Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, April 25, 2011

Just a Normal Student

Actress Emma Watson – “Hermione” in the Harry Potter films – enrolled at Brown University in Rhode Island in Fall 2008, with the notion of studying liberal arts (being that Brown is a liberal, Ivy League school, she couldn’t have picked a better place to study “liberal” arts).

But after the first semester in her sophomore year, she went on leave of absence.  She claimed – and it’s really not hard to believe – that she had career commitments.  The Harry Potter films were finished, but the studio was probably expecting her to do promotional tours for the last two films.  The last film won’t be out until July.

Additionally, the young lady caused a sensation by, a la Irene Castle and Mia Farrow, lopping off her long tresses, revealing a beautifully structured face.   Fashion magazines and cosmetic companies went gaga.  She also began a fashion design venture with an experienced fashion designer.

When she cut her hair, movie producers warned her that she’d also cut her film options and she promised them she’d grow it back.  What?  No one makes wigs anymore?  Ah, well, that’s this young lady’s business.  Long hair, short hair, her fans still love her and so does the camera.

But then rumors began to fly about troubles at Brown University.  The New York Daily News followed up with a story, dated last Thursday, by an anonymous source, that she was being harassed and heckled by other students for being “too active” in class, answering all the questions (correctly), and having bodyguards.  In other words, she was too smart for the slackers at Brown.  At least that’s the “rumor.”  According to the Daily News gossip section, Ms. Watson’s publicist did not respond to calls ‘in time for the story.’

In my world, you don’t report the story until you have all the facts.  In my department, we’d have our monitors handed to us – and that’s just for internal stories.  Many times, reporters have called our department at 7 in the morning, long before our public relations specialist to ask questions.  Not being authorized to answer their questions, I’d tell them the specialist wasn’t in yet, that I was the company photographer.

The reporter would print the story (whatever it happened to be), stating that our spokesperson was “unavailable for comment.”  After that, our department manager gave the reporters the specialists’ cell phone numbers.

I’ve checked out the young star’s Facebook page from time to time.  Mostly it consists of the typical gushing love posts from admirers and posts from people she knows, mostly her own age.  No place really for a 52 year-old.  But I do enjoy watching the budding of her career, like a spring flower opening up.

Fortunately, there was another motherly type on the FB page and we got to chatting.  She sent me the link to the Daily News’ story and we speculated on what it all meant, wondering whether she might benefit by taking the CLEP tests (saving time which the young lady admits herself she doesn’t have) and what it must be like for a young celebrity to enter a college environment like that.  The other lady was surprised at the behavior of the Brown U. students; I was not.  Someone broke in to tell us, essentially to mind our own business, but we figured the conversation was so far embedded into the FB we didn’t think anyone would notice, least of all Ms. Watson.

We were wrong.  The next thing we knew, there she was, not exactly scolding us, but declaring that these stories about Brown were all rumors (even the fact that her BF – never mind who – was not enrolled at BU, even though both her FB page and his listed BU as his school as well).

So I apologized to her, because it really wasn’t any of our business, we were just chatting.  But I also posted the links to the stories about the high school girls from Minnesota who, that very day, had joined in a suicide pact due to bullying, Tyler Clementi, and Phoebe Prince.  I said that bullying was a serious issue here in the states, and that even if she could handle it, what the Brown students did was wrong (assuming, for the sake of argument, that the stories were true.).

We are America; we’re not supposed to worship royalty.  And yet we do, every day, in the form of movie, TV, and sports stars.  Emma Watson had an expectation of being treated as a normal student.  She should have been.  But that comes with the celebrity package.  She just has to learn to deal with it.

The bigger problem was her classmates’ resentment of her outperforming them (assuming that, also, is true).  Underperformance isn’t a malady that afflicts only urban high schools or colleges and universities lower in the academic spectrum than Brown.  If this young, British woman was excelling, it doesn’t speak at all well for the intellectual capacity of even our best (or at least, wealthiest) students.

Did Watson run afoul of American adolescent culture, shaped by decades of socialist instruction that says no one must be better than anyone else?  That raising your hand and answering questions – correctly – in class is considered “showing off”?  Excuse me?

She told us that she expects to return to Brown, that she’s happy there, and all the rest are just rumors.  Really, I can’t imagine someone ambitious and daring enough to cut off all her hair, start a fashion design venture, and answer questions on her own Facebook page, would be daunted by envious classmates.  I think she was telling the truth all along – that she’s just too busy being successful to go to school right now.

When she does return, she’ll be returning a few more years older than her classmates.  The intellectual and maturity divide will be that much more drastic and pronounced.  But we expect great things from Ms. Watson.  Great things – and wonderful things.  Good luck to Ms. Watson!

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