American-born, “Japanese idol” singer Leah Dizon stunned fans at a October 14 Tokyo concert by announcing that she had legally wed four days earlier. The bigger shocker: she and her Japanese stylist husband “BUN” are expecting a baby sometime around June 2009.
(I feel like all my old Néomarxisme essays are having unprotected intercourse and breeding new developments in the Japanese entertainment world. I am waiting for the paternity tests, but this news looks like the love child of “The Japanification of Leah Dizon” and “No Shotguns, No Weddings.”)
Despite her “foreign origin,” Dizon has shown an amazing mastery of Japanese entertainment world conventions. At first, the media called her a “black ship.” She could have just been the Phoebe Cates of the 21st Century — a mysterious half-Caucasian/half-Filipino-Chinese American girl running a part-time idol career in Japan as a lark. But instead, Dizon seemed thrilled about becoming a full-out, TV-friendly Japanese bikini girl. Back in Nevada, she had passionately listened to Jpop and had an interest in Japanese culture. A few years later, she was on Japanese TV meeting her hero Utada Hikaru. With a few tweaks, Dizon’s demure sexuality melded perfectly with the expectations of the gravia world, and as a reward for her swimsuit posing, her handlers even allowed a singing career. (There must exist some fixed ratio: X bikini shoots —> Y singles).
In fact, Dizon’s transformation into a Japanese idol was so complete that the only way she could better live out the clichés was to end everything with a shotgun wedding (出来ちゃった結婚).
Like with Saeko, Tsuji Nozomi, Shiina Ringo, Amuro Namie, and Tsuchiya Anna, the standard grumble will again be: why do none of these youngins use birth control? Maybe all of these conceptions are “accidental” — the product of ignorance or irresponsibility. But I can’t believe that staying un-pregnant is so hard.
Let us instead consider the possibility that these idols want to get pregnant. For some, their own mothers had them at 19 or 20, or they live in communities (read: yankii) where “graduation” into adulthood and parentage at 20 is perfectly normal.
Having a baby at 18 or 19 is a killer for your idol career, but maybe that’s the point. Pregnancy is an amazingly graceful way to exit the entertainment industry, and just perhaps, they want to exit. The glamor of “showbiz” is one-sided for young idols. They are salaried employees of companies with questionable financial ties and no transparency. They work extremely long hours. Managers attempt to control every facet of idols’ public lives and try to suppress the girls’ private romances. In many of these idol jimushos, up-and-coming girls are expected to work side-jobs as hostesses at the management companies’ own subsidiary hostess clubs, required to flirt and drink with network executives for a chance at stardom. And it would not be a surprise to learn that the “casting couch” still determines a lot of career directions for many young women.
In this labor environment, getting pregnant and married is the ultimate reassertion of individual control. Management companies can disappear boyfriend rumors from gossip magazines, but they cannot hide increasing belly size and a newborn. Of course, we have no idea why Leah Dizon decided to embrace motherhood at this moment, but I find it suspicious that all these pregnant idols are the result of sheer absentmindedness.
Compared to the Western japandering of the past, these artists see success in Japan as something transcendent on its own. They are not here to cash in while waiting for American success, but to gain fame in Japan. Maybe nothing better demonstrates young North Americans’ newfound respect for Japanese pop culture that the fact they want to actually be a part of the system. Japan is no longer just a launching pad, but the end goal. I never got the sense that Leah Dizon hoped to sell a few Jpop singles and then return to Vegas import car shows.
This influx of “foreign talent” could be an incredibly interesting moment in cross-cultural exchange, but leave it to the Japanese entertainment world to force the uniqueness of their new inputs into the exact same factory molds. The story so far has been the story itself: “foreign celebrities in Japan who speak Japanese and love Japan!” Content-wise their products are almost indistinguishable from their Japanese peers’. Jero is the most disappointing on this measure. He’s got the chops and the cultural angle to take the over-codified, increasingly-irrelevant enka style into the 21st globalized century. But instead of changing the content of his songs to reflect the real life-experiences of Jero, they just dress him up in near-parody hip-hop clothing and make him emote like a divorced Yokohama dock worker in 1963. Jero just lets the enka industry put a new label on an old bottle.
Leah Dizon’s singles suffer from the same cookie-cutter syndrome, but at least she’s a first-class gravia star and part-time TV celebrity. On this measure I feel for Emily: some second-rate gravia company decided her YouTube-proven near-fluent Japanese lent itself best to slow-motion and air-brushed G-string back-shots. Of course, this “not porn” gravia work will surely lead to a meaningful singing career — in the same way that 1905 Chicago stockyard jobs led Jurgis Rudkus to the “American Dream.” But again, how Japanese: Emily is in the same boat as all the other gravia girls promised acting roles and debut singles as reward for their 肉体労働.
But what incentive do Japanese companies have to not exploit their willing foreign talent immigrants? In the old pandering days, Japanese firms were the ones desperate to use Westerners. But now with the tide turning and the gates flooding with eager immigrants, why not pull out the skimpy bikinis and see who jumps highest? They’ve got the upper hand in the game — until that moment where sperm meets egg.