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Meanwhile, an entire slew of schoolgirls, wandering through the middle of Tokyo, had never even heard about prostitution until a bunch of journalists rounded them up and asked them if they’d ever consider trying it.Kinsella smartly relates all this to earlier media panics, such as the British obsession with Mods in the 1960s, which similarly saw a prominent thoroughfare (Piccadilly Circus) jammed with reporters on a Bank Holiday hoping to see something kick off, and eventually outnumbering their interviewees.I once sent a BBC researcher away with a flea in her ear, after she asked me if I’d like to appear on a documentary about SEX.Oh yes, she said breathlessly, it’s all going to be very exciting. Although I’m pretty sure that there are “schoolgirls” in Manchester who’ll bang old men for money as well, and I’m guessing that’s nowhere near as photogenic or titillating for you.It’s a truism widely acknowledged in the anime world that so many Japanese cartoons are obsessed with fantasy figures of 15-year-old schoolgirls because they are aimed at audience of desperate teenage boys. Kinsella pokes around in the archives to work out just who was quoting whom in the original scare-mongering articles, and soon discovers that absolutely nobody had any firm data to go on.But Kinsella’s latest book, Schoolgirls, Money and Rebellion in Japan, points to a wider media malaise, rising to fever pitch during the 1990s, based on a fervid, prurient obsession on the part of newspapers and TV programmes, determined to uncover a nest of vice and corruption that, frankly, wasn’t there. Foreign newspapers quoted posh-sounding statistics, themselves harvested from “academic” articles that, on closer examination, she finds to be grounded in a few vox-pop surveys conducted by gutter-press journalists in Shibuya.Drawing on the media theories of Stuart Hall, Kinsella points to hidden subtexts of ownership and control. This is a little like standing in front of a row of drunken Black Sabbath fans at an Ozzy Osbourne concert and asking if anyone likes eating bats.The answer you receive will more reflect peer pressure and sozzled jollity than actual truth.
That may have been the unkindest cut of all, as I’m sure if the Beeb did call Dr Kinsella, she would have given them a tongue-lashing that made mine look like a fireside chat with tea and cake. Using articles, TV coverage, novels and films, but also a timeline of changes in law and demographics, Kinsella talks us through the rise and fall of the enjo kosai (“Compensated Dating”) furore, and sets it within the ongoing narrative of the media’s obsession with teenage girls, as models, muses and commodities.Nobody in their right mind would expect a foreign newspaper to extrapolate such a response into a commentary on bat-eating habits in Birmingham.And yet, it seems, this is what happened with compensated dating.Kinsella breaks the politics of such interviews right down to their bare bones, and paints a picture of bolshie, amped-up soubrettes, bragging that they’ll do anything for 50p and a bunch of grapes, as long as they are talking to gormless, dorky researchers who look shockable.
No-nonsense female researchers got immensely more sensible and demure replies, and handsome male researchers got hardly any replies at all, because their interviewees were suddenly bashful and giggly.
But she is more interested in precedents for a male-run, male-focussed media getting worked up about the activities (or alleged activities) of women, such as Japan’s 1920s media kerfuffle over the scandalously short-skirted, bob-haired “modern girls” of the flapper era.