Although I’ve expressed my distaste about AKB48′s lingerie pillowfight video to my friends a number of times, I’ve never addressed my distaste for them on this blog, but after reading the article “Risque AKB48 commercial draws fire for lesbian overtones” (The Japan Times, 23 April 2012), which contains the line “A commercial showing members of wildly popular all-girl band AKB48 passing bite-size candies seductively from mouth to mouth is under fire for encouraging homosexuality,” something needs to be said. Some pictures below the cut may be NSFW.
If you, like me, apparently missed the commercial for Puccho candy while it was on air, the commercials in question can be viewed here: http://www.akb48cho.jp/cm/index.html
The issue at hand is problematic for two reasons: first, the reactions detailed in the JT article expose the homophobia some of the viewership, as the opposition is not because it’s teens’ kissing but because it “may encourage homosexuality. “Furthermore, “‘I don’t want to see commercials like this,’ said another viewer, who also complained about a music video [clearly "Heavy Rotation"] by the group ‘in which girls, including teens, hug each other in their underwear. . . . It is very distasteful.’”
It is distasteful, but not for the reasons the viewer who complained probably meant. The second problem–and, in my opinion, the larger problem–is that the commercial represents an exploitative patriarchal view of homosocial behavior. AKB48 is a fan idol group marketing a certain kind of femininity, namely cutesy moe, to its fans, and because of this, the undertone is that the act of near kissing is meant for an audience of straight men (even though the fan base includes teenage girls as well). That is, the women are not passing chocolates in a sexy manner for their own pleasure, but for an audience–and as a widely aired commercial, it sends a message about voyeurism and female sexuality, particularly to the younger fans of both sexes.
Going back to “Heavy Rotation,” there’s no denying the voyeuristic nature of the video. The opening shot is of a keyhole and our gaze passing through it as one of the members removes her shirt to reveal a pink and black corset-&-stockings ensemble. Later in the video, members are shown kissing (again, quite innocently), sharing a bubble bath, and sharing food (near kissing) as if a camera were on them (which it is, of course). Again, this imagery contributes to the idea that romance or even sex acts between two women are either girlish and innocent (experimental, meaningless, everyone is still totally straight!) or, for adult women, are a show put on for men rather than an expression of desire or love between consenting adults. It contributes to the idea that bisexuality is a myth, something women do to titillate men, be trendy, or seem edgy. It contributes to the myth of sexy schoolgirl slumber parties (with the idea that there will be a male gaze in the form of interlopers to witness any kissing games or explorations). This, of course, seems to be a selling point of AKB48, particularly in light of “Heavy Rotation.” It contributes to the idea that women are a sexual accessory. It contributes to the idea that a sex act between women is analogous to the “lesbian porn” marketed for straight men.
I’ll be the first to admit that the commercial is actually very cute and innocent, and I imagine it would have still raised eyebrows if the lineup had been boy-girl-boy-girl because kissing on TV is still not as normalized in Japan as it is in the US. But what bothers me about the commercial is that it’s just another version of the dorm-room poster “Kiss” by Tanya Chalkin–it isn’t about owning one’s sexuality, women’s liberation, coming out, pride, or helping raise awareness about, visibility for, or the status of queer issues. This commercial is just mainstream-marketing women’s sexuality as something to be consumed by men.* That’s what we should be mad about, not “promoting homosexuality.”
Aside: I feel I am likely to get at least one comment from someone telling me that two women kissing is a beautiful thing, and that why am I angry about commodifying female sexuality–bonus points for noting that so many women consume boys’ love manga. Can you imagine these videos getting greenlighted for television if they were an all-male band having a sexy half-naked pillowfight in fancy underthings, or, conversely, a charming athletic romp with near kisses in a locker room? Jonny McGovern has us covered on that front, but that’s hardly mainstream and certainly isn’t marketed to women. Double bonus points if two women making out is hot but two guys making out is gross. On that front, it might be a better use of our time to discuss why men’s bodies are considered to be “gross” in mainstream culture.
*I’m not anti-porn, but I think the mainstream narrative of women’s sexuality has a severe problem separating “things women do in ‘girl on girl’ porn” and personal kinks that have roots in taboos from narratives and acts that do not posit “this is how this combination of people must always work; this is normal.”