Good Role Models: Why Young Men Need Them

Role Play.

Iconic shot of a young Mike Tyson and his Lamborghini Diablo

Hot take? There’s nothing wrong about looking to famous figures for inspiration.

For every Kim Kardashian or Harry Jowsey who might look pretty but have little of substance to offer, there’s a Keanu Reeves or Dolly Parton who, because or in spite of their success, are good role models. Sometimes people are famous because they are genuinely worth celebrating, and some people rise to the occasion that fame has put them in.

Our definition of ‘role model’ is ever-expanding, too. For example, Dylan Alcott is a role model for many Australian men, not just because he’s a world-class athlete, but because he’s a relentless advocate for disabled Australians and the arts.

Celebrities rarely choose to be famous. The burden of fame is a heavy one, and just because they’re famous doesn’t mean they’re well-suited to fame. We’re all just human, and sometimes we expect too much of famous people. What would you do if you were suddenly catapulted to international stardom and you were expected to be a model of perfect behaviour: how would you cope with the pressure?

But it cuts both ways. Just because you’re famous doesn’t give you license to behave badly. Especially considering how many people will be watching and potentially following your example. It also shouldn’t allow you to escape the consequences of your actions.

A recent Instagram post by Chris Brown encapsulates this perfectly, where the controversial RnB singer compared a recent photo of himself posing in front of a McLaren to a 90s picture of boxer Mike Tyson making a similar pose in front of a Lamborghini.


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This photo is highly questionable for a number of reasons. Both men have histories of violence against women: Brown beat up his then-girlfriend Rhianna in 2009, and Tyson spent time in jail for rape in the 90s.

The comparison is obviously positioned as a favourable one. But comparing oneself to Tyson in the 90s, when his crimes occurred, is distasteful to say the least.

Brown’s use of a raised black fist emoji in the caption would suggest that he looks up to Tyson as an example of African-American financial success and ‘cool’. But surely there are better role models than Tyson if one’s looking for successful, stylish black men. Idris Elba or Barack Obama immediately come to mind.

Look, people should be given the opportunity to atone for their mistakes, even celebrities. We’ve written about Mike Tyson before on DMARGE. Should we let people’s pasts define them?

But such an obtuse, poorly-considered comparison makes us seriously doubt how much Brown has really changed since his 2009 charges. It’s chilling, frankly – and makes Brown’s Welcome To My Life movie look more ‘puff piece’ than ‘documentary.’

The fact that Tyson is interviewed in the 2017 film, a star-studded piece of cinema which examines the consequences of Brown becoming an overnight sensation at 15 – as well as his mental, physical and emotional health issues – perhaps explains why Brown continues to look up to Tyson.

However, despite his apparent contrition, and despite the implication made in Welcome To My Life that Brown, who witnessed his mum being domestically abused by his stepfather, “was not equipped to handle the intense public backlash and media scrutiny and thus entered a spiral of violent outbursts and drug use that it was difficult for him to break free from, despite his sincere regrets” (The Guardian), we’d argue if Brown was really taking this seriously and trying to make amends, he would be more careful about glorifying that era in Tyson’s life.

Brown has 67.5 million followers on Instagram – it is simply irresponsible to share such a comparison with his audience, many of whom are other young American men looking to him as a model for success. Indeed, that’s how Brown framed his post: that he, like Tyson was in the 90s, is successful. Cool. To be aspired to.

While you might think it patronising to assume American men can’t tell right and wrong from ‘damn that’s a cool car’ sentiments, we reckon Brown should be more vocal and open about the dark patches of his and his friends’ lives if he really is critical of – and sorry for – such behaviour.

You might ask why we’ve got our hackles up about this Chris Brown thing. It’s simple: violence against women is repugnant. It’s something that we should have no tolerance for; that we shouldn’t forget so easily.

And that’s the problem. Brown’s continued to have a profitable career in the music industry since 2009, and Tyson is arguably more popular than he’s ever been in 2020. Just this Friday, American lifestyle publication HYPEBEAST promoted a clothing collaboration between New York streetwear brand Chinatown Market and Tyson.

There’s no way they would have done that if they didn’t think it would sell.

Not to mention: the media went loopy when Tyson hinted a return to boxing in April.

But while Tyson and Brown still have successful careers, the women they were convicted for assaulting will carry that trauma for the rest of their lives. It’s different to other crimes, and should be treated differently.

In short? Brown and Tyson don’t need ‘our help’. But there’s plenty of other male role models that we could be championing that might give people, especially young people, more positive examples to look up to.


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Sunday coloring session

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Australian men should pay attention, too. We’re just as guilty of promoting men who are at best questionable examples of manhood. Think about all the NRL players who’ve done dumb shit that constantly get held up as role models, or how we’ve let Chris Lilley prance away on prime time for the best part of two decades.

That doesn’t mean we should only admire perfect people, because no-one’s perfect (if you didn’t laugh at Summer Heights High you’re either missing a funny bone or a liar). But keeping other men in check and not allowing antisocial behaviour to be constantly celebrated? That’s not that much of an ask.

The key to modern masculinity is being thoughtful and confidently adapting to change. So here’s to that, gentlemen.

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