Earlier today, a reader brought this particular topic to my attention. Rather than write up the topic I had prepared, I’ll be talking about this, as it’s something that absolutely warrants more attention.
Apparently, over the weekend of AnimeNext, vendor 2 Image Solutions was spotted selling dakimakura. For those that aren’t aware, dakimakura, also referred to as “Dutch wives” and “hug pillows”, are body-sized pillows adorned with portraits of anime characters. And, as the name implies, they’re made for the loneliest elements of society to hug and, in some case, serve as objects of more lewd affections.
While dakimakura are creepy reminders of a more unsavory element in the subculture, they’re usually just harmless merchandise. While they inspire a negative reaction in the greater public, selling them is still quite kosher. Unlike most dakimakura, though, the pillows 2 Image Solutions offered were printed with with photos of actual cosplayers. The front contained a shot of the person as pictured. On the back was a shot of the cosplayer’s backside. In addition, the company was selling photos of these individuals.
To exacerbate the situation, several of the cosplayers portrayed on the merchandise went on-record denying that they gave their consent to appear on prints or products. Cosplayer Dustin Dorough was quoted as follows:
“Whoa… I DEFINITELY did not give permission for this. I never signed any sort of release for any products or prints. I’ve only done photoshoots with 4 photographers and never in this suit. This pillow is a random convention candid from Dragon*Con.”
A second cosplayer made the argument that while she did sign an agreement to use her image for certain specific purposes, the product went beyond the scope of her agreement with 2 Image Solutions. And, while the vendor selling the pillows was ejected the first day, he was admitted due to the fact that they were being offered as promotional items for his company’s services.
Since the incident was given publicity, 2 Image Solutions issued an apology and announced that they changed their operations model. They will discontinue the sales of these pillows going forward. The company mailed all remaining photos and pillows to those printed on them and, going forward, all merchandise will need to be ordered by the person photographed.
I’ll let that sink in. This vendor was selling pillows, adorned with photos of real people, that were made for the explicit purposes of potentially lewd acts. And, by anecdotal evidence, the permission they held was suspect at best. And, while these people received an apology, it took a number of websites reporting on the issue to coax it from 2 Image Solutions.
On a personal level, I have to admit that I’m fairly disgusted by the entire incident. I’m a supporter of the cosplay community and, while don’t participate myself, I admire the work and deditation that goes into every stitch of their work. I respect that these people can, and do go to events in awesome-looking outfits that may be unpractical, difficult to move in, or just plain uncomfortable because of their love of the characters or the work.
And, frankly speaking, plastering their likenesses over a bunch of hug pillows disgusts me. These are people, damn it! They deserve, at the very least common courtesy to not be used as a source of material to exploit for money. Liberal “interpretations” of agreements for benign services is something that falls under this category. It dehumanizes this group, and instead exploits their likenesses for little more than a cheap buck at the expense of others. The greater fanbase was rightfully outraged at this, and it’s encouraging to see this company back down from its former position.
From a marketing perspective, this tells a story to those outside the subculture. It tells a tale of nearly a dozen innocent individuals that were bilked by a shady company. Their likeness was stolen and sold to degenerate anime fans for purposes that are too lewd to even begin describing. Regardless of the outrage in the larger market, the reputation of anime fans of degenerate perverts is further cemented in the general population. And, unfortunately, this becomes another bullet point for those seeking to discredit the hobby, and the subculture that surrounds it.
While the damage itself isn’t permanent by any stretch – crises can, and do blow over all the time, I can’t help but see this knocking the reputation of the anime fanbase down a few pegs in the near future. How many pegs, though, depends on the spread of the story, and the tone of its telling as a whole. It’s not an exact science, but bad publicity does exist, and events like this are the source of it.