the specialness of his relationship to the girls, in that he can wield control over her popularity and thus career, and may wish to consummate that power one day. This mutual conceit will only protect the members of the group if the fans remain weak and chaste. To my mind a few too many buttons have been pressed to further guarantee that will remain the case.
Anyway it might mean a few cancellations of concerts and fan-meeting and an overdue re-imagining of the girls in the group as real humans for a while by both management and fans. It is lucky that lonely men in Japan do not have access to guns, as they do in America, or this weekend could have been just as bad, or even worse, than the events in California.
Let’s hope there is an end to the virtual slavery of the idol system in Japanese talent agencies but I’m not holding my breath on that. There is is a lot of money in selling every part of an idols life and enough young girls and boys who are prepared to put up with it for their 15 minutes of fame, as the queues outside the AKB48 cafe in Akihabara (above) show.