March 19, 2004 | Peter

Dodgy Role Models

The accusations hanging over the heads of several Rugby League and AFL players of serious misconduct highlight the problem we have currently with providing role models for our young males. This problem occurs in the midst of something of a crisis of male identity, illustrated by the high levels of anti-social behaviour, violence, drinking, drug taking and suicide afflicting young males.
With the decline of traditional role models, such as the omnipotent father and the trusty local priest, we increasingly look to the mass media and sport for our ‘heroes’. As literacy declines, our heroes have become less likely to inhabit novels and more likely to be characters in movies or on TV. As role models they have the advantage over sportsmen in that they are often depicted in much more complex contexts than sportsmen (who are almost entirely focussed on winning), but they are also inherently problematic because of the genre form and the need to entertain.
Once our heroes were characters read about in books (and before that, heard of in stories and songs; now they tend to be viewed on the screen. The content as well as the form of ‘heroism’ have changed. To start with, the movie/TV hero is usually much less complex than literary heroes, who often have to overcome their weaknesses or self-contradictions to act heroically. All too often movie/TV heroes are inherently heroic and simply seek or find themselves in situations which allow or require manifestation of their intrinsic heroic qualities. The famous western ‘Shane’ is a good example. Because movies/TV are ultimately so reliant on spectacle and action to ensure communication with the audience, this heroism is typically expressed through violence. Clint Eastwood, who became famous playing violent anti-heroes, eventually deconstructed this reliance on violence in movies like ‘High Plains Drifter’ and ‘Unforgiven’.
In real life, violence is always problematic. Things are never black and white (despite President Bush’s Old Testament terminology and the US military’s habit of calling their enemies ‘bad guys’), and any use of violence leaves a legacy of resentment and anger that can last for generations.
There is a clear and growing link between the popular heroes and violence. For instance, the US Marines still show that classic film of archetypal hero John Wayne (who famously avoided exposure to real life violence in WWII) ‘The Sands of Iwo Jima’ to new recruits.
But as worrying as this connection is, at least Wayne typically played a man with a conscience placed in a difficult situation who had to resort to violence. Contemporary ‘action heroes’ are more likely to be cold killers (even robots, as in the first ‘Terminator’ movie), verging on psychotic (‘Rambo’), totally cynical (any Vin Diesel role) or definitely crazy (most Mel Gibson movies).
These are hardly healthy role models.
But where else do the boys go for inspiration? The police? Businessmen? Politicians?

Posted by Peter at 12:31 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

1 Comment

  1. A crisis of male identity could, in a positive way, lead to a challenge to traditional concepts of what it is to be a man (because there is not one way of being one, after all).
    The feminist movement, which has had its faults and failures, is (was) about liberating women from the idea that ‘femininity’ is somehow natural/biological. In constrast, masculinity politics seems, to some degree, determined to convince that things won’t be okay until we go back to the way things were when men were men and well you know the rest.
    Surely role models can come in all shapes and sizes. It would be depressing if the whole role model debate was just about reasserting traditional notions of gender. As a gay male friend of mine said recently; there aren’t too many people arguing that we should have more gay teachers in schools so fellows like him have a role model.
    Nevertheless, I think Peter’s film analysis is very interesting.

    Comment by Darlene — March 25, 2004 @ 1:34 pm

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