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SMAP dodges bullet; Becky isn’t so lucky

by

Special To The Japan Times

When media leaked intelligence on Jan. 10 that eternal boy band SMAP might be dissolving, the outpouring of fan emotion overwhelmed anything else that was happening in the show business world. One person who was probably grateful for the distraction was Rebecca Eri Ray Vaughan, the TV personality better known by her nickname, Becky. Since the beginning of the year, Becky’s storied charms had been sullied by her alleged affair with married pop singer Enon Kawatani of the group Gesu no Kiwami Otome, a scandal the press gleefully pursued.

Then the SMAP news broke.

To tabloid reporters, two stories of this scale happening at the same time created an overabundance of riches, and SMAP monopolized the attention — well, in the print media it did. TV was interested but cautious, since the story was still in flux.

The group’s presumed split — or, at least, the departure of four of its five members — from their longtime management company, Johnny & Associates, was related as hearsay, the fallout from an internal struggle between SMAP’s manager, Michi Iijima, who is credited with turning the group into superstars, and Mary Kitagawa, older sister of the company’s imperious president and namesake.

Since Johnny’s is the most powerful talent agency in Japan, TV producers are reluctant to air anything that might upset the company, which is notoriously protective of its commercial prerogatives. If SMAP decided to leave, the agency still had a stable of male idols on whom the industry already relied, so if you listened carefully you could hear a huge collective sigh of relief last Monday night when SMAP’s members appeared live on the air just before their weekly Fuji TV variety show to assure the public that they weren’t breaking up.

Many fans were overjoyed at the news, but others were perplexed. The usual spoilsports took to social media to express their frustration, saying the group had squandered its chance to make a statement about the sclerotic nature of the Japanese entertainment production system, which relies completely on manufactured talent.

Rumor has it the four members planning to quit were doing so in solidarity with Iijima, who has reportedly been at odds with another manager regarding bookings. That other manager happens to be Mary Kitagawa’s daughter, who is set to inherit the company, and the pressure was such that Iijima has been forced out of Johnny’s. Her four charges pledged to leave with her, which, in the scheme of things, sounds like a noble act. Changing their minds thus comes across as a cowardly act. Though the group says they are sticking together for the fans, more likely they thought that their positions in show business away from Kitagawa’s care were not assured. In any event, Iijima’s career would have been over regardless of what they decided.

In that regard, Becky’s fate within this system is instructive, even if the circumstances of her leaving it are different. Her value to her management company, Sun Music, is wholly contained in her image, which is that of a cheerful “good girl” (ii ko). Publicly she has said that she lives to work, and since that work amounts to being chipper and agreeable on television, anything that diminishes the image is seen as a liability by the people who hire her. Sure, she sings and acts, too, but those activities mean nothing without her reputation as a TV personality. Before the scandal, she was appearing in 10 commercials, which is more of a yardstick for gauging success in Japanese show business than CD sales or movie roles.

So when Becky was outed as an adulterer, it negated her image and, in turn, made her less appealing to those who buy it — meaning TV producers and, more significantly, advertisers, whose contracts with Sun Music include clauses regarding the safeguarding of her image, as well as consequences should it deteriorate. Some magazines said she has already been dumped by several companies, and Sun Music will have to pay each one tens of millions of yen in damages. Becky’s perfunctory press conference earlier this month, where she apologized without specifying why, was covered extensively and ridiculed as being insincere, thus making matters even worse.

It’s too soon to declare her career over, but much will depend on how Kawatani addresses his side of the romance. For what it’s worth, he seems to want to divorce his wife of six months so that he can be with Becky, but given that he’s a man and relatively independent as a musician, it’s no skin off his nose if he doesn’t. If Becky were more savvy as a self-promoter she could exploit the public’s sympathy for idols whose handlers contractually limit their love lives, but since she’s bet the farm on her image as a pure young thing (for the record, she’s 31), her value to the industry is already diminished. It has nothing to do with human rights and everything to do with the commodification of personality.

SMAP, on the other hand, has actual fans, which means its members could theoretically break from Johnny’s and still be viable as money-makers. The tyranny of the system Johnny’s exemplifies is that it denies the agency of its charges in selling themselves as “products” on the free market. It threatens them with blacklisting, because the people who would buy their product will continue to want other product from Johnny’s, who could withhold it as a means of retribution.

That’s why so many people were hoping those SMAP members would quit Johnny’s. It would have been interesting to see how the entertainment industry adjusted to such a major challenge to its basic attitude toward talent.

And that’s “talent” in production jargon, as in bodies to place before cameras and microphones, not as a wellspring of performance or thought, because what Becky and SMAP have in common is that they toil in a world where their ideas — if, in fact, they have any — are immaterial. Becky is nothing without Sun Music, and SMAP proved by sticking together at their age that they realize Johnny & Associates is as good as it’s ever going to get.

  • GBR48

    How will the industry cope when the internet arrives in Japan, and people with talent can promote themselves on sites like YouTube and dailymotion, create their own webstores, offer tracks on iTunes, Spotify and CD, and manage their own careers?

    Given the reputation of the talent agencies in Tokyo and Seoul, I’ve always rather fancied starting one of my own, treating the talent decently. Some quality, quirky bands and soloists, the obligatory female idols (all with full educational programmes alongside their singing, female staff, not worked to exhaustion, and no need to get their kit off for photo books), K-pop style groups for Shin-Okubo, a gay male idol group, and some female anti-idols, fans signing a waiver before a handshake event in case any of our ladies are in a bad mood and start a fight. Pottya have beaten me to the ‘curvy idols’, but anyone with a good voice or a portfolio of songs would be welcome to try out. LGBT-friendly, equal pay for male and female employees and a mix of purchase and lottery for the tickets to every concert. No smoking at any venue, female-only and family concerts, and multilingual coverage online for ticket sales and fandom. Fair contracts in plain language and anyone could date, because love is good for you.

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      Given the amount of Japanese people, who, while they know about Youtube and the like, generally stick to their Japanese TV… not entirely sure the internet ever will “arrive in Japan”. Any… talents… you would have would need to be on variety shows to get exposure, which means bowing to the industry.

      • GBR48

        There’s always a plan B, even in Japan.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Ha. But we’ve always done plan A! Let’s keep on with plan A. Plan B makes more sense, but plan A is traditional.

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        The number of times I point out to people “You can find it on the internet.” and their look is one of shock and surprise never fails to astound me.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        The internet is JUST Youtube and sites like it, didn’t you know?

      • Blair

        You really should broaden your horizons

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        I should broaden MINE G.G.? Surely you can do better than that.

      • Blair

        If the people you know are so incredulous about what’s available on the Internet, I suggest spreading your sphere of experience beyond the crowd you hang out with. There’s 127,000,000 people here. Branch out from your eikaiwa and find some sharper insight

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        If only I had your omniscience.

      • Blair

        Or friends

      • Blair

        If the people you know are so incredulous about what’s available on the Internet, I suggest spreading your sphere of experience beyond the crowd you hang out with. There’s 127,000,000 people here. Branch out from your eikaiwa and find some sharper insight

      • Blair

        If the people you know are so incredulous about what’s available on the Internet, I suggest spreading your sphere of experience beyond the crowd you hang out with. There’s 127,000,000 people here. Branch out from your eikaiwa and find some sharper insight

      • Blair

        If the people you know are so incredulous about what’s available on the Internet, I suggest spreading your sphere of experience beyond the crowd you hang out with. There’s 127,000,000 people here. Branch out from your eikaiwa and find some sharper insight

      • Blair

        If the people you know are so incredulous about what’s available on the Internet, I suggest spreading your sphere of experience beyond the crowd you hang out with. There’s 127,000,000 people here. Branch out from your eikaiwa and find some sharper insight

      • Blair

        If the people you know are so incredulous about what’s available on the Internet, I suggest spreading your sphere of experience beyond the crowd you hang out with. There’s 127,000,000 people here. Branch out from your eikaiwa and find some sharper insight

      • Blair

        If the people you know are so incredulous about what’s available on the Internet, I suggest spreading your sphere of experience beyond the crowd you hang out with. There’s 127,000,000 people here. Branch out from your eikaiwa and find some sharper insight

      • Blair

        If the people you know are so incredulous about what’s available on the Internet, I suggest spreading your sphere of experience beyond the crowd you hang out with. There’s 127,000,000 people here. Branch out from your eikaiwa and find some sharper insight

      • Blair

        If the people you know are so incredulous about what’s available on the Internet, I suggest spreading your sphere of experience beyond the crowd you hang out with. There’s 127,000,000 people here. Branch out from your eikaiwa and find some sharper insight

    • ishyg

      “How will the industry cope when the internet arrives in Japan, and people with talent can promote themselves on sites like YouTube and dailymotion, create their own webstores, offer tracks on iTunes, Spotify and CD, and manage their own careers?”

      Uhh, I believe this scenario already exists. They’re not as well-known though, but they do exist. Some independents even do “street live” performances. Can you define more your point here? Thanks.

      • GBR48

        It was a rhetorical question. Japan may love doing things traditionally but ‘disruptive’ technologies get everywhere courtesy of the net, and although change may be less radical in Japan, the internet will change things.

      • GBR48

        It was a rhetorical question. Japan may love doing things traditionally but ‘disruptive’ technologies get everywhere courtesy of the net, and although change may be less radical in Japan, the internet will change things.

      • GBR48

        It was a rhetorical question. Japan may love doing things traditionally but ‘disruptive’ technologies get everywhere courtesy of the net, and although change may be less radical in Japan, the internet will change things.

      • ishyg

        Well I didn’t see the rhetoric. Sorry.

      • ishyg

        Well I didn’t see the rhetoric. Sorry.

      • ishyg

        Well I didn’t see the rhetoric. Sorry.

      • GBR48

        It was a rhetorical question. Japan may love doing things traditionally but ‘disruptive’ technologies get everywhere courtesy of the net, and although change may be less radical in Japan, the internet will change things.

      • GBR48

        It was a rhetorical question. Japan may love doing things traditionally but ‘disruptive’ technologies get everywhere courtesy of the net, and although change may be less radical in Japan, the internet will change things.

  • zer0_0zor0

    She’s kind of an idiot, with bad taste.

    That isn’t the image of Westerners the Japanese media should be promoting anyway.

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      How much time has she spent outside Japan, anyhow?

  • Michele Marcolin

    Such a disgusting world the Japanese madia and advertising companies. Depriving people of liberty of being what they want for money and contracts, while profiting and gaining thanks to them.

    • GBR48

      That’s pretty much the way the media industry works globally, but with tweaks to accommodate regional cultural attitudes. Quite a few non-media corporates have something similar buried in the small print of job contracts.

    • 69station

      “Depriving people of liberty of being what they want for money and contracts, while profiting and gaining thanks to them.”

      You’re kind of forgetting to include the reality that it’s the media and advertising that enables people to make large sums of money off of very little more than their looks. Becky would have been just another regular office worker if she hadn’t had the media to enable her. Don’t get me wrong: I think the entertainment is as sordid as any business can be, but people don’t have to sell their soul to it. It’s their choice.

      • Michele Marcolin

        Yes, I know. You’re absolutely right. But elsewhere it doesn’t work like that. And people can and make money and do their job anyway with their identity and liberty to date, get married, go on holiday as it pleases them. Here people simply have to take it and have hardly the idea that a completely different and normal world and life (also into media and TV) exists outside the bubble.

      • Blair

        Becky carefully cultivated her image of sweet and pure girl next door which she marketed to an industry that commodifies image. She sells that image for a high price and at a promise not to tarnish that image which advertisers use to associate with their products. She is at “liberty” to lead whatever lifestyle she pleases at peril of damaging the image that advertisers pay huge sums of money for and advertisers are “at liberty” to release her if she no longer represents what they’ve paid for

    • Clayton Forrester

      Remember the furor in India when American actor Richard Gere kissed Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty?

      That was a HUGE scandal there.

      And it was just an innocent kiss.

    • Clayton Forrester

      Remember the furor in India when American actor Richard Gere kissed Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty?

      That was a HUGE scandal there.

      And it was just an innocent kiss.

  • doninjapan

    Why is this in news? It’s an opinion piece, and a somewhat misogynistic one as well – quite disappointed in Mr Brasor. Talk about double standards.

    And it’s a shame if she’s hoisted on her own petard and Enon Kawatani gets off scot free – HE’S married, she isn’t.

