Role Models – what can we expect?

Yesterday on Twitter a fan tweeted to the artist concerned a link to a Letter to the Editor regarding a concert the letter writer had recently attended with her daughter. The concert was an all ages gig, and her [early teenage] daughter was a huge fan of this artist and looked up to her as a role model, so they decided to go along. At the gig the letter writer was horrified to see the artist and band come onto the stage with wine glasses in hand, which they drank from during the gig and there was apparently also some profane language. The letter writer was so upset by this that she has banned her daughter from attending any more concerts by this artist, told all her friends and written to her local paper. The artist, upon seeing the tweet, responded ‘Eek’.

I haven’t named the artist in question because I don’t think it really matters who they are. What I’m interested in is the Letter Writers’ reaction and her beliefs about what makes a good role model. I have to say that had the artist in question, or indeed any anyone on stage, come out with a lit cigarette and smoked for the entire performance I would have been outraged too. But that’s just one of my little foibles and I will spare you the lecture on how smoking affects other people in ways that a glass of wine doesn’t because ultimately that is beside the point.

But really, what right to we have to expect other people to be role models anyway? Is it because this person is in the media that they must behave in a way we consider appropriate? I would argue that they should not behave in ways that are illegal but where do we draw the line? Is it inappropriate for an adult of drinking age to consume alcohol in a public place during a performance? Should we be attempting to shield all our children from profanity (sorry [my] kids Mum and Dad fail on this one badly)? Who’s cultural/religious/personal beliefs do we base role modelling on? Is there a standard? Who decides who is a role model?

I’m also wondering if there is a gendered dimension to this. Are women held to higher standards as role models? Is there an expectation of some sort of purity? Do you think the letter writer would have been so upset had it been a bloke they had gone to see? I obviously can’t speak for POC or people with disabilities or any other group of which I am not a member, but if anyone out there has a perspective on that as well please chime in.

Categories: arts & entertainment, Culture, gender & feminism, Life, parenting, relationships, Sociology

Tags: ,

19 replies

  1. On the topic of role models, I think we can definitely expect a performing artist who opens their performances to all ages to act as a role model to children*. I feel the same way about sports stars (note I didn’t say athletes or sports people just there, I said sports ‘stars’). The reason I think that is because they’re relying on that position, as a role model, to make a certain proportion of their money, not to mention fame etc.
    A performing artist is relying on people looking at them and thinking, ‘Wow! How awesome are they?! I’m gonna buy their merch so I can have representations of them and their work around me to remind me of this brilliant person and their achievements!’ Not all people who consume performance etc do that, but a fair amount of their income comes from people who do.
    Same with sports stars. If you don’t want to be a role model, stop profiting from being one. Stop getting sponsors, stop doing ads, stop endorsing products. At that time you are no longer obliged to be a role model.
    *note: I don’t think only children have role models – in my second year of Uni I got a super awesome role model in the person of a wonderful law lecturer I still truly admire. But this letter was clearly specifically about role models for children.

  2. Anyone with a passing familiarity with history of art or indeed pop music should probably not be surprised to encounter alcohol consumption or profanity at gigs!
    In this particular case though, for me I guess it would depend on if the artist really was “targeting” or is most popular with a young market – if that were the case, I don’t think its unreasonable to expect her to be a little conscious of her audience. Particularly at an all ages gig, its probably not asking too much for artists to moderate themselves – even if just a little bit?
    On the other hand, if the letter writer wanted to make sure that their child was only subjected to “sanitary” experiences, maybe he/she should lock up their kids in a nicely painted room with some milk and cookies and carefully curated CDs approved by The Wiggles and leave things at that. Home schooling is perhaps the “logical”next step. Remove the real world!

  3. I wonder if we choose to see entertainers that are extreme because it is our “other”. If they were wonderful role models would we bother going to see their bright and shiny selves ?
    And don’t we read crime and depravity or see gory moves to visit our own dark side “safely” ?
    It doesn’t mean we are going to adapt to their extremism but rather find out what is out there, the diversity of ideas and world views…that some are brave enough to live it or worse can’t live otherwise.
    As for role models I think that hearing about women who are not ideal gives us a better perspective on where we ourselves want to be. As a (crone status) mum I remember reading Camilla Noli’s novel on a mother who was malign and unable to mother and it made me feel a better mother !!! It sure didn’t make me want to be murderous.
    There was once a huge taboo about women who could not/would not mother and thankfully such writing is breaking down the silence.
    BTW – great blog !

