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Who are our cultural models today?

We want reference points that are not too distant from us

Who are our cultural models today? We want reference points that are not too distant from us

In these confused and difficult times, plural and fluid for better or worse, we are desperate for reference and inspirations, for someone to tell us with certainty what to eat, how to dress, where to go on holiday, what to read and admire, who and how to be. This is certainly not unusual. The world of fashion, for example, lived and still lives on icons that constantly change and often fight each other. The same is true for the world of film and music. One trend follows another, cultural and aesthetic references change. What is certain is that someone we orient ourselves to is always there, or almost always. With differences. If in the era before social networks, those who started movements and changes in lifestyles were distant and inaccessible, which was perhaps the reason their impact lasted so long, today we claim to know everything about everyone, down to the smallest detail, all the time. And that can go directly against the status of cultural models in the broadest sense of the word. Saturation happens too quickly.

The latest icons of the social media age: the Kardashians

Who are the icons of 2023? Our lighthouses in the desert, the ones who determine trends? The latest may be them: the hated or loved, yet ubiquitous Kardashians. If an icon has to be a child of its time, able to take the jolts of its era and use them in its favour then the Kardashians have been masters at it, of that there is no doubt. They even invented (no credit to them, but a testament to their power) a new body shape, which they obtained through external intervention, and made it fashionable. In a world where body shapes are allowed to be fashionable even when they should not be, they were the queens.

@yourtango Are the Kardashians becoming irrelevant? #kardashians #kimkardashian #khloekardashian #kendalljenner #kyliejenner original sound - YourTango

Their rise to success did not happen in a vacuum, of course, but was perfectly timed to perhaps the most famous and evolving moment in influencer culture and Instagram. They, the pure celebrities who do nothing but appear for the sake of appearing, getting rich, being in the right place at the right time, became influencers in a matter of seconds. They promote brands (their own and others'), but also an over-the-top lifestyle and a true Kardashian model. Just think of Kylie Jenner's influence on the make-up world in 2016. Even the Kardashians and their dramas (which are still acted out and dramatised in the reality show Keeping up with the Kardashians that made them famous) have been lost in the stream of other characters, other scoops and other topics. The family that for a brief but intense period was considered the most powerful family in the United States is bending to new fashions and new standards in a desperate attempt to stay on the crest of the wave, unable to start one. Even their silhouette changed, following the new (but old) model of extreme slimness, and the public grew tired, their power slowly vanished.


New cultural models are born on TikTok

The birthplace of cultural models is no longer Instagram, but TikTok. Here, every week, something imposes itself, be it a sound, a person, a trend. It's like watching the construction and destruction of a million sandcastles, on a loop, all at once, in a continuous time-lapse. Nothing lasts long enough to rise to the rank of a model, everything is fragmented.

@aoibhinnfitz No longer accepting ‘no you dont look fat you look lovely’ as compliments #bellyfat #bodyfat #bodylove #bodyacceptance Miracle - Calvin Harris & Ellie Goulding


Where shall I go? What shall one buy? Who shall one be? One solution among many, while waiting for a new reference point to emerge, might be to look around instead of up. Asking friends, suggesting a reflection over coffee. Even if one stays with the body discourse and takes the current of body positivity as an example, one can not help but notice that it lost momentum very quickly, turned into a sales trend and subsequently died, exploited to the bone. Now it is being revived by teenage girls who refuse to conform to impossible norms and who are striving to invent a new way of looking at themselves and their bodies, without role models, even if they are clumsy about it, but exercising an ideal muscle that had atrophied. The 'curvy' stars themselves, such as Lizzo, refuse to be relegated to the role of paladins or standard bearers of an alternative model, and profess a versatile career and character. We are moving towards the overthrow of icons because icons need to be problematised and removed, we are moving towards the overthrow of models because no one can look at things in an absolute way in such a multi-layered contemporary world. And as our consciousness grows and branches out, with impulses and nuances, do we, the audience, still need them? The answer may surprise you.