“Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14″

I’ve just watched Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14 on the BBC iPlayer (originally on BBC Three last night). It chronicles the fortunes of Rebecca Flint/Beckii Cruel, her family and finding global fame.

There are plenty of things that are really interesting about the documentary; from the way the Internet can make stars of people, the concept of multiple identities across different cultures and the conflict of interest between parent and offspring. (That last one may just be some unsympathetic editing towards her father, Derek, but even so, it made me think about childhood success and the parents wanting “in”).

The aspect I really want to talk about is the fandom, or inappropriate fandom that the girls received.

The film devotes much of the middle section towards this, but mostly parries it off as being a “cultural difference”, especially when her manager is asked about it. My question is: just because another culture allows a fixation with young, female teenagers, does that make it acceptable? Or to spin it around, because British (Western? I hate that word though) culture doesn’t allow it, does that mean it is wrong? For sure, I got a slightly uneasy feeling watching parts of that film, but of course I’ve internalised the British view.

Incidentally, I think Beckii has an amazingly level head on this, perhaps more so than her parents and manager. Her piece to camera after she receives the bass guitar is very considered, and her take on the “cultural difference” is equally sensible, where she talks about making sure she is happy (31mins in on iPlayer).

I think working to get away from the sexual side , that’s why we’ve turned down a lot of offers for [?] magazines and everything because we don’t want to do that and I never want to do that. I mean I’m 14 years old and even if [?] “oh, its just a different culture”, even so, I’m a British person with a British mindset and I think it is wrong so, yeah.

My basic problem is that if we assume that 14-16 year old girls getting attention from 45-54 year old males (27mins) isn’t a problem but part of the culture, then why are is it important to make sure that the girls clothing is so carefully checked (29mins and 10mins) and that their “look” (from 9mins) of large eyes, chiselled chin is so important. From 9-14 mins is particularly illustrative of this.

To me, printing photobooks of a 14 year old girl – where the girl is the product, not like a clothing catalogue – and making out that it isn’t sexual/objectifying doesn’t quite add up. Part of me wonders if someone, somewhere, is ignoring the “elephant in the room” on this.

That is not to say that printing her photobooks and other merchandise is necessarily wrong. I want to explore why and if behaviour of those consuming those materials and generating that market is acceptable. I mean surely she should be able to publish whatever materials she wants, and it is up to those consuming them to be responsible in the way that they contact her and behave to her. Pragmatically however, should she censor herself to minimise the risk of unwanted attention?

Obvious follow-up questions are: is there ever an age for objectification as above?  Is this solely a problem for girls (cf. Justin Bieber)?

Maybe I’m coming at this with too much of a gender and culture bias? Anyone else have thoughts?

Update: I just had this conversation with @Tom5mith on Twitter, about our take on the ‘moe‘ and ‘idol‘ culture. Relates strongly to our attempts as Brits to see through the cultural difference.

9 thoughts on ““Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14″

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention James Streetley's blog - “Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14″ -- Topsy.com

  2. Hey James Streetley, I too watched “Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14”, And some of you points I have to agree with. I mean sure thing about the cultures of Britain and Japan are different, I mean I’m Chinese myself and I don’t think there’s anything wrong about Beckii being an Idol in Japan even if Britain’s culture doesn’t allow it. My point is there is nothing wrong with her really.

    ….China Pride XD

  3. I didn’t like the documentary because it seemed to me that it wanted to emphasize a sleazy aspect that simply isn’t there. The photo books are sold on the high streets in convenience stores, but mainly to teenagers, girls and boys. Does this make the girl fans lesbians? No. Japan still is a traditional family based matriarchy based in small family groups and communities, even within big cities and this is one of the reasons why the crime rate is so low.

    The programme seriously misrepresented Japanese culture and this was clear from a lot of the tweets in response to the programme.

    WHat we see in the UK today is a corruption of normal society and destruction of the family, where everyone who has contact with children has to get a certificate to prove they have no criminal record, where we have a culture of suspicion and alienation and we have forgotten the way that human society is supposed to be, and still exists in coutries outside the UK.

    What was good to see was the attitude and awareness of Beckii’s own family, which no doubt contributes to her confidence and maturity. I would have preferred the documentary to concentrate on this, as it was billed after all, rather than to attempt to sensationalize in such a way.

    It didn’t even properly contextualise Beckii as an idol by looking at groups like Morning Musume which is a sub-culture all of its own.

    I think that this whole cultural problem can be illustrated by the sorry case of Tonari no Totoro, an award winning children’s anime reknowned around the world and shown annually at holiday time in Japan. It was banned in the UK for years because of a scene where the father bathes with his two children, something that hundreds of thousand of families in Japan do every single day. Now which culture is at fault?