  4. I’m with the artist. Eek. Drinking wine and swearing are commonplace, and I’m willing to bet that the girls had both seen drinking and heard swearing before. If the show holds itself out as wholesome family fun, and if the artists regularly appear in the media holding themselves out as paragons of virtue, then swearing may be inconsistent with that, but drinking is probably not necessarily a problem.

  5. I don’t think it was a gig especially for children, AFAIK it was a gig that anyone could attend i.e. in a small venue that wasn’t a pub or club. I think this artist has wide appeal to all age groups and certainly would not rely on the pre-teen dollar for a living, unlike say One Dimension.

  6. I think I should clarify – I have no problem about mild to moderate alcohol consumption around children, or swearing, but that’s just me. I think if someone has large moral issues with either of those things then by all means keep your children away from people who do them. Depending on where you live in the world, that’s either quite easy or almost impossible.
    Basically, I think that this artist is going to be a role model, and think it is perfectly fair for people to discuss them with the base assumption that they are a role model. I can’t say that this artist is a good role model from the facts presented, but based off of my personal morals, nothing has suggested to me that they are a *bad* role model.

  7. I’m not sure that they knew they were a role model or that people expected them to be. Should public figures expect to be held up as role models? What about Keith Richards?

  8. I think a line should be drawn between on field/stage and off.
    Mindy the age of the daughter( example given) is important. If she’s a teen then this artist just became “the ducks guts” more so because of the parental outrage.
    Also alcohol consumption, while working, is a violation under the OH&S act and should have been reported.

  9. Well I cannot conceive of anyone making a role model out of me in my job. Cool. I’m off to fetch the wine bottles and cigarettes for work tomorrow. 😉

  10. That poor child. Still, that’s scarcely the worst parental behaviour. Embarrassment and temporary heartbreak are things many kids are subjected to by caring parents.
    I think that people who present themselves as role models or have chosen a career in a field which is widely considered to be role-modelish, such as sports, clergy, children’s entertainment etc can be reasonably expected to set a good example, for whatever values good example holds in their community.
    In my community the situation you describe is not outrageous. The Wiggles would be different but then they know their audience is kids. The artist you describe sounds like she had a reasonable expectation that her audience would be adults.

  11. Or at least indie enough not to be concerned I would have thought. I guess you can’t always guess where your fans will be coming from. I wonder if the daughter secretly thinks she is even cooler now?

  12. Okay, a few different notes:
    1) I’m a former singer myself. I’m also a known stage hog. I love getting up in front of people and performing, and I’m quite capable of doing so dead stone cold sober, and putting on a completely uninhibited performance as well. But I’m also aware I’m a rare bug in having this ability. There’s nothing for bringing that truth home quite like letting my hair down at a staff Christmas party, having a couple of dances with a friend, and being repeatedly asked the following week exactly what I’d been drinking in order to be able to do that. People were quite surprised when I said “lemonade”.
    2) Alcohol is a known social disinhibitor. It’s something used by a wide variety of persons across all social strata in Western society as a way of getting a person past things like stage fright, or the fear of looking like a fool in public. It’s been used that way for centuries, and most performing artists will admit they’ve had a drink or two on occasion before going on stage. I don’t see this as unprofessional or problematic, myself.
    3) One of the things a lot of people need to learn with regard to alcohol use, as far as I’m concerned, is that it’s possible to stop – to have one or two alcoholic drinks, enough to get the disinhibiting effect and let your hair down a bit, but not enough to completely lose control. If that’s what the artist in question did, then good on them – I’d call that sensible alcohol usage, and it’s something which should be modelled, not only for children, but for teenagers and adults. If, on the other hand, the artist was drinking to the extent that their performance was audibly and visibly impaired (and I have at least one live CD of the Pogues in which it’s absolutely clear that Shane McGowan was absolutely and utterly blotto) then that’s not only a poor model for alcohol use, it’s also unprofessional and an insult to the paying customers. As per the Judeo-Christian bible: “It’s foolish to be drunk.”
    4) I have to ask: has anyone found out whether the kid in question was upset by the behaviour and language of their role model? Have they stopped liking the artist in question? Was the kid asked what they liked about the performance, or what they didn’t like? Has anyone asked the kid whether they even noticed the alcohol usage or the “profane language”? (I suspect the answer to all of this is along the lines of “no” because the Concerned Parent in question was too busy getting outraged on their own behalf to actually stop and check whether there was something to be concerned about on their child’s behalf.)
    5) I find the concept of “role model” to be problematic, particularly when applied to performance artists (how much of the “role model” is their on-stage persona, how much is their actual behind-the-scenes self?) and similar such persons, such as sporting figures. If we’re asking a person to act as a “role model”, which role are they expected to be modelling? How often are they going to be expected to remain “in character”? Is this only something which happens during their on-stage time, or is this something we’re going to expect of them all the time? It’s these conflicts between the performer and the role which have always bedevilled persons in the performing arts throughout history, and which make the various performing arts some of the hardest professions to work in.

