There was a time when childhood heroes were real life human beings people dreamed of emulating when they “grew up.” There were sports heroes, famous astronauts, war heroes, political figures, the leaders of social and humanitarian causes, etc..
Then came “Star Trek” which is thought to be a prime mover behind student interest in scientific, especially space, exploration. Here the role models were Captain Kirk and First Science Officer Spock – fictional characters entirely, with no connection to our living breathing actual astronauts and scientists.
This trend in fictional TV and movie heroes serving as our youth’s role models, completely displacing actual living heroes, has become a near absolute. Even boxing as a career is now driven more by emulation of Rocky Balboa than by Muhammad Ali.
In 1981 a bullwhip-brandishing archaeologist named Indiana Jones became a new hero and role model on our movie screens. While Archaeology Departments in our nation’s universities appreciated the sudden surge in students declaring archaeology as their major, Indiana Jones is not the role model that legitimate archaeologists want student wannabes seeking to emulate. The Indy Jones character is the worst sort of historical faux-archeologist – really just a looter of indigenous people’s cultural heritage who does more to vandalize and wreck our understanding of the ancient world rather than carefully and respectfully decoding it.
“Iron Man” (2008) and his alter ego Tony Stark, played by the irrepressible Robert Downey, Jr. in the movie, is the latest questionable role model hero, driving interest in young people to become maverick entrepreneurial inventors and engineers. As played by Downey, Tony Stark uses his immense wealth, political connections and pop star fame to skirt the laws regulating his rogue operations. Hopefully the “Iron Man” movies will inspire the world’s youth to emulate Sir Richard Branson or Steve Jobs in translating their entrepreneurial expertise into the creation of innovative inventions bettering life on our planet. The worry is that the Tony Stark character could just as easily serve as a role model for “Franken-food” production and fracking and tar-sands pumping and all sorts of other planet-killing albeit profitable “innovations.”
“Avatar” (2009) is probably the best “role model” movie in recent years. Not only is it anti-militaristic (in the sense of the military not being a defensive home force, but an invasion force against weaker nations), but its scientists – mostly cultural archaeologists and botanists – are respectful of indigenous peoples’ culture and genuinely seeking knowledge rather than artifacts to loot to fill museums. The scientists as portrayed in “Avatar” (i.e., ethical and caring human beings) are the best sort of role model cultural and natural world explorers – the ones who leave their bullwhips at home.
- Are your personal role models at present more likely to be actual human beings or fictional characters?
- Which living human being has been your most important role model and why?
- Which fictional character has served you as an important role model and why?
- When a lifelong beloved role model suddenly disappoints in a spectacular fashion, how devastating is the experience to your emotional/mental health? Is this why some people prefer fictional role models who never disappoint?
- Has anyone ever told you that you are his or her role model?