Organized Panel Session
In Japan, female pop stars known as aidoru (“idols”) have long represented a very specific kind of femininity: virginal, childlike, endlessly cheerful, and determined. Where in English a fan might refer to a pop star as “their idol,” in Japan being an idol is an actual career goal, with young women referring to themselves as aidoru or talking about their dreams of becoming an idol. This panel examines the fundamental power structures that exist in the world of idols, idolatry, and the celebrity-fan relationship, linking female idols to religion, cult followings, juvenile delinquency, and the rigorous control that Japanese media conglomerates exercise over the portrayal of pop stars in media. David Boyd examines the dark side of idol culture via the shin’eitai, rival groups of 1980s idol fans who connected the seemingly innocent and virtuous world of idols to petty violence and criminal activity. Lindsay Nelson looks at the function of idols in contemporary Japanese horror films, one of the few types of Japanese media that offers a critique (albeit an indirect one) of the exploitative side of idol culture. Sachi Schmidt-Hori compares contemporary idols to chigo, highborn boy acolytes of medieval Japan who served a dual role as religious and cultural idols. Finally, Luciana Sanga examines a very different sort of bundan (literary) aidoru in the figure of Mariko Hayashi, the popular novelist who gained a cult following among working women.