  13. Had this artist had been appointed a role model rather than looking to become one? I don’t regard simply being an artist as the latter.

  14. Dear daughter.
    See that person on stage, who is doing admirable things? I judge their behaviour. If you think that you will escape the judgement of others, you are dreaming. The lesson to take from this, is that the judgement of others matters.


  15. @SunlessNick
    I think this person had been appointed as ‘role model’ by this girl’s parent.

  16. Wait? What?
    I assume everyone on stage was over 18 and drinking responsibly.
    So, does this “concerned parent” also try to prevent their child from seeing adults driving cars, voting, or any of the myriad other things children are not allowed to do because we* don’t think they have the maturity to do them responsibly yet? And how are children supposed to gain that maturity, exactly?
    I’m somewhat like Megpie, I can be silly without alcohol, but I’ve also noticed how rare it is, and how big a difference a small amount of alcohol can make to someone’s ability to relax and let lose. It can be particularly important for a vocalist.
    *”We” as a society. Separate argument about whether certain age boundaries are set appropriately or not.

  17. I find he idea of “role models” as it is commonly applied in the popular media/popular patriarchy strange and restrictive (particularly for young women). The margin for error is vanishingly small and the goal posts that define “appropriate young female role model behaviour” aren’t exactly set in concrete.
    And once you somehow err or other people’s actions (or goal scoring averages/run rates) are blamed on you, the balsa wood pedestal breaks. You are officially Less Than, not worthy of any respect. For example: the bile (still) directed at Lara Bingle.
    “You’re a “role model” now. We said so, so you owe us! Your Madonna/Whore evaluations will be held on every other Wednesday, with pop quizzes throughout the summer – just to keep you on your toes!”
    I’m probably not wording this right (tired essay brain) so apologies if it is badly articulated. I’m just talking about media expectations and the popular culture “heads you lose, tails they win” game of Perfection For the Children(TM) Or Else.

  18. I have this enormous problem with parents looking at other adults to be ‘role models’ for their children. How can somebody else possibly embody all those qualities you would like to instill in your children? A muscian or an athlete, is only known because they happen to be good at their particular craft. They may be quite awful in many other areas. Does that take away from admiring their muscianship or sporting prowess?
    Far better to teach your children to think for themselves and not put anybody up there to be slavishly admired for everything they do or say, just because you acknowledge a talent in something.
    That mother missed a great ‘teachable’ moment as far as I’m concerned. Eeek indeed!

  19. Great point @ Yvonne Langenburg ! The essence truly is to teach your chn to think for themselves. They will always meet others who are problematic and thus will always know whether they do or don’t want to emulate.
    My biggest concern was that I was to bring my sons up in one world only to find that they inhabited a different one. So all the more important that they be taught to think for themselves rather than take a model.

%d bloggers like this: