This Blog will consider the advantages and disadvantages of role models by taking a retrospective look at the popular 1970s television police drama, Starsky and Hutch. Their potential impact on young people, specifically their attitudes towards violence and challenging stereotypes of the day. The focus will be on the main characters, Starsky and Hutch.
A role model is someone who others looked up to (Oxford 2017). People choose role models based on qualities which they wish to copy or distant themselves from, providing both inspiration and learning to help guide and distinguish themselves from others (Gibson 2003). Conversely a negative role model would be someone not to copy. Herein, young people are being defined as aged between 10 to 20 years old.
Starsky and Hutch gained international acclaim as a Police drama in the 1970’s, sold to 67 countries (This Morning 2017) and still holds popularity today. Following two undercover detectives in fictional Bay City, California, its focus is on criminal activity. However, the interaction and friendship between the two main characters Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and Hutch (David Soul) is a significant theme.Starsky exudes confidence and playfulness, almost making him the “little brother” in the storyline. Hutch is a more mature character, health conscious, intellectual, more “straight laced”, “big brother” role. Other characters include, “father figure” Captain Dobey, who is frequently ignored by the rebellious “teenagers” and a streetwise police informant, Huggy Bear. Their “child-like” behaviour in the programme appeals to young people who may be more likely to imitate and emulate them. From the beginning, both Glaser and Soul portrayed the characters with emphasis on the brother like friendship between them.
“This is the way we decided to approach it. We start with ordinary days, ordinary guys who really happened to like each other a lot, who happened to be cops, and we took off from there.”
David Soul (Word on the Street 1999).
According to Lamb (2013), this approach was ground-breaking for its time. Increasing significance was given to the male friendship. Lamb (2013) states that this may have been in the context of a “growing awareness of feminism and homosexuality”, this would have started a dialogue of those increasingly mainstream issues which would have presented uncomfortable viewing for some. Challenging the stereotypical view of masculinity, showing men as more of a whole being. It is not intrinsically homosexual to be close to another man. This friendship was advanced for the norm portrayed at the time. Two men can be close friends without it being sexual. The idea that it is not socially acceptable for two men to be friends without the suggestion of homosexuality, whilst two women can be close friends without the same suggestion, demonstrates a sexist double standard. As Lamb (2013) suggests, even in the present day, a close friendship between two male characters is viewed as having homosexual undertones. Bandura (1965) shows, children copy what they see others do, demonstrating the positive role models of Starsky and Hutch, as per Gibson (2003) description.
The first two seasons were action packed, but not without criticism due to the levels of violence. Partly due to the public outcry regarding violence on T.V. and Glaser’s concerns (CrimeTV.com 2011), the violence in subsequent seasons was subdued.
Husemann (1977) showed how children exposed to violent T.V. programmes exhibit increased violent behaviour. Charren (1995) states that children exposed to violence on television may view violence as “a solution to problems, violent behaviour can be fun and funny. . . Many do tend to accept violence as a normal way of life.” Henry (2005) states “kids learn how to deal with difficult situations from adult role models”, if children see violence as fun or cool they will be more inclined to copy it. In the absence of parental guidance children look to role models to fill that gap and would copy the violence if not corrected.
Everyone involved in the programme actively chose to write and portray Starsky and Hutch as non-violent role models; the challenge of the programme was to find non-violent solutions. The producers decided to use different ways to tackle violence to show it is not “a solution to problems”. For example, they would chastise others for shooting and even “bend” the law for what they thought was right (Se3-4) Their close relationship was an inspiration particularly to boys watching, showing you do not have to fit into the traditional stereotype of manhood and you can embrace being close with another man without being homosexual.
Several episodes demonstrate this including, “The heroes” (se3 ep8) where a woman is taken hostage. They put their guns down and talk to the hostage, whilst she screams, “Shoot him!” He is successfully arrested peacefully and she asks, confused “Why, Why didn’t you shoot him?”
Starsky looks at her in disgusted disbelief, leaving Hutch to say “It wasn’t necessary!”
This example presents the woman as a negative role model; someone to not to copy. The way the main characters show disdain for her comments shows them to be good role models.
However, a modern-day disadvantage is none of the episodes pass the Bechdel test (Bechdel 1985) which states, programmes should have at least two named women in them who should converse with each other about something other than a man. The women in Starsky and Hutch are very much extras to the story; either showing outside work life, relationships of the two, or as story lines themselves. In that respect, it is very much of its time. Lamb (2013) states, “the women were more disposable and even less important to the story-world “. Considering the programme is about Starsky and Hutch, two Male detectives, it would be hard for anyone else not to be “disposable”. Starsky and Hutch has proved to be a ground breaking programme, both Starsky and Hutch per Gibson (2003) definition of role models, are positive role models; they show responsibility, a more positive view on being male, a kinship that was like no other at the time. The producer and actors in the show proved they needed to do something about the issue of role models affecting young people’s behaviour. Unless children are provided with discussions as to violence not being the answer or necessary, unless it is tempered with a degree of disdain and made to look uncool, it will be copied. They did not just do violence for violence’s sake and if they could get around it by not being violent they would and did.
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It’s always nice to be asked respect one another x