Amy Jenkins: Jordan and Jonathan Aitken: are they by any chance related?

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The Independent Online

OK. So. The game is this. First you knock them down - and not just down - down and dirty. You tread on them and stamp on them and generally grind them into the mud. Then you wait. For signs of life. If any are shown, you help them immediately to their feet for - praise the lord - a "role model" has been born. NB: you sell a lot of newspapers and make a lot of money while doing this. This week's lucky transformee is Jordan. She's gone from modelling underwear to modelling roles in two short bug-infested weeks - from "pneumatically breasted attention-seeker" to "heroine for our times", and even "feminist icon".

And then there's Jonathan Aitken. The Guardian packed him off to jail two years ago, but now he's out he's never off their front page. As a self-declared author of his own misfortune, ("I've made a Horlicks of my life"), he has passed the repentence test and is written about here, there and everywhere. He'd even wanted to stand for parliament again.

The whole thing reminds me of when people used to be put in the stocks on the village green. It was a punishment - but what an entertaining one for those in the clear. Something to watch from the kitchen window while doing the washing up. Something to talk about. And so nice not to be in them yourself, feels so good. Plus - there's the possibility of further developments.

Punishment is meted out for a reason after all. Would the poor unfortunate come through? Would they learn from their mistakes? As Bible readers know, there's nothing like resurrection to make a story go with a zing. We're all keen to hear of a rise and fall - but it's a rise and fall and rise again that really has us gripped.

This is the stuff of myth. The misguidedly naïve protagonist sets out into the unknown. He meets severe challenges. He goes into the cave to be tested, to face his worst fears. He walks through a dark night of the soul. He - or she - overcomes adversity and returns a hero. We have always been enthralled by these stories because we wonder whether we haven't made "a Horlicks" out of our own lives too. If Jordan and Jonathan Aitken can be redeemed - so can we. They have battled with the stuff that we all battle with, one way or another, and they have triumphed against the odds. They are the slimmers of the month, so to speak.

It's all about transformation. That is what fascinates, for example, about Pop Idol, Faking It and What Not To Wear. We love to know it's possible. Remember that final scene in Grease when Olivia Newton John pulls the ribbons out of her hair and turns up in lipstick and leather? Well - that's what I watch the movie for.

And out there in the I'm A Celebrity... jungle, we're seeing a whole new Jordan. It's not just that she's surprisingly game for a laugh - it's that for once we're seeing past those breasts. We're seeing her insides and her outsides. It turns out she has a heart and guts too. In the same vein, we now know Jonathan Aitken is fallable - just like us.

How unlikely (and unsuitable, you might add) could a pair of role models be? But I don't think it matters much who we attach the redemption story to. Young girls might want to be like Jordan for a while but, as with "slimmer of the month", chances are they'll slump back into being themselves after a week or two. If role models do have an effect on us, they work covertly.

I'll bet Jordan's sub-conscious role model was Barbie, physically at least.

I suspect my own unacknowledged models were - off the top of my head - Madonna for her ambition, Thatcher for her power, Diana for her vulnerability, Hillary for her forbearance and Kate Adie for her flak jackets.

So what does that make me? A real pot-pourri.

The phrase "role model" was first coined in the 1950s and that seems fitting. It's a concept that belongs to an out-dated Girl Guide kind of world. Jordan and Jonathan aren't role models - they're survivors. And as for who we want to be - more and more, we're deciding for ourselves.

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