Know anything about comics? I do! Here’s a story. Once upon a time, before the mid 1990s when Marvel overextended itself into a world of infinite dimensions and he turned out to be a clone of himself and all this weird shit happened, Spiderman had a simple mantra. He learnt it from his Uncle Ben and he banged on about it whenever he could like some sort of eternally grieving and guilt stricken nephew might. After all Spiderman was responsible for his own uncle’s death… Imagine that? Killing your father figure? No wonder he ended up so fucked up. Especially after his girlfriend was killed by the Green Goblin too. Anyway the mantra was “With great power there must also come — great responsibility“. How relevant is that? Well I suppose that apart from being responsible for a few deaths, Spiderman was actually something of a “role model” – and that mantra is the mantra of being a role model.
Role models eh? What are they? What are they for? What purpose do they serve? Do you have any role models? Who are they? Tell me. I really want to know! Honest! Do people REALLY set out a stall when they’re kids and say ‘I want to be just like him/her’? When I was young I was so embedded in comics and books that I barely noticed “real life” famous people. People have the whole of their adult life to deal with “reality” why start young?
OK, so maybe I was just a freak. But then again maybe not. When I was a bit older I did look up to my favourite footballer Paul McGrath. Yes. The one who went AWOL on boozy benders, and, to this day, struggles with dependency problems. He was a great role model, although to be honest I never gave two tosses about his lifestyle. I had pictures of him on my bedroom wall cos he was a good footballer. When McGrath missed a match because he was on a bender I didn’t think “wow, how cool” I thought “Why would anyone want to do that”
What am I getting at? Well I’m saying kids don’t want to BE their heroes. They just want to do the same job as them. Ask any young Man U fan what they want to be when they grow up and they might reply ‘I wanna be a footballer, like Ryan Giggs/Wayne Rooney’ do you think that means they want to be caught up in a string of sex scandals or have hair transplants (something the Mirror reported as being “role-model worthy this week) or do you think it means they want to play for the club they love? Ask a Chelsea fan and they’d throw in the same for Lampard, Terry or Cole – and apart from having had the chance to boast about Cheryl I’m sure it would be pretty much the same. Do you really think that kids on the Wirral want to be “just like Stevie G” because he got splashed all over the papers accused of glassing a DJ for not playing Phil Collins? I mean! Phil Collins? eggsackly!
Half the people our press accuse of being role models are barely beyond the age where they might have had role models themselves. And whatever happens kids are fickle anyway. None of them remember yesterdays demonised outcast if they’ve got today’s hero to look up to. The only people in the world who seem to care about all this are the press and some of the kneejerks they love to cater to.
The press have an unhealthy obsession with creating “role models” out of nothing so they can accuse them of being bad “role models” and then destroy the “role model” status that they created in the first place. It’s like a power trip to them? An exercise in eternal dialectics. A message to every celebrity out there “We will make you, we will undermine you, we will destroy you”.
I mean look at Amy Winehouse? Just LOOK at her? How would anyone have ever considered her a role model? Seriously? Her breakthrough album was all about taking drugs and being a complete fuck up. That was it’s charm. Unlike Elvis (a hero to most. But he never meant shit to me) who lived a lie and died on a toilet full of burgers and drugs, Amy wore her imperfections on her sleeve. From day one the term “role model” was not a sane reference to Amy Winehouse.
But the press aren’t sane are they. They followed her round 24/7 elevating her to godlike status so that, for one summer, it was impossible to avoid her. God knows I tried. They loved Back to Black with its post ironic “Rehab” and when Paul Weller called her a role model in 2007 they jumped all over it like flies in a fly farm as though it really was something worthy of discussion.
Then came the fall. The press pretended to feel insulted and betrayed. The most obvious unsecret secret was out – Amy Winehouse “really” did take drugs and drink a lot – just like she sang about. They hounded her to the Caribbean triumphantly bemoaning her for being a bad role model as they bought up every pap shot they could of her looking worse for wear. I mean! How can the press laud someone who sings about something then be so scandalised when they actually do it? Why is Jan Moir STILL sermonizing about her status as a role model as though the public actually think her train wreck lifestyle (helped along by the press) is one they want for themselves? Hands up anyone who listened to Amy and immediately had to pipe up some rock? Just me?
Another thing. Have you ever seen the press lauding someone as a role model? In what proportion would that be to them lambasting them for breaking some unspoken moral code of ‘role model conduct’? It’s rare that you see a headline shouting “Celebrity just gets on with their life” – sure, thanks to the shifty world of “PR” and the general press obsession with celebrity you’ll see pictures of Angelina Jolie being a goodwill ambassador or the Daily Mail perving over Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes daughter doing normal stuff. But you rarely see people being credited with just being “normal” because that’s just boring. For every sex-crazed footballing tale of excess how many tales are their of a consummate professiona family man? Actually probably not many – ignore that. Yet the press are obsessed with voraciously consuming the public image of wrongdoers. Usually wrongdoers they’ve been following round slavishly themselves, as though being a focus of press attention, wanted or not, automatically makes someone integral to the development of every child in the country.
Today the press are all about Rory Mcilroy being a role model. The Sun has even brought out big gun Rafa Nadal in a mutual love in. Nadal says “… for sure he is an inspiration. I admire him a lot.” Except that Nadal then goes onto say “I never had idols. I love sport in general. For me sport in general is the inspiration.” That’s the point isn’t it. One the press completely miss.
Of course that doesn’t stop the papers gushing out platitudes comparing Rory to the other inspiration in the world of golf, Tiger Woods. And what a great “role model” he turned out to be right?! Another example of someone the press builds up and knocks down all too eagerly.
Spiderman was right. With great power does come great responsibility. In his case it meant being a fictional crusading superhero. For Amy Winhouse it means putting out songs people like. Footballers and sportsmen are measured by success. In the case of the press it should be about accurate, unbiased and responsible reporting. Maybe if they focused on that instead of creating fictionally perfect role models and then ruthlessly destroying them all the time they’d achieve something positive.