Looking Up

We have been conditioned to find role models in ourselves, rather than idolizing others

Stella Grist (she/her), Co Editor In Chief

If you talk to anyone my age, you’ll discover very few of us have a role model. Finding someone unproblematic and worthy of idolizing is hard to come by. WIth the rise of social media and cancel culture, we have learned to understand that no one is an unequivocally “good” person. 

I realized recently, when asked who my role model is, that I haven’t had one for a very long time. 

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In this polarizing political climate, even one opposing view could mean the extinguishing of whatever stars you had in your eyes. ”

— Stella Grist

Growing up, I looked up to the “heroes” depicted in our history books, only to discover they were fundamentally horrible people. The founding fathers we were taught to worship were elitist slave owners who didn’t care about the wellbeing of the citizens they were willing to revolt for the benefit of. Thus began an unending cycle of idolization followed by disappointment. 

Throughout my formative years, I was what you would call a superfan of many musicians and actors only to discover that they were homophobic, predatory and/or racist. Too many mornings, I would wake up to a notification of a resurfaced tweet from one of my favorite singers saying something bigoted and disgusting. For the next few days, I would live in a crippling guilt that I ever supported them and looked up to them. I soon learned that I’d rather have no idol to look up to than be disappointed in one. 

Cancel culture permeates every aspect of being online. If you yourself aren’t a large public figure, you can be canceled for being a fan of one who has an ugly history. This touches on the debate of separating the art from an artist, but can you pick and choose which parts of a person to make a role model out of? Idolizing someone implies you idolize all of them, ugly parts and all. 

Which brings up the question of can you still look up to someone if you classify their wrongdoings as mistakes? “Nobody’s perfect” is the expression you’ve heard a million times before, so how do you decide who is “perfect” enough?

All in all, my generation has grown up with a myriad of social media platforms and access to them at any moment. This has led to a clear decline in our ability to idolize people in fear they turn out to oppose our own beliefs. 

The Internet and social media has vastly changed how kids grow up over time. One aspect being the shift from idolizing public figures to looking inward for that sense of inspiration. Whether this is a positive change is up for discussion, but there’s no denying that seeing our role models’ ugly sides growing up was a perspective not many before us have gotten.