On January 31st of this year, a Japanese tabloid magazine published pictures of 20-year-old Minami Minegishi, member of popular all-girl group AKB48, leaving the apartment building of a member of a local Japanese boy band. Because AKB48 prides itself on an overly cute (or kawaii) mystique, the group’s supposedly innocent reputation could be tarnished by the publication of scandalous pictures of one of their lead singers which hint at both a one-night stand and a walk of shame.
Minegishi’s response to the ordeal? She shaved her head out of remorse and later apologized to fans through the ever-cathartic medium of YouTube. The ordeal garnered international media attention, but instead of getting kicked out entirely, Minegishi was demoted from team member to “trainee.” Hell, were it not for her show of honesty and regret, the entire event would probably have gone unnoticed on this side of the world.
From a North American perspective, this seemingly extreme form of celebrity apology does not even compare to the damage control our celebrities (and their PR teams) undertake when they screw up. I mean, if we applied these same values to the ongoing sexual escapades of Taylor Swift, she’d be rocking a mean crew cut too. Consider the slew of negative coverage surrounding the ongoing physical and aggressive encounters with Justin Bieber and the press, and more recently his attempt to give a WorldStarHipHop-worthy beatdown to a cheeky London paparazzo.
While the act was provoked and arguably not worth a head-shave, Bieber absolved the situation over Instagram with a rather unapologetic and boastful statement about how the press shouldn’t be so instigative regarding his commercial success. Even though his statement probably went over better than Minegishi’s more apologetic response, I’m beginning to think that fans deserve a greater sense of recognition, loyalty and respect from the celebrities they support. If famous people are going to make bad decisions, their fan base should always be acknowledged first.
Outside of social media, celebrities are really only reminded of how important they are to fans through direct encounters with fans themselves, and through eager paparazzi who exist to provide content to distant groupies as a method of making bank. Sadly, our interest in celebrity culture seems to justify the paparazzi’s questionable ways of procuring information: their persistence and disregard for celebrity privacy to the point of incurring restraining orders and assault charges. Our desire to stay informed about our favourite famous people can sour the celebrity-fan relationship, thanks to such overbearing demands and consequential life interruptions.
The responsibility for the movement toward stronger fan acknowledgement rests not only with the North American celebrity, but also with the necessity for tactfulness on the part of those who respond to our need for information about the stars: paparazzi, media journalists, etc. While Japan’s honor-driven acts have proven to influence even celebrities, celebrity humility in North America is nonetheless a rare art form, and that needs to change. I’m not asking for dramatic acts of remorse every time a star breaks a rule or argues with the press – I just think that if the head of the CIA can publicly apologize for an affair on television, then ambiguous Instagram messages should pale in comparison.
Matt Anstett is a second-year student of MIT and Criminology. When not scribing cold cases for Western’s Cold Case Society, you might find Matt volunteering for the benefit of humanoids outside the Western bubble.