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The Miley Mandela Dilemma

This piece was written with a view to being published last week. In it, Nelson Mandela is used as a reference point to comparing societal role models. This was before his death on Thursday night. We hope that you read it as it was originally intended.


There’s been a lot of talk lately about role models. We’ve debated the suitability of some and looked at the motivations of others. The common thread to all of these discussions is that nothing is as cut and dried as a singular opinion. Where there’s an opportunity to celebrate someone’s role in the spotlight, there’s an equal opportunity to criticize it. It’s the nature of celebrity. There will always be super-fans and there will always be those that can’t quite suppress their need to let anyone who will listen know exactly why they hate someone they’ve never met so much.

There’s a common Erma Bombeck quote that is often bandied about. It’s been diluted and bastardized as many times as it’s been said, but the gist is always the same as the original;

Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one. Helen Keller is the other.

Now, anyone that reads LGBTicons regularly knows exactly what I think of Madonna. Indeed, if you read my blog post Why We Should Thank Our Lucky Stars for Madonna, you’ll know that I fall fully on the side of pop culture having socially relevant currency.

It does not for one minute mean that I don’t fully appreciate pioneers throughout the history of humanity. I do however think that it’s fairly myopic for anyone to think that those with a public profile ordinarily categorised as ‘celebrity’ have nothing to offer.

Take Miley Cyrus for example.

Recently everyone from Sinead O’Conner to Amanda Palmer has had an opinion on her work. (Yes, she gets up and does it for a living so it is work). It’s easy to see the young actress come pop star as all of her controversies. It’s actually quite interesting to hear the debates currently roaring about her role as a feminist or a misogynist enabler. True, she can be both of these or neither, but these actions do not represent the sum of all her parts.

She’s a role model to some, whether we like it or not. And just because she’s got her kit off a few times lately doesn’t mean she has nothing positive to offer society.

Don’t believe me? Try this little quiz.

Following are twenty quotes. Can you tell which ones were said by Miley Cyrus over which ones were said by Nelson Mandela?

  1. “If you believe in yourself anything is possible.”
  2. “Pink isn’t just a colour it’s an Attitude too!”
  3. “Beauty is the enemy. We try to conquer not feeling beautiful all our lives. It’s a battle that can’t be won. There’s no definition of beauty. The only way to achieve beauty is to feel it from inside without breaking down into individual physical attributes”
  4. “There are multiple sides to all of us. Who we are – and who we might be if we follow our dreams”
  5. “I learned from you that I do not crumble. I learned that strength is something you choose.”
  6. “If someone tells you you’re not beautiful, turn around and walk away so they can
    have a great view of your fabulous ass.”
  7. “Remember what things make you special and embrace those because there are so many things that aren’t on the outside that are so important and people find so beautiful.”
  8. “The biggest moments of insecurity come when all self-confidence is lost and you feel like people are watching and judging. It should be the opposite. You should feel like the people who are watching care about you. This is something we can try to give each other – the feeling that eyes signal support, not disdain.”
  9. “It’s the little things that make us who we are in the bigger world.”
  10. “When I was in Nashville, I went to our Macy’s and went and tried on all the Hannah Montana stuff. Then I said, ‘This is weird, I’m wearing my face.”
  11. “The greatest opportunities in life come with fear and risk.”
  12. “When you are ready to move on or if you come to peace with pain, you’ll find a silver lining.”
  13. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You never know what it’s going to look like on the other side, but you’ll see it eventually if you keep your eyes open.”
  14. “You need to see things, REALLY see them, feel them, live them, so you know what’s big and what’s little, what matters and what to put aside.”
  15. “Do what you are afraid to do.”
  16. “Love is louder than the pressure to be perfect”
  17. “It is important to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and what purpose it serves in the big picture.”
  18. “I cut the ribbon in Paris, and everyone in Paris speaks French — maybe you knew that. But I’m from Tennessee, and Tennessee girls don’t speak French. So suddenly I’m stuck onstage with Minnie and Mickey and everyone is yelling at me in French — I guess they’re telling me to get off the stage, but I didn’t know what they were saying at the time, so I start dancing with Minnie and Mickey like on the show and finally my aunt comes and gets me off.”
  19. “Little moments attach themselves to other little moments and collect into big dreams. We become what we experience.”
  20. “Loneliness has its roots in words, in internal conversation that nobody answers. Solitude has its roots in the great silence of eternity.

Of course, it’s obvious that some of these were definitely from Miley Cyrus, though it may be surprising to find that they are in fact ALL from the former Hannah Montana star.

My point?

In a world rife with hate crimes and far more inequality than can be comprehended for it being the 21st Century, does it really matter where the message is coming from? All that matters is that it’s being heard.

You don’t have to like the Mileys, Madonnas or Gagas of this world. Nobody is forcing you go to their gigs, buy their music or perfumes or endorse their behaviours. But lots of people do enjoy what they and thousands of other limelighters have to offer. Many who might never learn of Helen Keller’s personal achievements, let alone her campaign for women’s suffrage are taking celebrities as role models by default.

So let’s try not judging people solely on what you know of them. Yes, that’s a good start, but there’s often a lot more depth to a person than their celebrity gives them credit for. has over 6500 brilliant subscribers. Join them.


Categories: Bisexual Celebrities Erma Bombeck Gay Helen Keller Lady Gaga Lesbian LGBT Madiba Madonna Miley Cyrus Nelson Mandela News Opinion Role Models Transgender

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