  4. Hi Michael,

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the programme did emphasize any sleaze they could find. Even the most truthful documentaries have an element of spin to them and the sleaze aspect definitely got us talking. Of course, with the majority of the UK having little idea about Japanese culture (myself included), we weren’t about to call out the producers as wrong, either.

    I totally agree that the UK attitudes towards young people and sex in general aren’t perfect, which is why when I made the direct comparison them I made sure not to imply that I think either attitude is better or worse than the other, although I’m sure my own cultural views cloud the post in other places.

    Beckii and her family generally came across very well, in what is certainly an unusual situation. I felt at some points that her parents weren’t 100% right, but over the course of an hour, that’s not a bad thing nor surprising. Beckii shone for me, like you said, as a confident and mature person, whose thoughtfulness, particularly during the “gift” scenes, was striking.

    Context for the Beckii as an idol was sorely missing. I would have thought that was critical for a UK audience, as it isn’t really a phenomena that Brits are familiar with. I only have the most rudimentary understanding from reading a few articles online this afternoon after I watched the programme, and if you didn’t look elsewhere, I think viewers would be even more lost.

    Thanks for a really thought provoking comment on the other side of the coin 🙂

  5. Classic stage parent behavior going on there once Beckii’s parents get in the game. I found it highly disturbing the way they tried to downplay the interested older gentleman in Japan who lavished the expensive bass guitar/birthday gift on her, saying he’s a friend of the entire family – do they not realize this 45 year old (I’m guessing) male who probably sits at home and masterbates to her videos? (I’m sure they do). Certainly that’s her appeal to her older male fans, as opposed to her innocent/fun appeal to girls her own age. Obviously her Japanese manager knows this too, but downplayed it for Bekkii’s parents and the documentary’s audience saying her picture book was for her young male fans of the same age. Yeah right.
    The whole documentary gave me the creeps, mostly due to Bekkii’s parents pretending to be all protective of her in this venture of hers(theirs) while knowing full well her male audience is an inappropriate demographic for a girl her age.

  6. @Michael, this following comment was found on the BBC blog page for the Bekkii doc. You should read it!


    With Anime and Manga being so closely connected to Hentai, Shotacon and Lolicon is it appropriate for such a young girl to be exposed to this environment?

    Her father, a police inspector, appears to have completely missed the links and cultural norm of the Lolita aspects of this industry. It is not just dirty old men but all sections of the male population of Japanese culture who view this as a form of pornography. The major consumers are said to be white-collar workers in their 20s and 30s.

    The Japanese are fully aware of this phenomenon with government, research and lobby groups having identified and proven links with this type of material, both ‘real life’ and animated, and violent and sexual crimes. The Metropolitan Tokyo authority has proposed to restrict sexually provocative, “visual depictions” of characters who sound or appear to be younger than 18 years old, describing it as ‘Virtual’ Child Porn. In the US Laws have been enacted to criminalise “obscene images of children, no matter how they are made,”. UNICEF have issued a statement calling for further tightening of child pornography laws in Japan, including the ban of sexual depictions of minors in manga, anime and computer games.

    Beyond these issues, the attitude that 15 minutes of fames and “the GCSE year being worth £50,000” to make for any deterioration in grades is a deplorable attitude from a parent. This is will be a short ‘niche internet star’ career that will end long before they want it to and she will be left with some memories, maybe some money, and no next step.. At least the recording professionals were honest about the prospects of her having a recording contract or singing career. She may not wish to be a washed out ex-celebrity within a year but that is the most likely outcome.

  7. Largely agree with your comments here. They didn’t seem to attempt to explain the huge disparity in ages between the genders watching the videos, other than to say “it’s their culture” which isn’t an explanation at all.

    In response to “Obvious follow-up questions are: is there ever an age for objectification as above? Is this solely a problem for girls (cf. Justin Bieber)?” these articles are interesting as a starting point: http://bit.ly/dbpcZd http://bit.ly/bul0Ba and the articles linked to within them.

    And to Michael – how is Japan a matriarchy? :-S In terms of the people profiting from her in Japan, e.g. her photographer, her manager Fuji – they were all men. Any stats I’ve seen about Japan show it to be a country ruled and run overwhelmingly by men…?

  8. Hi Stephanie.

    That second link you posted totally freaked me out. Whilst I’m not overly bothered by the Jaden Smith photo because the context seems to be about his physical fitness after training for the The Karate Kid, rather than sexually, the rest of the photos on that page made me feel quite uneasy.

    As for Michael’s matriarchy comment, in his context of “traditional family based matriarchy” I took it to mean with the mother as nominal “head of the family”, rather than the wider governing sense, but I wouldn’t want to put words in his mouth.

  9. Pingback: James Streetley's blog - “Justin Lee Collins: Turning Japanese”

Leave a Reply