Codebreaking: Do You Think This Girl is Beautiful?

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Eguchi Aimi is the newest member of Japanese pop group AKB48. Here she is with the rest of her group, in a commercial for candy. Eguchi is the third girl in the commercial (0:04), and the one who holds the little purple candy. She’s also the one in the center of the wide shot. Before I tell you how old she is, watch the video and ask yourself if you find her beautiful.

Here’s the twist. Eguchi Aimi is not yet 18. If fact, the pretty and oh-so-twee Eguchi Aimi is less than a year old.

You see, Eguchi Aimi is not real. She’s a computer-generated composite of the what the band’s producers consider the best attributes of all of the real-life girls in the group. In the world of J-Pop, Eguchi Aimi is William Gibson’s Idoru.

This is what the other side of the uncanny valley looks like. Before the collected works of Jean Baudrillard and Marshall McLuhan collapse into a neutron star of postmodernism, consider what this commercial means.

Could a normal healthy person be attracted to this girl, or think she’s cute? Why not? How many boys were attracted to Britney, how many girls screamed over Justin Bieber, after only seeing a video? “But those people are real,” you say.

The people on the video, they are real? In what way? And why does it matter? They are just as unattainable as CGI pseudopeople. And isn’t that the point of putting anyone in those costumes, making them beautiful, and making them talk directly at you through the screen? For you to want them, to invest in their image all your fantasies, dreams, and desires?

It doesn’t matter if Eiguchi is real or not, and even now that you know (and everyone in Japan already knew), it still doesn’t matter. The singers and dancers, the actors and politicians, everyone who talks to you through the screen–all those people you felt a connection with–were never actually connected to you. What they say and the way the look and what they do is all fake. The connection always goes only one way, from you to them. It has been this way since the shutter closed on the first portrait. The image induces the emotions in the viewer, and you can control or manipulate the what will be in the image to elicit different emotions. The subject of the image does not participate. They are merely a prop.

So by all means, be attracted to Eguchi, or Justin, the retouched model in the magazine or the person on your computer screen. Whether they exist or not doesn’t matter, because what actually draws you to them is the fantasy existence you project onto them, one that is never real, and forever unattainable.

Just remember that the connection only runs one way, from you to them. But there is no connection back from them to you. They don’t even know you exist.

For those interested, here’s how Eguchi was made:

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16 Responses to Codebreaking: Do You Think This Girl is Beautiful?

  1. CubaLibre says:

    “Whether they exist or not doesn’t matter, because what actually draws you to them is the fantasy existence you project onto them, one that is never real, and forever unattainable.”

    I’m pretty sure what draws me to them is their cute faces and hot bods. (Well, in a theoretical sense. I don’t actually find the women of AKB48 that attractive.) I agree that whether they exist apart from their images doesn’t matter, because what I’m interested in is looking at them. I don’t think much Baudrillard is implicated in that statement.

    • Half says:

      Yeah, but you’re not obsessed with them either. What could make a person obsessed? Their are tons of woman and men as hot and hotter then Britney or Bieber, even in the “same way” (trashy/androgynous), and somehow oddly more attainable for the average Joe. To obsess over celebrities requires far more then just a mere attraction to their actual sexuality.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        Speaking a someone who was once young and tended to have such obsessive feelings…

        … in my case, it was a perception that the person was extremely special. Sort of like how christians feel about jesus, is how these kids feel about their favorite musician. I am not religious, but the way I used to feel about my favorite rockstars is as close as I will come to a religious devoted fanatical love for anyone or thing.

  2. Guy Fox says:

    Cute? Sure. Creepy? Yes. But then again, I’m a pseudonym talking to The Last Psychiatrist, a Pastabagel (whatever that is), a cocktail (Sr. Libre), etc. Clearly, I’m open to experimentation.

    Yes, she’s about as real as Gatorade, but Gatorade sometimes it really hits the spot.

  3. The connection always goes only one way, from you to them. It has been this way since the shutter closed on the first portrait.

    The ironic thing is that creations like Eguchi might help (some of) us see this (more clearly) and think about what “real” means anyway, in the context of advertising and media, as well as public relations and politics.

    Although, I’d wonder if it could get through to those who already crave fantasy-driven “relationships.”

  4. Sfon says:

    ““But those people are real,” you say.”

    Quote from elsewhere:
    “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

    That includes politics and celebrities. A statement that Obama eats babies and defecates rainbows said directly to us easily passes the reality test. But only the statement itself. His eating of babies and defecating of rainbows does not pass the test, nor even does Obama himself. Whether we choose to believe the statement or not, what determines our level of sanity is understanding what that choice is grounded in.

    All girls in that video pass the test to the same extent. Not for themselves and those around them unless we’ve been mislead and they are in fact all real/fake, but for the rest of us.

    You know a wall in your house is real because you cannot walk through it. The same cannot be said for the moon. That doesn’t mean it is silly to believe in or care about the moon. Rather, it is silly to believe one’s connection to the moon is more than it truly is.

    • Sfon says:

      To clarify: The girl being fake (or real) is something that will go away if we don’t believe in it. The video itself, on the other hand, will not go away that easily. If one of deals with her in person, that will change for that one person.

      That is why a year from now we might read that in fact one of the other girls was the fake one and we were mislead for some reason. Any many would go telling people this new information as if it is any different. Perhaps looking down on those two still believe the old version and pretending they themselves never believed it.

  5. Mark H. says:

    So what does it mean that I found (ok, find) Jessica Rabbit hot?

  6. rapscallione says:

    No codebreaking, but:

    I didn’t notice in the first video that she was fake, and I think a part of it has to do with the mannerisms she exhibited. They were pretty typical weird-Japanese-commercial sort of things, and I’m not all that familiar with them, so I had no frame of reference for whether or not something seemed off. I’d wager that if this was a video of girls from New York City, it’d be pretty obvious to those of us in America that something wasn’t quite right here.

    But that second video… when they showed the final composite, it was incredibly creepy. I guess seeing what went into it completely ruined the illusion.

  7. cat says:

    I find it more surprising that people think Britney etc are real and not cleverly created composites.

  8. Tamooj says:

    As we develop the technology to commonly cross over to the other side of the Uncanny Valley with our imagery and CG characters, we will have to address issues like this a lot more frequently.
    The cultural issues aside, our brains seem hardwired to anthropomorphize almost anything (my goddamn Roomba has a name, fer crissake, and it’s a featureless circle!), and when the object is *really* close to our other hard-wired buttons (beauty, symmetry, sexual-accessibility, etc.) it becomes really easy to experience some amount of empathy/attraction for them. Adding to this mix is developments in AI – computer game characters are getting better and better at expressing reactions to the actions and words of players (the audience, in this new narrative form) and when done well, it’s even easier to empathize with them. The Japanese even have a name for pop-star level AI’s; “Idoru” (now popularized by a William Gibson novel of the same name). This is a valid part of their culture, for reasons we Westerners will likely never understand at a gut level.
    As a professional video game developer, I strive to create realistic characters to which our audience can have a valid emotional reaction (love, hate, sadness, joy, etc.).

    On the one hand, much of this is our own brains filling in the missing parts with our expectations, but on the other hand, as the AIs that drive some of these

    • Tamooj says:

      Ah… embarrassed that I didn’t clean up the last line, which was left over from editing. :-)

  9. Tamooj says:

    Also, this model is a composite of several real actors. She’s not totally artificial, which is vastly harder to pull off convincingly.

  10. Francis says:

    Could this have been what Damon Alburn (creator of the virtual band “The Gorillaz”) was trying to get at? Or maybe he just liked anime.