Fewer Models, Bigger Roles

Originally published August 3, 1997, by Mike Barnicle for The Boston Globe


At Fenway Park the other afternoon, this total moron put his fat arse in a box seat during the bottom of the first and spent the rest of the day acting like a complete jerk.

When he wasn’t screaming at Wilfredo Cordero, the alleged wife-battering Red Sox outfielder, he was acting obnoxious and pounding down enough beers to quench the thirst of the First Marine Division.

Of course, that was his constitutional right. It didn’t matter to him that he made things uncomfortable for other paying customers. Yet, because most people now are either timid or wary of establishing eye contact with potentially violent dopes, this fool clearly mistook the crowd’s silence for approval.

It was a pretty good game, too. The Olde Towne Team played the Mariners — baseball’s most attractive offering, with Junior Griffey, Jay Buhner, Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson — and the capacity crowd was thrilled to be watching a day game even as a single fan acted like he had a bolt in his brain.

Finally, though, things got so bad that a guy leaned across the aisle and posed the following question to Mr. Motormouth: “Do you like hospital food?”

“Whazz’a problem?” the drunk demanded. “I can shay what I wanna’ shay. Cordero’s a bum. Guy’s sposed’a’be a role model, fa’ crissake. Guy desherves it.”

It struck me that here was an occasion of marvelous irony: A thoughtless imbecile spoiling things because he decided a baseball player failed to meet his obligation as a role model!

That phrase, role model, has been fashionable for a few years. It’s part of the growing social trend toward replacing individual responsibility with collective obligation.

For example: In stories about teen mothers, the inevitable implication is made that society is at fault for the difficulty of a single young girl who probably got pregnant because of cigarettes, television commercials or a lack of — you guessed it — role models. Welfare recipients have difficulty working because they have no role models. And, somewhere, some kid is going to grow up and pound his wife or girlfriend because of Wilfredo Cordero.

It’s odd but the need for role models seems to have grown in direct relation to the expansion and magnified importance of the media.

Years ago, when there weren’t nearly as many entertainment options like cable, pay-per-view, movies or the worldwide web, hardly anybody mentioned the trendy, numbing phrase.

I guess things were pretty primitive then. And most of the country was probably awfully unenlightened.

Like, when Dad came home Thursday night and dumped his pay on the kitchen table, enabling Ma to buy bread, milk, butter and eggs, not a single soul stood and said, “Dad, you are an awesome role model, man.” How sad.

How pathetic that we used to view parents, policemen, doctors and priests — rather than movie stars, TV anchors and athletes — as role models.

And on those occasions when some guy lost a couple rounds to Jim Beam on Saturday night and chose to beat up his wife, none of the neighbors whispered that he had failed to perform admirably as a role model. Instead, the thick familial peer pressure of those dark ages would quickly result in the victim’s brother, father or friends kicking the deadbeat’s arse all the way down the block.

Of course, today that would mean assault and battery charges filed against the woman’s family, crafty lawyers, pathetic judges, interminable court delays and a hefty fine imposed on the wrong people.

The procedure would involve social workers, probation officers, psychologists and the distinct possibility that those who tried to do the right thing would have their names published in the paper and their reputations ruined.

Let something like that happen and you’ve got the ultimate American nightmare: You’d be called a poor role model.