“Thoughtless and Immature”: Minami Minegishi and the Fall of the Roman Empire

When Sonic Youth released Kill Yr Idols in 1983, it was more as a statement of humanity’s need to overcome the limitations set by admiration of those in a perceived higher place. It was also a call to commit deicide via the medium of “sonic death”. It could be argued that the need to improve by casting off and overcoming the previous status quo is the prime mover in human development and cultural change.

To quote Gore Vidal, “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail”.

The publication of pictures by Shukan Bunshun depicting AKB48 member, Minami Minegishi leaving the home of Alan Shirahama – a member of boy band GENERATIONS, a group affiliated with EXILE – seems at first exemplary of Vidal’s quote. At the time of writing, AKB48 remain one of the biggest selling acts to have emerged from Japan, an institution as culturally significant and weighted almost as the old Zaibatsu of the Imperial Japanese era.

Asahi Shimbun contributor and critic, Satoshi Hamano wrote earlier in the year of how the popularity of AKB48 is close to a religious experience, quipping with tongue in cheek that “Atsuko Maeda is bigger than Christ“.

When considered in this context, the movement of Shukan Bunshun is more than understandable; not only does the story highlight a betrayal but it attempts to undermine faith in the wider concept of AKB48.

Yet this manner of tabloid journalism is hardly unique or isolated to Japan. The premise of generating revenue by undermining the careers of celebrities and, as of recent years, the counter marketing scheme of strategically released sex tapes is present in every culture that possesses an entertainment industry.

What makes the scenario regarding Minami Minegishi so important is the manner in which it was delivered to the world and the way in which she herself made her apologies, whether deemed necessary or not.

This is the part of the story you know.

Minami Minegishi shaved her head. The video was uploaded to YouTube on the 31st January, 2013.

It went viral.

Before it was removed, at the height of the video’s ‘popularity’ it had received over seven million views on YouTube and 2,471 notes on tumblr. Its contents were reported by major news agencies across the world – news agencies that barely knew of the existence of AKB48 prior to the event, one of which referred to the group as a “Chinese girl group“.

Several weeks previously another situation made the headlines of several international agencies – the depiction of a young child with his hands covering the nipples of fellow member, Tomomi Kasai‘s breasts in an advert for her forthcoming photobook.

World meet Japanese pop culture; Japanese pop culture meet the world.

These two instances and the way in which they have been reported betrays a unique shift in the manner in which the language of pop culture evolves. If we carry the early Christian analogy forward, this is analogous to the Roman Empire first noticing the early Church.

For the girl who is “rebellious throughout the year“, Minegishi’s apology, her trembling frame, her tear stained face betrayed a sense of genuine and destructive retaliation.

We all remember the time Britney Spears shaved her head. Likewise, some of us may also recall Gail Porter. The situation could easily be read as a mental health issue… yet of course this would be wrong.

Skirting the very distinct cultural significance of the shaving of heads in Japanese culture, as distasteful as this action might be it is driven not by mental imbalance or sexual discrimination; if anything, it is a statement of intent from Minegishi herself, a genuine and heartfelt apology regardless of the necessity of such.

Yet it is also an act of rebellion.

To go so far beyond what was needed, to present yourself in such a state, to shave off your own hair is a challenge, a statement of intent against both cultural complaints and her own regrets.

You will note at this juncture that Alan Shirahama still possesses a full head of hair.

If you are not following this, let me explain it to you clearly and precisely: Minami Minegishi wins.

Having faltered, having acted like a teenage girl, having feelings for another person, she has never done anything that contradicts her nature as a human being. The only clash comes with the obsessive enforcement of the rule against idols dating, that archaic dogma designed to preserve the evergreen market of hopeless romantic infatuation.

I am not in a position to argue with this. It is a cornerstone of the industry, it is hard-coded into the very genetic make up of idol marketing.

Minegishi broke the rules.

Yet breaking the rules also delivered her her clearest victory.

Through this unwelcome act of debasement, through this uncomfortable display of public regret, this 20 year old girl displayed just how far she would go.

With the recent announcement of Tomomi Itano‘s forthcoming graduation and the impending graduation of Tomomi Kasai, you might imagine that this situation weakens AKB48 beyond your repair.

You are wrong.

Take a look at the photo posted on Twitter of Minegishi with her freshly shaved head, surrounded by other first generation members of the group.

That’s Atsuko to the right.

The funny thing about the history of Christianity and the Roman Empire is that by the death of Constantine the Great, the former cult religion was well on its way to subsuming one of the greatest political and military institutions in all of history.

To quote Philip K. Dick out of context, “The Empire never ended“.

AKB48 remains one of the most significant cultural movements of the 21st century, and with a shaved head, Minami Minegishi looks just as beautiful, just as radiant as ever.

Suddenly, there were not enough lions in the Colosseum.

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