Over the years, Dakota Rose (née Dakota Ostrenga) has made a name for herself online. Most recently, her fashion videos, in which she shows off make up tips and speaks Japanese, have gone viral—and helped her to establish a career in Japan. She's now appearing in a string of commercials for super popular social game, The Rage of Bahamut.
But it's her videos way before this that people continue to talk about—and that Japan is just starting to discover.
Whenever someone becomes famous in Japan, 2ch—the country's biggest online bulletin board—digs through the internet detritus to discover what dirt it can on said newly minted celebrity. It's as if they are vetting a Vice Presidential candidate. Unearthed embarrassing photos or pictures with boyfriends (or male idols, girlfriends) can cost them their fan base or even their career. While celebrities in the West can run amuck, they can in Japan, too—but in private. Everything is about image. Image is the most important thing, even more so than it is in Hollywood.
The same internet vetting, of course, is happening to Dakota Rose, but her situation is at once somewhat unique and utterly indicative of the world in which we now live. Her celebrity in Japan is via YouTube and digital photos. It's not based in "tangible" reality—a reality that is increasingly anything but—such as appearing in a movie or singing a hit tune or creating something other than her own image. Something about that screams now.
We live in a digital world. Our reality is only as good as we want it to look—whether that be on social media sites or even in video games. It's nothing new. For decades, Hollywood stars and models have used photo tricks to make themselves look better (and they still do). So whether her photos were altered or not is somewhat beside the point until that same image confronts its own reality. That's why, threads popped up on 2ch over Dakota Rose's Japanese TV debut, with 2ch users saying they felt deceived and that she looked nothing like she did in her YouTube videos. "We were tricked," wrote one. That precious image is tarnished somewhat, and people naturally feel like a fast one was pulled.
In the past, celebrities would often shave a few years off their age. This is something they continue to do. Age is just a number, right? Japanese TV is stating that Rose is 16—an American police report puts her closer to 19. If the police report is correct, she's knowingly taking advantage of Japan's obsession with youth. This would not be the first time, and it's not likely to be the last. But in youth obsessed Japan, when someone isn't forthright about his or her age, the deception becomes compounded somewhat and the image is once again tarnished.
What's troubling isn't necessarily the alleged photo retouching or age fudging (personally, the interplay of real and virtual is fascinating), but rather, some of the videos that were made when Dakota was allegedly 15 or 16 with her sister—videos in which she uses slurs or videos in which she makes fun of Chinese people with some very hurtful imagery that's harder to simply explain away, especially where image is everything.
A decade or two ago, you could probably reinvent yourself, leaving no trace of your former self for your 15 minutes. But in a world in which the real is virtual and the virtual is real, those days are long over.
Note: The Dakota Rose video in which she made fun of Chinese people has been translated into Japanese and can be viewed below. It might offend some readers.
【リアルバービー】ダコタ・ローズ【自称16歳】 [Tekitou Journal]