A Psychoanalysis of the Japanese Fangirl
Or, yet another entirely too long pretentious article by Cayce.
Over the course of the eleven years I've been operating This is NOT Greatest Site, I've spent perhaps too much time thinking about the phenomenon of fandom. Of course, fandom is something every fan thinks about, at least from time to time – but as a moonlighting music journalist and fan consultant, I probably have more occasion to consider the fandom than the average person – after all, I interact with more fans than the average person.
By rights, fandom shouldn't even really be worth considering. So a bunch of people like a particular band a whole lot...what's the big deal? But as most of you probably already know, fandom makes people behave in perverse, sometimes upsetting ways, and here on the ground in the live houses of Tokyo, just when I think I've seen the worst and seen it all, something new pops up to prove me wrong. If you readers are sitting in your rooms enjoying Buck-Tick through your computer screens, fandom (especially Japanese fandom) may seem largely irrelevant, but when you go to as many shows as I do, it's something you're forced to confront again and again. Over time, it sneaks up on you. First comes fascination: why do fangirls do all the shit they do? Why do they believe all the shit they believe? Every time I'm standing among them in a concert hall, I can't help but want to know.
But events over the past year have pushed me past the fascination stage toward real frustration. I've long sensed that there was something fundamentally different about fan behavior in the domestic Japanese rock scene, as compared with the rock scene anywhere else, but for the longest time, I couldn't quite put my finger on it. And then, a few months ago, it finally hit me: as a general trend, Japanese fangirls behave in a different fashion from their Western counterparts because their motivation for becoming fans in the first place is fundamentally different. We may like the same bands, but that's where the similarities between our experiences end. Trying to find common ground is a waste of time.
Actually, all the fangirl behaviors I'm going to discuss in this article can be observed in Western fandoms as well. Applied to individuals, there's nothing uniquely Japanese about fangirl psychology. What makes the difference is that in the Western rock scene, the type of fan behavior I will discuss in this article is not generally condoned as mainstream. It's often marginalized and looked down upon, and there are plenty of chilled out people to counterbalance the fangirl madness. Whereas in Japan, among Japanese fans of Japanese bands, a lot of times, the Fangirl Phenomenon is the dominant paradigm, and everything else is fringe. This is true for many, many bands, but especially true for Buck-Tick and other bands in the same bracket. That's what prompted me to write this article – to share my sad epiphany: that for many if not most Japanese fangirls, the music isn't what they came for, and it isn't why they stay.
Oh… and when I say “fangirl,” I do mean fangirl. I'm not including fanboys in this discussion. Why not? Because the Fangirl Phenomenon contains (and as we shall see, perhaps arises from) some very troubling dynamics of gender inequality in Japanese society. If the fangirl has a male counterpart, it's the Otaku Fanboy – the type of guy who mouthbreathes over AKB48 and similar. And yet, there's an important difference: men still hold nearly all the power in this society (and, let's face, it, global society as well). That power differential means that fangirls are never going to equate to fanboys. They are playing under different rules, and unfortunately, much of the time their behavior reinforces systemic gender inequality rather than resisting it.
Anyhow, if this topic piques your interest, join me while I 1) discuss the origins of the Japanese Fangirl Phenemonon and its relationship to feminism (or lack thereof) in modern Japan, and 2) offer anecdotes and analysis of 11 typical fangirl behaviors and the psychological motivation underlying them.
Because this is a long and complicated article incorporating a lot of theoretical concepts, I have divided it into separate pages, so you can read it in installments. However, since the content of each section builds on the content of the previous section, I strongly encourage you to read the sections in order.
Part 1: Theory – Divides and Dichotomies
The separation between Japan and the West.
Are Western bands actually better than Japanese bands?
Why do people join subcultures?
What do these terms mean?
The difference between rocker kids and fangirls.
What's different about Japanese fans, and why?
Japanese rock shows are dominated by women...what's up with that?
How do Japanese ideals of femininity affect fangirl mindset?
Like it says.
Part 2: Practice – Fangirl Behaviors, and the Psychology Behind Them
Behavior #1: Kakegoe and Use of Pet Names
Behavior #2: Desperate Attention Seeking
Behavior #3 Magnification of the Importance of Trivial Characteristics
Behavior #4 Extreme Touchiness
Behavior #5 Self-Centered Assumption that Everyone Else Wants What They Want
Behavior #6 Passive (and not so passive) Aggression Towards Perceived Rivals
Behavior #7 Stalking of Peripheral Figures
Behavior #8 Fear of Masculine Sexuality
Behavior #9 Shallow Appropriation of Subculture Fashion
Behavior #10 Inability to Dance Except on Specific Cues
Behavior #11 Narrow Worldview
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