Monday, April 27, 2009

"What's wrong with being naked?"

Media Hypocrisy and the Crucifixion of Tsuyoshi Kusanagi

"Fancy a drink?"

1. Sloshed and Senseless

If anyone had told me two weeks ago that I'd soon be sympathizing with a member of SMAP - the terminally uncool darlings of Japan's mediocre light-entertainment scene - I'd have told them they could kiss my shiri.

But I must admit to feeling a twinge of commiseration for SMAP's Tsuyoshi Kusanagi. Following his recent display of drunken nudity in a Tokyo park he's been the victim of a predictable frenzy of media condemnation.

Come on, guys. Give the boy a break.

I mean, who hasn't at some time come staggering out of their luxury apartment at 3AM, sloshed and senseless, flashing their willy to all and sundry?

I know I have.

At any rate, this whole affair might encourage Japanese fans to question the darker side of their country's pop industry.

For Kusanagi's self-destructive binge can best be interpreted as a reaction against the creepy manipulation of showbiz bully Johnny Kitagawa and his insidious management empire Johnny's Jimusho.

Kitagawa has been churning out sub-par plastic pop since the sixties. And though females are the target audience for his stable of emasculated girlie-boys, Johnny has long boasted he prefers to work with lithesome lads because they are "easier to handle," if you know what I mean.

SMAP are the stars in Johnny's crown. The fact that they are as vocally gifted as five salary men in a karaoke box hasn't prevented them from achieving a depressing level of media saturation in their home country.

Their fame reflects the low expectations of the Japanese public as well as the fact that 'talento' and commodification go hand in hand in the land of the falling yen.

2. Purty Vacant

If there's one thing SMAP aren't about, it's music.

The band will whore themselves - at Johnny's insistence, I'm sure - for any company that will throw money at them.

Samsung, Toyota, Nintendo, Nike, Pocari Sweat, Sky Perfect TV, Canon, ECC, Proctor and Gamble, BOSS Coffee and Nudy cosmetics are just some of the advertisers who have forked out for their purty (vacant) visages.

The group have even released a soft drink called Drink! SMAP!, simultaneously installing themselves in the dual role of product and pusher as they creepily urge fans to swallow their celebrity juice.

If there's an upside to this corporate scam it may be that Kusanagi has unwittingly brought to light certain hypocritical attitudes in Japanese society.

During his arrest the star demanded, "What's wrong with being naked?"

And he might well ask, in this sex-obsessed country where pictures of nude girls are plastered over phone boxes and stuffed into the mailboxes of a million apartments.

Where nerdy TV hosts giggle cluelessly as they poke the breasts of pneumatic babelicious airheads.

Where grown men openly read comics celebrating rape fantasies and frequent porn sites promoting male sexual domination.

And Kusanagi is in good company if he enjoys getting juiced on a Saturday night. Over-indulgence in alcohol is not only acceptable, but practically a requirement in Japan. There's even a term for bosses who force their subordinates to get drunk: Alcoru-hara (alcohol harassment.)

3. Takes one to know one

Verily Kusanagi hath offended his country's vast political and marketing machine. Japan's institutions have come down hard on the poor guy in a torrent of fake outrage.

Displaying the tact and sensitivity we've come to expect from Japanese politicians, the internal affairs minister Kunio Hatoyama labelled Kusanagi "a bastard."

Well, it takes one to know one, I guess.

Because that's the same Hatoyama who suggested that execution of death row inmates didn't require him to sign the final execution order, a procedure demanded by Japanese law. Amnesty International Japan condemned his disregard for human rights.

And it's the same Hatoyama who signed into law the recent measure requiring all foreign visitors to be fingerprinted and photographed upon entry to Japan - as an anti-terrorism measure, dontcha know.

Never mind that the only terror acts visited upon Japan's citizens have been perpetrated by Japanese themselves.

Oh, and Hatoyama reportedly owns a chunk of shares in the company which is overseeing the government's campaign to promote Japan's switch from analogue to digital television broadcasting by 2011.

The same campaign whose public face was - until very recently - SMAP's Tsuyoshi Kusanagi.


Cushion Meg said...

Smap are not STARS but “aidoru” (which doesn't have entirely the same meaning as the English word “idol”). As you pointed out, their musical ability is not much above the level of average person, but “aidoru” are not required to be aloof in Japan. All they need to do is represent an ideal standard of ordinary boys. From this point of view they are more than satisfactory. Each of the four guys seems to have a good personality. Kusanagi’s behavior this time must be embarrassing for him since the media reported in such a sensationalized way. But he didn’t harm anyone and I wonder why the police reported that they "arrested" him. They should have said that they took him into custody.
The majority of people, including me, have compassion for him. He won’t lose his fans due to this incident. The most disgusting thing is that the minister - who should be more considerate than anyone - reveals again his silliness!

Cushion Meg said...

Sorry, they are five, not four.

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Dear Cushion Meg,

Thank you for your response to my rather lengthy posting.

Most Japanese I have spoken to seem to agree that SMAP's musical ability is rather pedestrian.

But you make a good point I think about their needing not to seem too remote and godlike. They certainly do a good job on that score. I can't find anything remotely interesting about them.

Most Japanese have also told me that they disagree with the way Kusanagi was 'arrested' and had his apartment searched for no apparent reason.

As you say, most people seem to have some sympathy for him.

I should probably add that a friend of mine met SMAP's Katori Shingo on a TV show a few years back and found him to be a nice guy. But then, that's his job, isn't it, to be personable and non-threatening? It's also the reason he makes billions of yen peddling all kinds of consumer goods to his fans.

Cushion Meg said...

Yes Shiffi, they are treated like merchandises or charms to attract customers. Behind them there are some who exploit them and line their pockets. For the latter, SMAP are super long-selling big-ticket items !!

Cushion Meg said...

Shiffi, I think their selling point is "being versatile". They can perform as a singer, actor, dancer, the MC and comedian too! That's why they've lasted so long.

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Yes, Jacks of all trades, masters of none, you mean.

spaewaif said...

Gobusata shite orimasu!
I totally agree with most of what you say.
The police should issue a public apology for overreacting!
Since when is it within the limits of legality to have your flat searched after a drunken bout?!?!???
I consider that a SERIOUS breach!

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Thank you Spaewaif,

Nice to hear from you again! Yes it was wrong of the police to react as they did, and most Japanese people I have spoken too also feel the same way!