Whenever a young celebrity insists they’re not a role model, it usually means they’re unwilling to behave responsibly; they’re usually embarking on clubbing or promiscuous behavior and want to shift the focus of accountability for their own actions onto the public or media by claiming “I’m not a role model.” It’s a disavowal of their behavior.
Chances are that if you claim not to be a role model, you have already ceased being a role model. This phenomenon is most common among the child actors who are happy to take advantage of promotion and over-exposure until they hit drinking age. Then they’re “over it” and want to prove they can do something besides be a teeny bopper.
It’s a cliché, and as a parent I’m pretty sick of it.
I don’t rely on celebrities to raise my kids or even be an example to them. Their standards are usually so far out of the realm of mine that there’s very little to latch on to. Role model? No. But kids do see how celebrities behave. My mom has a subscription to People and my kids (school age) think it’s fun to read and gossip with grandma about their favorite celebs. My daughters have been disillusioned with Justin Bieber, whom they naively adored years ago. Miley Cyrus, of course, is someone they used to watch on a kid’s show who has vehemently insisted again and again that she ain’t no role model either. To which I say, “No duh.”
This is why I’m a little disappointed to see Jennette McCurdy make this (tired, old, clichéd) claim that she is not a role model because I loved watching her as Sam on iCarly. I thought she seemed a bit more substantive because she was one of the few female characters on a kid’s show that was actually funny (instead of just snarky). She was a bit of a tomboy and part of her schtick was to love meat and eating in general. She wasn’t a femme fatale. She held her own with the guys on the show and had a pretty good, affirming, non-competitive friendship with the other female lead, Miranda Cosgrove. (iCarly actually passes the Bechdel test!)
Last year she left the show to do a crossover spin-off/sequel, Sam and Cat. It was a show that I hated for the simple reason that McCurdy’s co-star, Ariana Grande, talked like a baby and acted very ditzy. (It’s basically the Caillou of live-action family shows.) Again, I liked McCurdy in it. She was funny and cool. She didn’t bug you.
The show has since been cancelled, and attention has turned to McCurdy as to the cause. Speculations include: that she and Grande weren’t getting along, that she wanted more money to do the show, and that she was getting into trouble for not behaving well offscreen. She responded by saying she’s not a role model. But her view of a role model is so misguided. She equates it with loving American Girl dolls, cute dresses, and vanilla-scented candles. Mothers of daughters everywhere are going, “Wha?”
That’s not what we want for our daughters. The teeny bopper image that TV networks trade on and child stars quickly outgrow has nothing to do with strength, integrity, brains, or a good sense of humor. It’s dumb. McCurdy is growing out of her cutesy (though she was never that cutesy) image and doesn’t want to feel responsible for posting something racy or trashy on Instagram that contradicts that image. Don’t try to pass off your questionable behavior as an indictment against the industry. Take responsibility.
It’s a missed opportunity, actually. Because I think there is something to be said to the industry and media machines that use these young kids to make money. The transition into adulthood is stereotypically rough. And our beloved Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) seems to be the only young lady to have navigated it with some success and dignity. McCurdy says, “Calling a celebrity a role model is like calling a stranger a role model. The knowledge you have of a celebrity is no more than a caricature drawn by media tastemakers specializing in selling you an image you’re dying to buy. It’s good to have heroes, but you have to look for them in the right places.” Yes! (Thinks wistfully of Hogwarts.)
It may not be fair to scrutinize and judge celebrities the way we do, but it’s part of the job if you want to be famous. I don’t expect anyone on a kid’s show to uphold my values and be a role model for my children. These celebrities get so caught up in themselves and the pressure everyone is putting on them, but from a parenting standpoint I’m just thinking it’s an added bonus if they aren’t terrible. Justin Bieber is terrible. Miley Cyrus is terrible. Jennette McCurdy is not terrible, which is great! It doesn’t seem that hard.
McCurdy makes a great statement at the end of her manifesto. We definitely agree on this last point: “Please, I encourage you to find role models in the people around you, the people in your everyday life, the people that are your friends and family. I encourage you to base your idea of a role model off of someone you know well enough to see purely, not in the lights, cameras, and actions of Hollywood.” Yep.
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