herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Most celebs do not set out to be role models so why do we insist otherwise?

Criticising people we don't know could be a sign we're lacking something closer to home.

Kim Kardashian says she'll be having another baby
Kim Kardashian says she'll be having another baby
Kim Kardashian

We all have opinions. It's part and parcel of being alive. You live, you watch, you learn, you assess. We have opinions about ourselves, other people, people we know and people we don't.

We have opinions about how other people look, talk, behave, drive, eat - everything. It's when those opinions stray into moral territory, and they inevitably do, that we start getting judgmental.

So, for example, Kim Kardashian's bum. It is the most famous bum in the world. Oft discussed and debated, it has most recently been seen, oiled up, naked and gravity-defying in a shoot for Paper Magazine entitled Break the Internet. And the debate about the bum turned moral.

There was the amazing shot where, clothed, she held a popping bottle of champagne out front of her in her hands, the liquid flies over her head and lands in a glass balanced on that famous rear.

When asked on Australian TV how she had balanced the glass on her bum she was a bit vague and said something about it being a combination of shots.

It was a fabulous photo and it's a rare enough person would say KK is not a gorgeous-looking woman.

The bum, though, is more divisive in terms of opinion. Apart from questions over whether it is real - there have long been rumours, which she denies, that she has had buttock implants - there are those who think it is amazing and beautiful and those who think it is misshapen and ugly. These views on the aesthetics of the most famous bottom in the world are just opinions.

However, at least as much of the debate about the photos has been based on morality. What kind of woman poses nude? Is it appropriate for a mother? Is it proof that she will do anything for publicity? Does she have no morals?

They're still opinions, but because they are based on a moral interpretation of good or bad they're judgments. Essentially, being judgmental is to attach conditions to acceptance. So I can think something is right or wrong and have an opinion.

But if I extend that to mean I judge someone as good or bad according to whether their moral code fits in with mine, that is being judgmental. And we're all judgmental to some extent.

The problem is that being judgmental is so often negative, critical and quite toxic. And while we all have to have our own moral code, who says anyone else has to live by it? Who says we're right?

The poster girl for being judgmental is Katie Hopkins. I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here is back on TV and Hopkins used the opportunity to tweet jibes about Gemma Collins for being fat.

Cyber-bullying justified because fat people (fat women) are Hopkins' current bug bear, but there have been many - what other people call their children, other women's appearance, other women's right to make judgment calls. Hmm, there's a theme here, but still, what's it to her?

Very often people justify voicing nasty opinions in the name of some greater good. Obesity is a health issue, a public funding issue, a future of humanity issue, therefore they grant themselves the right to say nasty things. Many a nastiness has been perpetrated under the banner "I'm just being honest".

Personal principles can only be effective when they remain personal, when we use them in our own lives; they are useless if we use them to hit other people over the head.

ANGRY

 

Another reason we get so worked up about what other people do is because we are angry that they permit themselves freedoms we dare not embrace. The more repressed a person is, the angrier they get about others' liberation.

Rarely has such spitting, raging, seething anger been witnessed as that of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church talking about homosexuality.

Famous for their fundamentalism, they think everything is a sin and are so anti-gay that they protest at military funerals with offensive chants and placards reading "God hates fags" (because the US military lifted a ban on gay people joining.)

But why do they care? If they hate gays, why are they worried about what their god thinks of them? It makes no sense.

Other than that, they rage at people who don't feel as compelled to obey and hate as they do.

Pain and death and grief are fairly universally agreed to be bad things, hence a general moral acceptance that hurting and killing other people is wrong.

Theft is less awful but also damaging to others so, again, a general moral agreement that theft is wrong. In short, cruelty and unkindness start ripples of bad effects for others. By those criteria the heavy moral loading regarding sex and sexuality is hard to understand.

For example, in real terms, what business is it of anyone's if someone is gay? Or promiscuous or celibate or likes getting spanked? By extension, what business of ours is anyone's behaviour that does not directly affect us. So what if the neighbour paints their house fuschia and gardens at nights?

What's it to us if a 65-year-old wears hot pants and boob tubes; if someone weighs 20 stone, pierces their nipples or thinks the Bay City Rollers were the best band ever.

Basically, if something does not affect us or someone too vulnerable to look out for themselves, why the hell do we care? If you don't agree with it, just don't do it.

A lot of the criticism of Kardashian was wrapped up in the catch all Bad Role Model. Apparently getting nekkid is a terrible message to send out to all the young girls and boys and not so young girls who look up to her.

It is an important question, and role modelling is a vital part of development. Small children see parents as role models - it's where we learn our core values and behaviours, even on a neurological level.

Mirror neurons run through the whole body and into the visual cortex of the brain, which is how we process and adapt behaviours to make them our own.

The importance of parents as role models diminishes to be at its weakest point in the early teens.

Although it begins to swing back around in a relatively short time, the teenage role model vacuum is filled by their peer group, so it is important who teenagers hang around with.

Celebrity role models also have an influence, but more so in terms of the broad societal messages they represent and how that influences the peer group.

"Superficial" is not generally a compliment, but if the broad messages coming from society were just superficial, just about looks, fashion, even body image, it would be a good thing.

The worst thing about celebrity is that is has become a vehicle for the heavyweight moral judgments that do most damage.

We say they are examples and hold them up or knock them down according to a peculiar set of standards, standards that were set by no one knows who. But celebrities are a product.

They're real to people who know them, but to us they're well-branded and packaged products that we bought into.

ACHIEVEMENT

 

The notion of having strong moral reactions to what they do is as odd as feeling outraged by, or full of admiration for, a bar of nougat. Or some nice boots.

Who we choose to admire is really just a figurehead for our values and for what we consider to be success. Money? Beauty? Fame? Talent? Kindness?

People who value academic achievement are unlikely to choose KK as a role model while people who value fame might well idolise her.

People who value fashion might admire Victoria Beckham while people who admire natural charm and smiley confidence might not. They're aspirational, but they're not real, not in the sense of our lives and how we live.

They can never offer those other role model staples such as guidance, support and affirmation. That role falls to the people we have chosen to have around us.

In every life there is a selection of individuals of any age, gender or appearance who offer us excellent examples, who make us think and who support, inspire and help us to decide who we want to become and how to get there.

When Kardashian was asked what sort of message her naked pictures sent out in her capacity as role model she said she wasn't recommending it for everyone, she had done it for herself and that "I felt really positive and good about myself".

If everyone did what KK did and posed naked it might be a bit awkward in the golf club, but the world wouldn't really change. But if everyone felt really positive and good about themselves the world would change dramatically.

Not least because fewer of us would need to rip other people to shreds.

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