To a kid looking up to Ice Cube, ‘life ain’t nothing but bitches and money’. Whilst the Freudian and the Marxist might agree with that, even Ice Cube acknowledges that he doesn’t exactly look like a (‘motherfucking’) role model. (And really, I feel uncomfortable even just quoting and linking this level of misogyny, homophobia and violence, even though I quite love the track in question, politics aside).
But, buried in there somewhere, Ice Cube is making a fine point; We shouldn’t look to the aggressive edges of popular culture for our role models. I suspect we shouldn’t be looking to much of our culture at all for role models. TV, music and cinema are kind of barren media, presenting people as shallow cut outs more often than not. And when they do present more natural and likely characters, the way they’ve done that is by presenting faults at the centre. Realistic, weighty or important examples of modern culture are generally thought so on account of their bleakness. It’s the nasty side of life that we recognise as realistic. So even when the movies seem real, they probably aren’t the best role models, unless we should look up to the flawed.
Although maybe that is what we should do.
Role models are probably more effective in actual real life anyway. Here, as children, our own narrative sense kicks in and scrubs out the flaws for us. The feeling of hero worship can be immense. But apart from childish mimicry, can I remember anyone I modelled myself on as I was growing up?
Now that I’m older, I can recognise the things that are similar about my mum, dad, and I. I have my mother’s anxieties and my dad’s eccentricities. But really, I never tried to be like them. I stole my brother’s taste in books and computer games, but that was mostly because he left them behind when he went to university.
There’s an argument that my dress sense is modelled on my sister’s at various points in the 90s, but as I remember it, through the course of the 90s my sister tried every look imaginable, so that seems to be a law of averages thing.
And I guess as a teenager, I picked up my other brother’s surly addictions, and some of his friends’ penchant for gangster rap and drum and bass, along with a fair bit of the home counties rude boy slang.
But. Well. I don’t think any of these people were role models. I think that you are surrounded by so many influences that you can pick and choose what you take. We are cocktails of our genes and our environments, and whatever other elements we can get into contact with. Our environments can often be selected by us, as we trawl the worlds for the things that we’ll like, and will be like us.
We shape the world we live in, as we shape our selves.
We pick our role, and we build our models.
Illustration by Henry