In September, Japan’s freewheeling pop culture linked up with the grim realities of Japan’s economy in a most unusual way — by forming a unique idol group. In addition to the usual qualifications of good looks, cheery personality and a small measure of performing ability, these women were chosen for their personal indebtedness.
The nine young women forming The Margarines, as they are called, are going to try to sing and dance their way out of a combined debt of ¥127.7 million. That goal is going to be tough in a competitive entertainment industry already filled with many female idol groups.
Obviously the group will draw a crowd, but it will also turn their economic situation and that of their families into entertainment. As with other groups, fans will line up to take the young women’s photos in revealing outfits, vote on their popularity and hoard keepsakes.
They will also keep track of how much debt the women have.
The ploy also preys on the sympathies of people by placing highly indebted young women on stage to be gazed at, voted on and desired.
When did debt become fun? The sexual element of young women who need money was also part of the package.
The sexual insinuation was an explicit part of the promotional material for the group. Contrary to other female idol groups such as AKB48, members of The Margarines will be allowed to date, it was announced, a possibility that surely fuels the fantasies of male fans. Destitute women willing to sell their attentions, time and bodies is one of the most unfortunate stereotypes about women that still persist. Most women want better choices.
If the idol group was genuinely aimed at exposing the harsh realities of living in debt, it might be an undertaking worth attention, but it is unlikely that much reality will slip into the project.
Even though the actual debt of each member was detailed, ranging from ¥500,000 to ¥7 million, and their situations summarized, it is doubtful that their actual troubles will be detailed. The group is more about exposing female skin than exposing social facts.
The formation of the group is an unfortunate reminder about women’s choices in a society that continues to undervalue their broader contributions and to restrict their social and economic roles.
There are surely better ways, though, to shine a light on the problems young women face — demeaning jobs, increasing debt and sexualized images.
Certainly the members deserve to get out of debt, and everyone should wish them good luck in that regard. However, the promoters might reconsider the messages they are sending.
The Margarines are set to present a maudlin melodrama that reinforces stereotypes, but does little to inspire the social change for young women that is desperately needed.
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