Alan Attwood, Ed#479, March 2016
Our Department of Forward Planning reminds me that work on this edition began as far back as last September. That’s when I got a message from my daughter, Lucy, with the subject heading ‘Hermione Kicks Butt’. She included a link to a much-publicised speech at United Nations HQ by Emma Watson, the British actor who played plucky Hermione Granger in all of the Harry Potter films. Lucy is a few years older than Watson (who was 11 when the first film was released and is soon to turn 25), but she grew up with Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley. She has been impressed, like many others, by the way Watson has managed to combine a high-profile acting career with tertiary education and, more recently, her role with the UN as an ambassador for women.
Watson’s achievements are even more admirable when you read what has happened to many other child stars. The late Gary Coleman, a teenager when he starred in Diff’rent Strokes on TV (1978–86), had health and financial problems. Lindsay Lohan, a child model then pre-teen film actor, now lives a life like a soap-opera script. David Cassidy, aged 20 when The Partridge Family premiered on TV in 1970, is probably too old to be deemed a former ‘child star’. But his fans, especially when he then became a pop idol, were teenagers or even younger. Since then, however, he’s had a slew of money problems and traffic convictions, and when his picture appears in papers these days it’s likely to be a police mugshot. It’s all rather sad, especially to those who recall the way he was. The multi-talented Neil Patrick Harris, meanwhile, has reinvented himself since he was a teenager starring in the TV series Doogie Howser, MD (1989–93). Now 41, an international audience recently saw him, briefly, wearing only a pair of dazzling white underpants while hosting the Academy Awards. Harris is travelling well, but his is essentially a showbiz persona.
The cover story is by staff writer Katherine Smyrk, who is almost the same age as Watson. I asked her for a personal perspective on the former Hermione, now one of the wealthiest women in Britain. Their respective wealth aside, Smyrk and Watson are both women in their twenties confronting questions about careers, expectations and sexism. One issue explored in the story is the place of the ‘f’ word – feminism. Some of their contemporaries, it seems, shun that term. But Watson is reappropriating it. Still, a degree from an American Ivy League college hasn’t stopped her from being grist for the gossip mill. The social-media world hyperventilated recently about rumours linking Watson with Britain’s Prince Harry; rumours she soon squelched with a series of tweets. First: “Remember that little talk we had about not believing everything written in the media?” And then: “Also…marrying a Prince not a prerequisite for being a Princess.” Classy.
While the web warmed up with Watson rumours, contributing writer Greg Foyster was completing an investigation into the impact of heatwaves. Another Australian summer has just drawn to a close, one that produced milder temperatures than last year in the southeast but also some scorchers in WA and northern Queensland. We’re all used to living in a sunburned country, but Foyster argues that the impact of heat, especially on vulnerable people, is often overlooked. Heatwaves, he writes, should be considered as another kind of natural disaster – they cause casualties that outstrip the victims of events like fires and floods. The capacity to cope with extreme heat gets back to resources. Some can shelter in shaded rooms with air-conditioning – an option that is often unavailable to the elderly, the disabled and the homeless. It’s a thought-provoking story, one that gives us reason to welcome the advent of autumn.
» Alan Attwood is Editor of The Big Issue.
This article appeared in Ed#479 of The Big Issue magazine.