    • JDMism

      It’s in the news because it was on EVERY Japanese language news program for the past week.

      Reporting on the realities of misogyny isn’t misogynistic, it’s just honest reporting. The writer simply gives his opinion on what WILL happen, not what should happen.

      • doninjapan

        Sorry dude, this: “…but given that he’s a man and relatively independent as a musician, it’s no skin off his nose if he doesn’t.” fits the bill. As does:
        “…but since she’s bet the farm on her image as a pure young thing (for the record, she’s 31), her value to the industry is already diminished.”

        Additionally, the entire piece (as At Times Mistaken points out below) slants towards Kawatani, and paints Becky as tarnished.

        It’s all gossip-rag stuff, and I *had* thought The Japan Times was above this kinda crap. I stand corrected on that.

    • JDMism

      It’s in the news because it was on EVERY Japanese language news program for the past week.

      Reporting on the realities of misogyny isn’t misogynistic, it’s just honest reporting. The writer simply gives his opinion on what WILL happen, not what should happen.

  • doninjapan

    Why is this in news? It’s an opinion piece, and a somewhat misogynistic one as well – quite disappointed in Mr Brasor. Talk about double standards.

    And it’s a shame if she’s hoisted on her own petard and Enon Kawatani gets off scot free – HE’S married, she isn’t.

  • J.P. Bunny

    He’s married, she’s not. He cheated on a spouse, she didn’t. He gets a free pass, she gets her career flushed. A bit of a double standard, methinks.

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      As the article indicated, the reason she’s taking so much heat is because of how this conflicts with her image. Not that she wouldn’t take some heat were she not portrayed as “squeaky clean”, but not this much.

    • Blair

      He’s a rock musician, she’s a manufacture image of sweet and pure. It’s an image intentionally cultivated for marketing. Not too difficult to figure out the standards at work here

    • Magus

      To be fair, all of the Japanese comments I’ve read on the net the past two weeks lambast Kawatani for dragging Becky in the mud. It’s even easier to do because his band name has the word “sleazebag” (ゲス) in it.

      I think Blair, Clickonthewhatnow and ultimately the author are right. Kawatani is getting *tons* of hate right now, but at the end of the day he has real fans, as in people who like his music, as opposed to his image. (I myself really liked his song “Romance ga ariamaru”.)

    • Magus

      To be fair, all of the Japanese comments I’ve read on the net the past two weeks lambast Kawatani for dragging Becky in the mud. It’s even easier to do because his band name has the word “sleazebag” (ゲス) in it.

      I think Blair, Clickonthewhatnow and ultimately the author are right. Kawatani is getting *tons* of hate right now, but at the end of the day he has real fans, as in people who like his music, as opposed to his image. (I myself really liked his song “Romance ga ariamaru”.)

  • At Times Mistaken

    The author writes, “when Becky was outed as an adulterer, it negated her image….” I’m not too sure if that statement is entirely accurate. My Webster’s dictionary defines an adulterer as “a married person who has sex with someone who is not that person’s wife or husband.” I don’t believe the article mentions Becky’s marital status but in reading between the lines it would seem that she is single. That status, according to Webster’s definition at least, would exclude her from being an adulterer.
    I think the Japan Times owes the young woman an apology.

    • JDMism

      You don’t offer an alternative and the only one that springs to my mind is “homewrecker” which is problematic for many reasons

      • At Times Mistaken

        It’s not my job to come up with an alternative. Brasor is a heck of a wordsmith, and if I’m right about that word, I’m sure he, or any one of the capable editors at the Japan Times, could find a myriad of ways to recast that sentence. Let’s just hope when and if they do, they shy away from the word “homewrecker.”

      • JDMism

        …hopefully Jezebel will be off the table too!

    • Ken Foye

      That’s semantics. If you’re participating in an act, you can correctly be defined as an “_____er” when you fill in the blank with that act.

      If you take part in the act of adultery, whether you’re the married person or the married person’s unmarried lover, you’re active in the act. Thus, you’re an adulterer.

      So, in this situation, Becky is just as guilty of adultery as Kawatani is. Kawatani couldn’t have committed adultery with her unless she also consented to the act.

      Webster’s Dictionary is not the height or the ultimate source of reality.

