One can never underestimate the power of pop culture. It is more influential than any government or religion as evidenced by what I have observed on my timeline the last few days. A president can never stop anyone from tweeting lest be accused of curtailing freedom of speech; and Holy Week has never stopped us before from proceeding with our social media lives.
I have two timeline lists on my Twitter (I use hootsuite) for my two fandoms: Arashi and CNBlue. When the Sewol tragedy happened, the CNBlue timeline practically froze. The only updates I could see were on the shipwreck. There were very few, if any, tweets on CNBlue and that’s considering that the accident happened three days before the start of their Can’t Stop tour.
This brought me back to 2011 when the Tohoku earthquake happened. My Arashi timeline was moving fast though but except for some tweets asking on the whereabouts of the boys, the rest were updates on the disaster. If there were Arashi-related updates, it was mostly on the official statement from Johnny’s and Sho’s activities as a newscaster covering the disaster.
Thankfully that time, Arashi’s concert tour was still three months away so they were not placed in the same predicament that CNBlue faced last week. With only three days before their concert, it must have been a dilemma for them and FNC on whether to proceed with the show or cancel it just like what many other artists have done.
And they did proceed with the first concert happening last night in a scaled down, low-key manner. CNBlue fans were also careful not to spazz on social media sites out of respect for the tragedy. Credit goes to the fans for wanting to protect the band from any public backlash.
To be honest, I did not expect them to cancel the concert considering the logistics involved. Lotte’s decision to cancel a concert but proceed with a fan meet cited as reason the international fans that have already started traveling to Seoul. This must have been a major consideration for FNC too and I couldn’t blame them. It may sound as a purely business decision but to be blunt about it, no one wanted the tragedy to happen. And by continuing on with life in general, it does not mean that one is not sympathetic with what happened.
It reminds me of a saying that we pray for the dead but we have to live for the living. We do what we have to do. In the artists’ case, they have work to do and contracts to honor just like the rest of us. Self-righteousness won’t help make the situation better. Of course it would be great if they could take the lead in helping the victims by doing something to assist search and rescue operations. But offering prayers and keeping the affected families in mind are more than enough of goodwill. And in CNBlue’s case, using their music to heal a grieving country is the best that they can do.
Which brings me back to 2011 and the decisions that Arashi made in light of the disaster. They had the advantage of time to be able to make the necessary changes to their tour that year. They considered canceling their concerts in Tokyo Dome from June 24-26 but decided to hold charity events instead. And thus was born Waku Waku Gakkou, which was also brought to Miyagi and Fukushima, two areas that were hit hard by the disaster. Waku Waku was a one-of-a-kind event because Arashi played teachers with topics related to the disaster (and in the years that followed, on life and practical lessons). They spent two and a half hours talking in front of the dome audience. No singing nor dancing. The only time they sang was at the closing. And yet, when they repeated Waku Waku in 2012 and 2013, fans still came in droves filling up the venues and this time, with families and with notepads and pen to boot, the better to take notes of Arashi-senseis’ lessons.
Arashi donated part of the proceeds of the events to charity together with revenues from the release of the Nippon no Arashi book. In total, they donated $3 million to the disaster-stricken regions in 2011 alone. They were also part of Johnny’s Marching J charity event. In 2012 and 2013, they held mini concerts and handshake events in disaster areas. This is the only time that Arashi has done handshake events, and it’s not even to promote an album or whatnot.
They even invited people from the affected areas to watch VS ARASHI live at the studio–and we all know how difficult it is to get into their TV shows. (don’t even get me started on the concerts). Perhaps worried that they would be criticized for carrying on with their usual activities, they said:
“We don’t know whether laughing on TV at times like this is good or it should be cut, but we think that’s the only thing we can do for now.”
When I need reassurance that there is hope in humanity, I watch their specials on the visits they made to the disaster zones and the mini concerts they did for free for the victims. The look on the locals’ faces was priceless. See, one doesn’t have to be the president of a country or a company to make a difference in times of disaster.
But more than their “public” activities, it was their private gestures that really counted a lot.
- Sho went to help in the reconstruction of a damaged town as part of his work for News Zero but even when the camera was not rolling, he continued working.
- Aiba went to cheer up the children with animals (though the kids were more cheered with Aiba’s presence than the animals). An account of a teacher said Aiba kept waving when he was leaving until his van has disappeared.
- Jun went to volunteer and visited a school but since the classes were ongoing and he did not want to disturb them, he just left donations of book cards with the library.
I was just telling these to a colleague last week as we discussed the Sewol tragedy at the desk. And I had to pause when she said:
“Wow, they don’t look like the usual idols. No wonder you like them so much.”
I just don’t like them. I am proud of them as human beings.
This just proves that not everything in entertainment is about neon lights and fame. I want the artists I support to also give back to the community that has given them so much. Because to whom much is given, much is expected.
And as fans, all we can do is support them and spread their goodwill.
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