I had planned to take my 9-year-old son to the movies last weekend. We had originally planned to see Mission Impossible. As my family members have had to tolerate so many times in the past with my profession, I had a patient that I needed to take care of as we were enroute to the theater. With his understanding well beyond his years, he was okay with our delay to the theater. However, as we arrived at the theater, we were presented with the dilemma of which movie to go see. I have tried to make it a habit of trying to find movies, books, and television shows for my children to watch that have some sort of a positive message with positive role models. In today’s age and time, this has become easier said than done. This, of course, made me think of my own childhood and the positive role models that we had at that time.
Gone are the days of Wonder Woman, The Super Friends, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The A Team. Even our parents had positive reinforcement from the media such as The Lone Ranger and GunSmoke. The good guys wore the white hats, the bad guys wore the black hats. There was no such thing as a good vampire because he only fed on animals. There was no blurring of the line between good and evil. Buffy was good, vampires were bad. I remember my mother taking me to the public library in the summer and reading books such as The Biography of Gordie Howe and Black Beauty. As much as I disliked it at the time and would have loved to have wasted my summers playing Atari, this was typical at our house, especially when your mother is an English teacher. Back then, we went to the movies and saw Star Wars, a classic story of good versus evil. Heck, when my dad took my brother and I to see Jaws, even Chief Brodie triumphed over nature’s genetic mutation of a shark.
I distinctly remember Carlton Fisk classically waiving a home run inside the left foul pole. I remember classic football games and looking up to guys like Terry Bradshaw. It was rare that I did not have my Pittsburgh Steelers jacket on and my Pittsburgh Steelers lunchbox en-tow as I rode my bicycle to and from SL Mason in my elementary school years. Even our anti-heroes, such as Jack Lambert and The Greatest American Hero, did not seem as flawed as theyreally were. I don’t think that these guys had any less baggage or any fewer skeletons in the closet than people in the spotlight today. But, of course, that was well before the days of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and cell phones with cameras. I don’t condone leaving your family for a figure skater or drunken escapades in a nightclub, but I suspect that these things happened as frequently then as they do now. The fact is that it just wasn’t news to the extent that it is now. Maybe we didn’t feel like it was our right to know everything that was going on in someone’s life, maybe the media didn’t feel like it was their job to report every event of these people’s lives so that role models could still be revered and maybe it was just a different time with different morals. I just have a hard time believing that many people before the age of social media would have been interested in what Bruce Jenner was really eating for breakfast, even if it wasn’t Wheaties, or what he thought about Watergate. It didn’t seem to be as important to the average public if Phil Niekro had been seen eating dinner at an Atlanta restaurant or if he like to play poker.
Some have said that the media today is just a reflexion of our changes in societal values. The thought is that our increasing attitude of “make me happy now” and instant gratification have fueled the fire of having the most intimate knowledge of everyone, including those in the national spotlight. Maybe that is true to some extent. It is a consumer driven industry. But, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that our children are the driving force behind this. Maybe what they learn comes from their parents and role models and what they are exposed to. Maybe it is what they see the adults craving that creates their own desires. Maybe there is some drive from the adult public for immediate gratification and feedback, but this only perpetuates the cycle for those younger than us. If we took more responsibility to break this cycle and if the media took a little more responsibility to contemplate what the public really NEEDS to see and hear, maybe our society wouldn’t be in such a mess. The line between news, gossip and propaganda has never been more blurred. Call me old fashioned or antiquated, but whether or not there is turmoil in the Colts front office or, even, whether Peyton Manning likes the Colts blue socks, just doesn’t seem to me to be all that important in life.
The most disturbing trend to me is that the only thing that seems to be a bigger story than the rise of a role model is how fast his fall and crash can be reported. The faster someone can be glorified in the media, the faster he can fall and the louder the crash. The big news doesn’t seem to be whether a guy had success against insurmountable odds in a playoff game or whether he donated part of his salary to a homeless shelter. That’s a story that gets reported and forgotten between news reports. The stories that stay in the news for days are how fast he was driving when he got a speeding ticket or that he reportedly said something inappropriate 3 years ago. The more exaggerated the information, the better. Whether the information is hear-say or confirmed doesn’t seem to matter. Guilty until proven innocent on Twitter.
In the long run, it has made it difficult for us to admire anyone. We hesitate to put too much emotional stock into anyone in the limelight, call ourselves one of their fans, or even buy our kids one of their replica jerseys for fear that our fragile psyche may get damaged from their impending fall from grace. For as many supporters of Tim Tebow that we see in the media, there are as many or more detractors. Is it because of his flawed throwing mechanics or unconventional style at quarterback, or is it because we feel that we will probably never hear of him “making it rain” in a strip club or getting into a drunken brawl at a bar? Have we become so accustomed to listening for a role model’s crash that we have sabotaged our own ability to find a positive influence?
I don’t have the answer. I’ll keep trying to be a positive influence to my kids. I’ll try to keep showing them the importance of eating your vegetables, doing your homework, exercising, saying your prayers and treating others like you want to be treated. I’ll try to continue to show them what I think is right and wrong and hope that I’m correct. Maybe they can look past my flaws and develop into positive people, even if their father is fallible. I just hope that the National Enquirer isn’t there to derail my efforts.