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      Mirriam-Webster defines adulterer as a married person who has sex with someone who is not that person’s wife or husband : a person who commits adultery. Both of those are valid, and Becky certainly did commit adultery.

  • Mark

    If you knew anyone connected with the “entertainment world” you’d know it is completely fake and built on lies and illusion. Becky, like most in that industry, is most likely nothing at all like her public image – likely she’s quite manipulative and nasty. Her “crime” was to show the truth – that she isn’t at all like “Becky”.
    If you could turn over the rock of the japanese entertainment biz you’d probably vomit in disgust at what you found.

  • Mark

    If you knew anyone connected with the “entertainment world” you’d know it is completely fake and built on lies and illusion. Becky, like most in that industry, is most likely nothing at all like her public image – likely she’s quite manipulative and nasty. Her “crime” was to show the truth – that she isn’t at all like “Becky”.
    If you could turn over the rock of the japanese entertainment biz you’d probably vomit in disgust at what you found.

  • Mark

    If you knew anyone connected with the “entertainment world” you’d know it is completely fake and built on lies and illusion. Becky, like most in that industry, is most likely nothing at all like her public image – likely she’s quite manipulative and nasty. Her “crime” was to show the truth – that she isn’t at all like “Becky”.
    If you could turn over the rock of the japanese entertainment biz you’d probably vomit in disgust at what you found.

  • Diego Garcia

    This is an article I wrote called:

    Welcome To Japan: The Land Of Patriarchy & Sexism

    Japan. The land of the rising sun. Green tea, beautiful mountains, onsen (hot spring) and a rich history. But not everything in Japan is perfect. Japan’s long tradition with supporting a patriarchal society has shed new light in recent events where high profile women have been put to shame by the media and society.

    In 2014, Tokyo assembly member Ayaka Shiomura was heckled by her male counterparts for being over the age of 30, female and not married with children. Sexist comments by male counterparts were thrown into her face during a speech of Shiomura, leaving her literally in tears on national TV. It created temporarily an outcry on social media, foremost outside of Japan, which led to an apology from one of her male assembly members, Akihiro Suzuki. Although Shiomura accepted the apology, she did not for forgive the incident and instead continues to fight for women’s rights in Japan.

    Unfortunately there is this general idea, not only in Japan, that a woman who reaches the age of 30 must start thinking of settling down. In other words creating a family of her own, getting married and having children. If a woman does not follow this tradition, then she is considered an outcast and shame to society. On the contrary, more and more women around the world believe that this old fashioned path is no longer working for their own benefits. Instead, many women choose a career over having a family. I therefore, applaud Shiomura for standing up, not only for her own rights, but for all the women in Japan and abroad.

    In another case, Japan’s favourite TV presenter who goes by the name of “Becky” was put to shame by the media recently for allegedly having an affair with a married man. Becky who is half Japanese and half British, or “Hafu”, has been a household favourite for over 15 years. She is single and has never been married. Yet the media was unforgiven for the fact that according to the rule of law of Japan, a married person shall not have an affair with another person as long he or she is married to that person, and can even lead to a fine. This incident has led a national ban of Becky’s TV presentations, commercials and even contract deals, while the alleged male in question, boy band member Enon Kawatani simply continues his career like nothing has happened. Becky’s long lasting media career has been harmed and might be over for good.

    So why is Becky being punished so hard? She is not the one who cheated, right! Well, she is a woman. And being female in Japan means staying out of another woman’s relationship. Though to a certain extend I agree. I mean cheating is not cool no matter what your sex is. However, the main issue I want to highlight is the fact that the married guy is the one that cheats on his wife. Yet, because he is a male he can get away with adultery. That doesn’t seem fair, does it?

    Well, as a western male living in Japan, all I can say is that I am disgusted with the continues sexist and undermining attitude of Japan’s patriarchal society. And this is not to say that these issues only exist in Japan. No, all over the world we continue to have the same kind of problems or even worse, like in India where women get physically punished. But since I live in Japan I can only share what I see in my daily life both in a personal or professional surrounding. For a modern nation like Japan who is very influenced by Western society, cases like Shiomura and Becky’s simply puts back 50 or more years of fighting for global women rights.

    What do you think? Please share your opinion…