Role models. We know we love to build them up, only to knock them back down again. But awareness of this fact does nothing to prevent us doing it. When we look for cultural leaders, what we’re actually looking for is the perfectly imperfect.
Let’s not bore us all by rehashing the story that has been told and retold all over the media since this past fateful Sunday evening. As we know, Taylor Swift, Kanye and Kim Kardashian West are dominating pop-culture conversation. The above image was posted to Instagram by a Melbourne-based artist who goes by “LushSux”; seemingly poking fun at the death of Swift’s career, or at least her good name. It’s a satirical look at how we, as a society, obsess over those that are famous.
In the same way that we have a 24-hour news cycle, we now have 24-hour celebrities. Online conversation is overflowing with tweets, Instagram pics and snapchat stories. And they never switch off. Tech has been the gateway to fame for many, but for others it’s led to a spectacular downfall. In this case, through a simple video recording and a social media platform, all the hard work by Team Swift came crashing down around them.
See, what’s interesting in terms of the Swifty Saga, is that unlike most pop-culture icons of recent times, she tried to stay impossibly above the fray. Her team have worked wonders at ensuring that in every situation, she came out, time and time again, smelling of roses. Only this time, when it all went wrong, it most definitely stank of shit.
The problem is that figures of cultural influence – celebrities, sportsmen and even brands – sometimes forget that it’s not perfection that makes us fall in love with them, or that makes them iconic, it’s relatability, honesty and authenticity.
Last November The Chatter published a piece called “Ta-Ta for now Taylor Swift” where we discussed how Swift’s previously meticulously-executed publicity machine was struggling. Highlighting that, in general, people are suspicious of perfection. We also mentioned Adele’s authenticity in comparison to Taylor’s well-oiled operation. Some eight months later, and we find ourselves here.
At this year’s Glastonbury Adele got up on the stage at Glastonbury and dropped the F-bomb. Repeatedly. And regardless of advance warnings from the BBC. To her fans she’s the equivalent of your best mate, in the pub, having a laugh and forgetting to turn on the filter. Oops. But bless her, she’s “ah-mazing”.
We continue to use Adele as an example because similarly to Swift, her past relationships served to fuel her fame and artistry. But, and this is important it seemed genuine, not contrived. Through what seemed like actual heartbreak (this Brit Award video is case in point) as opposed to suspected album fodder, we sang along, cried with her and fell in love with the girl next door. At this point it would take something huge for Adele to find herself in our bad graces. And even then we’d probably forgive her – nobody’s perfect after all.
Real-life relationships are complex and so are those we hold with our Chargers. We want our role models to reflect some plausible reality – and we don’t fully trust people who seem too good to be true. The trouble comes when an influencer tries to be infallible; its just not possible. And if they go so far as to put themselves on a pedestal a la Swift, you can bet they are going to come crashing down sooner rather than later.
The media has written that this week’s debacle is about race. They’ve written that it’s about gender. But it all really boils down to the fact that in the court of public opinion, good old fashioned principles count. Never get caught in a lie. And if you do, don’t dig yourself deeper. Sportsmen, celebs and brands take note.
It was with great irony “talentless” Kim Kardashian West and her “narcissistic” hubby came out on top over “sweet” Taylor Swift. Because for all their flaws, they are, by and large, accountable. Influencers can be iconic. But superhuman? Nah. We don’t want perfect, we want something we can believe in. Be human, be honest and be authentic. Because if you can’t, you’d better be ready to face the music.
Image @ LushSux via Instagram