With all the recent hoopla over the Spears family’s reproductive practices, the term “role model” immediately gets tossed into the mix by journalists and soccer moms chafing to vent their righteous indignation over another celebrity leading their precious kids down the path of sin. The term, role model, has become such a part of our culture, it’s acquired a whole new meaning and significance to those that would expect actors, media whores, and ball player’s to set the example for their stupid kids to live by. Get real people. Kids screw because they have genitals. It obviously doesn’t matter if you’re rich, famous, white, black, or live in a trailer on the lot of Nickelodeon studios. Kids don’t do it because their favorite celebrity does it. They do it because it is a natural part of maturation and, if you want to talk about role models, their parents did it too.
So how did this role model thing become so damn important in pop culture and what the hell does it really mean? Well, back in the 1950’s (before human sexuality was invented), a noted Sociologist named Robert Merton came up with the notion that people aspired to a certain level of society because of the social groups they associated themselves with. He coined the term, “reference groups” as being a major factor in determining how a person would behave. That’s hardly arguable. If a person identifies with say, upper middle class society, he/she probably won’t be caught dead selling crack on the corner of third and Jefferson Streets. Instead, they will tailor their illicit activities to the acceptable norm of their “reference group”. This was a nice little paradigm. It could hardly be classified as earth shattering insight, but it wasn’t a controversial or provocative theory either; rather, just a nice little piece of sociological mumbo-jumbo to fill the textbooks. Now, fast forward to the 1970s when individuals began to define roles for themselves as agents for social and political change for other to emulate. The term “role model” came into vogue and it has since morphed into the soul and collective conscience of the Nu-Speak Generation.
But what the hell is a role and why does it need to be modeled? A role is a) a character or part played by an actor, b) a social behavior of an individual, or c) a function or a position. It’s easy to see that everyone has a role in their social or professional life, but not as easy to see why it’s mandatory for society to demand the role that an individual assumes. If a person wants to reach a certain goal, he/she may choose to assume a certain role to get there but, again, that’s up to the individual. If a person’s role is of their own choosing, then why on earth should we expect Ellie Mae and Ellie Mite, er, Britney and Jamie Lynn to live up to our expectations anymore than that crack dealer on the corner. Nowhere in their entertainment contracts is the clause requiring them to raise our fucking kids. If we don’t like or respect their behavior, then we ignore them and they slither back to Mudslide Louisiana or wherever the hell they’re from. Obviously, since that hasn’t happened, people like the role they have assumed. But, are they models that others somehow blindly emulate because of some subliminal, Svengali like hold they have on our impressionable psyches? And, is it their obligation as public figures to give a shit? No and no.
The term, role model, is about as meaningless as the importance attached to it. It gives parents something to bitch about and famous people something to capitalize on in their pursuit of fame and money. We as people assume our roles based on our own wit, guile, and goals (or lack thereof) and whether we had a model to help us makes little difference. Think about it. Did you ever once regret something you did, and blamed doing it on an actor, musician, athlete, politician, or Paris Hilton? If the answer to that question is yes, then you should go get a role model.