Frankie, Rihanna, Taylor and you.

The term ‘role model’ is overused and under-appreciated in today’s society where impressionable people (ie: the human race) are exposed to thousands upon thousands of images, messages, words, sounds, emotions from people in the spotlight every day. Though the loss of mystique and talent appreciated solely on its own merit is a sad one; it is also real carries with it consequences to be considered with much more weight than what are seeing currently. Whilst used mainly in the context of children & education, we all have role models: and we are all susceptible to the glamorisation or the banalisation of negative or harmful behaviour we see leading us to accept and emulate it. But let’s be real: the X Factor’s audience is made of pop-loving fan and people with nothing better to do on a Saturday night but prominently of teenagers and young families – the most vulnerable viewers. And trust me, I know: they LOVE the X Factor. From September to December, Monday mornings in the classroom are spent discussing contestants and songs and sparkly outfits.

This week, Frankie Cocozza “left” the X Factor competition in the UK amidst allegations of cocaine use financed by his cheque for a family-friendly M&S advert. “Family-friendly” will not be a term used in Frankie’s X Factor epitaph – his exit was preceded by complaints about his on-stage language and glamorisation of alcohol abuse. Funnily enough, the X Factor didn’t address his reeking misogyny NOR did they seem to mind his distinct lack of talent. It is, of course, argued that perversely, the X Factor bosses were quite content with Frankie’s presence in the competition which attracted viewers and headlines throughout his short residency. Either way – Frankie Cocozza and the X Factor head-honchos have disregarded their responsibility towards their viewers in allowing unhealthy and harmful behaviour to be glamorised and to seep through the show’s pores at every given chance. Frankie has failed to be a good role model, and the X Factor have failed to provide positive role-modelling through accommodating, or, depending on how you look at it, puppeteering him.

Whilst I’m not a fan of naming and shaming, nor indeed of picking on a particular celebrity’s behaviour, Rihanna has been on many a tongue-tip in Northern Ireland with the filming of her “We Found Love” video taking place in our country fields and run-down chip shops. Regardless of whether Belfast is a hopeless place, or whether Alan Graham should have left her to prance around his field topless, the video is disturbing at best. I’d love to study it in more detail in another post, but the tripping, sexualised, aggressive, repressed depiction of what love in a difficult relationship is promotes worrying behaviour which less mature audiences are likely to pick up on and accept as normal. Rihanna is a young woman who is clearly finding her voice and her path in her music career; fans and critics notice a clear evolution in theme and demeanour as her work goes on. What is disconcerting is that she appears to believe it is her right to exhibit this in whatever ways she wants to without bearing her audience in mind.

In the November edition of British Vogue, Rihanna expresses her desire to reject the title of ‘role model’ (and, presumably, the responsibility that comes with it):

“See, people … they want me to be a role model just because of the life I lead. The things I say in my songs, they expect it of me, and [being a role model] became more of my job than I wanted it to be. But no, I just want to make music. That’s it.”

In refreshing contrast, Taylor Swift was met with a hearty round of applause during an interview on Regis & Kelly on October 13th, when she responded to Kelly Ripa suggesting she is making a “great impact on {…} kids” with these words:

“You have to be conscious of that…if you’re choosing to put out music and to be out there in the public, you have to be conscious of the fact that you are part of the raising of the next generation and you do have an impact on that. So choose your outfits and your words and your actions carefully because I think it matters…you can pretend it doesn’t, but it does.”

I’m not promoting Taylor Swift as a role model; nor am I going to blame Rihanna or Frankie themselves for the entirety of their harmful behaviour’s impact; nor even do I suggest we allow these celebrities to raise our children or indeed to dictate to us how we should live. I do wish to see, however, more responsibility being carried by those in the spotlight for their actions and a recognition of the ripples they cause, as well as a similar recognition from shows like the X Factor and record labels who clearly enjoy exploiting their ‘stars’ to receive more attention and custom.

Assuming you aren’t Rihanna (I’m not either) – what can we do? Be aware that though you probably don’t sing through your day, your words are lyrics, and your actions are music videos: people are watching. Children pick up little things the people around them say and do like my winter coat picks up the wool of my scarf. Adults aren’t necessarily ready to admit it, but other ‘grown-ups’ have an impact on them to. Essentially…YOU are a role-model. Be mindful of that.

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