Thursday, October 30, 2008

David Bowie - Role Model??

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In this chapter titled Directions for Living; Role models, pop music and self-help discourses, of David Gauntlett’s Book, Media Gender and Identity: An Introduction, Gauntlett looks at various examples of role models and other “products” that help to shape an individual’s identity.

Gauntlett begins by describing what a role model is. On page 211, Gauntlett describes a role model as “ ‘someone to look up to,’ and someone to base your character, values or aspirations upon”. Many of these role models especially in pop culture have been music icons, political leaders, actors and other artists. Many of these role models have something to do with being examples for young women or young girls.

Gauntlett continues his discussion by describing six different types of role models. Those six types are, “the ‘straightforward success’ role model, the triumph over difficult circumstances’ role model, the ‘challenging stereotypes’ role model, the ‘wholesome’ role model, the ‘outsider’ role model, and the family role model” (215). Although I can see Gauntlett’s point in that each of these different types have actually been role models or leaders and examples to individuals, I do not necessarily agree with each type of role model. It seems to me that most of these role models are only role models and examples because of their popularity. I feel as if Gauntlett forgets to mention that many of the role models that have influence in individual’s lives are people that are not famous or popular. Role models could be grandparents, friends etc. Although Gauntlett does mention the ‘family role model’ type which does say that the category includes looking up to members of your own family, he still does mention the fact that society looks up to the rich and famous ‘family’ as a role model for their own families. I believe that most of our role models are individuals who are not necessarily famous. Some of the most influential individuals in my own life were not famous or well known, and I believe that Gauntlett makes it seem as if role models can only be people who have a lot of influence or popularity, etc. Possibly I’m wrong, and Gauntlett does point out on page 216 in reference to a study done that “…it would be inappropriate to infer that the majority of these people felt that famous role models were deeply important to them; and we can note that when asked to name their greatest overall role model, 63 percent of respondents chose one of their own parents”, however, the chapter is entitled Directions For Living, and I know that I am probably not directing my life based on famous wealthy individuals in popular culture.

Gauntlett continues to write that there have been ‘role models’ such as the Spice Girls who have influenced young ladies and the idea of “girl power”. Gauntlett writes on page 218, “The ‘girl power’ concept was a celebration for self-belief, independence and female friendship…” and some influential individuals that became role models for this ‘girl power’ concept include girl-groups such as the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child. Along the same lines were male artists that influenced male identity. One interesting case that Gauntlett points out on page 222 is a situation in which a younger man felt that he could not identify with some male pop music because he was confused about his sexuality. It was not until he purchased a CD by David Bowie that he really felt he could relate because of David Bowie’s homoerotic lyrics.

Gauntlett takes things a bit further when he dedicates a few pages in his chapter to discussing Brittney Spears’ influence as a role model throughout her career. He discusses how many fans have viewed Spears as a role model because she was able to inspire women and especially teen girls around the world. However, Gauntlett does point out that Brittney has been criticized (and rightly so in my opinion) because of her risqué clothing and provocative dance moves. However, some fans stated that they thought that the way she dressed and danced showed her independence and uniqueness and therefore dubbed her as a role model because of her ability to ‘be herself.’

At the end of his chapter, Gauntlett discusses self-help books. There are self help books which address “personal narratives and lifestyles” which could be about “transforming the self” or attaining a more positive personal view and identity of their own selves and others. Gauntlett points out an interesting point when he says in relation to a quote from Foucault, “…we can learn about our culture by looking at its self-help books…” (239). Gauntlett points out that there are self help books for men, and self help books for women. Gauntlett does a good job in summarizing the “most common self-help messages” on page 244 which are, “believe in yourself and you can achieve anything, you can’t let the world ‘happen’ to you; instead you must take control of your life, it may not be obvious what would make you happy in life, and what is available to you, women and men are fundamentally similar on the ‘inside’…and can adopt new ways of thinking and behaving so they can become fully-functioning, balanced, self-assured, emotionally intelligent people, and finally, change is always possible”.

Gauntlett finishes this chapter by summarizing what he has discussed. He writes on page 246 that through what he has previously written, “…we see possible insecurities within modern self-identities being addressed through fearless, confident discourses, generally in a glamorous and aspirational form”. I’m not sure that addressing insecurities within yourself about your identity are best addressed through “glamorous and aspirational forms” only because I’m not sure how reliable these ‘glamorous’ forms are. I believe that Gauntlett did a good job in discussing these ‘glamorous’ forms of addressing self identity. However, it is our responsibility to take matters into our own hands and only pull out from some of these forms what is necessary for our own self identities and be okay with the fact that our self identities may not come from popular culture (which really shouldn’t be that difficult to be okay with).

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I really don’t like self help books. In fact, I despise self help books. These two self help books make it seem as though 7 steps is all it takes to change your life. As Gauntlett pointed out, one of the messages of self help books is “change is always possible”. I didn’t realize that change was possible in only 7 steps! If I could change my entire life and become happier, fitter, and more productive and have more potential, I think I would buy the book. However, I can not imagine that anyone in their right mind would think that changing their lives would be possible in 7 steps unless the 7 steps took 7 years. Possibly, as Gauntlett also pointed out, maybe these two books say something about our contemporary culture. Our culture today demands so many things to happen in short amounts of time. With technology, we can see results of different procedures, surgeries, surfing the internet, cooking foods in microwaves, in a matter of seconds. Are these self help books just emphasizing the fact that we demand so many things so very quickly? And I know, and hopefully others know that you cannot possibly change your life in only 7 steps…I’m not even sure that there is any set number of ‘steps’ that one can take to change their life and live a better life. Changing your life takes time and effort. A self help book cannot and probably will not be the answer. Self help books can encourage and give insight, but it really frustrates me and makes me angry that there are people out there who buy into books that say things such as “Your Best Life Now – in 7 Steps”. Only you can know what your “best life” looks like and I don’t think that you can have a “best life” in 7 steps. Of course, I’ve never read either of these two books, so I could be completely wrong, but I have no intention of reading the books or following the 7 steps to develop the “best life” I could ever have.

1 comment:

mattias said...

Dear Jeriah,

I happened to stumble on your blog and your observations fascinate me. Can I ask you a question: is the Gauntlett book on media identity and gender substantial on the masculine, I mean on men, male performance and all that more than on women's? I'm looking for Dutch students for an introduction on the social construction of masculinity and on men and their sexual citizenship. Can you recommend the Gauntlett book?
Does your BLOG have an RSS-feed?
I'm a stranger here myself.
Jeriah, all best and thanx for your inspiring comments in your blog,
Mattias from Amsterdam