Archive for Wednesday, May 16, 2001

We should be careful about our role models

May 16, 2001

There is a new book out on the market entitled "What is a Man?" I heard some of an interview with the author on an area radio station this morning and I have to admit I can't make up my mind about the whole thing. Of course, I haven't read the book yet, but it will be one that makes it on to my reading list. Not because I agreed with what he had to say in the interview, but primarily because he made me a bit upset with some of his ideas.

I didn't have much problem with his statements that, historically, the defining characteristics of a man had to do with control, discipline, nobility, sacrifice and doing one's duty. I really got bent out of shape when he indicated that everyone needs heroes and sited Tony Soprano as a good modern day hero. Excuse me, but that is like holding up Jack the Ripper, Jesse James, Jeffrey Dalmer and Timothy McVey as role models.

He went on to say that being excessive (drinking, fighting, womanizing and the like) was okay as long as a man did his duty. About that time I turned off the radio and didn't hear the rest of the interview. It could be that he changed his tune. I sure hope so. We don't need Tony Soprano as a hero. There is enough confusion about role models already. The process of working out individual roles is tough enough without throwing a disturbed, violent criminal into the mix.

Oh, I know that kids through the ages have chosen the "bad guys" as heroes in their play. We are drawn to the movies and books that have really great bad guys in them, but generally it is because they also have really great good guys. Bandits, highwaymen, and maybe even Mongol generals have been characters in childhood dramas. That's normal. I believe it is even healthy in play. I am concerned, however, because the book isn't aimed at children. It is aimed at adults.

If you spend any time at all watching TV, music videos, or movies, you will find that the major message that seems to be out there right now is one where men are either complete idiots, totally controlled by the whims of women, bosses, the system or life itself, or else they are so completely self-involved they have no empathy with anyone or anything that doesn't meet their needs, physically, emotionally (if they have them), or mentally. Neither is an image that we need to emulate.

I guess I am beginning to feel the chronology of my years. Nothing seems as simple as it did when I was a confused older teen. No problem is as easily solved as when an M-16 or claymore mine was the management tool of choice. No relationship ever seems as smooth as the storminess of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. No police officer is Dirty Harry, or Popeye Doyle. No politician is Mr. Smith when he went to Washington, nor is any husband Ozzie Nelson, Ward Cleaver or Jim Anderson.

That may be where the whole problem lies. We have taken caricatures of life and held them up as the norm. We look at celebrities and think that is the way life should be. We judge ourselves against these newsstand images and evaluate life based on the neatly wrapped up conclusions of movies and books. Then, when nothing works quite the way it does in the movies or sit-coms, we either give up, grow jaded or turn cynical.

I think maybe it would be best if we enjoyed these images for the entertainment value, if any, they have and forget about them as role models. It may be too simplistic a way of life, but then the other doesn't seem to really work. For good or for bad, no matter how much I wanted to be like John Wayne, I am just like my dad. The most affective role model any of us have is the generation that walked the path called life just ahead of us. If we need role models and heroes, let's at least pick some real ones. When the next generation walks along looking for examples, I don't want them to think that I thought Tony Soprano was a hero. I am not even sure I want them to think I was.

Monte the Dancing Bear barely dancing. Baldwin City Recreation Commission: 820 High Street; Phone, 594-3670; e-mail,

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