Gag me with a tall Poppy.
Hadley Marie Nagel, you are disgustingly incredible. There is your photo on the Sunday New York Times Style section cover looking like a princess with your mom holding the train of your golden gown.
But you're not just the average, Upper East Side 19-year-old debutante/John Hopkins gal with rich parents. You are a necessary goalpost of our culture.
The story, equally lavish and gushing, says this about your "dizzying display" of talents: "published articles, a scholarly paper, nationally syndicated Op Ed pieces, awards, advocacy work for sustainable organic agriculture and social justice. An expert shooter in trap, skeet and clay, a blue-ribbon winner in small-bore rifle competition, National Scholar, founder of Model United Nations and history clubs and a travel web site for teenagers, the youngest registered lobbyist on Capitol Hill..." and a coloratura soprano with a CD out. You're also a very attractive "5-foot-7, leggy ... natural blonde."
Phew! That all seems pretty unnatural to me. At 19, I was a drop-out in bell bottoms selling Great Books of the Western World door-to-door to support a meager journalism career. You, on the other hand, make even the two high-end young women in the story below you on the page, who have a hugely successful and surging Washington PR firm, look like pikers and trailer park queens.
But I'm worried about you, Hadley. I hope you escape the "tall poppy syndrome," a custom dating back at least to the ancient Greeks and Romans, where, the historian Herodotus wrote, royalty whacked off taller plants as a sign to underlings that they should get rid of "eminent citizens". Too much special-ness out there creates disparity, which could lead to dystopia.
Floral arrangements and ancient political fratricide aside, uber high achievers like Ms. Nagel have something important to teach us beyond envy and feelings of inferiority. After reading Hadley Nagel's story, life suddenly made perfect sense.
Ms. Nagel is the yin to the trashy reality show yang. For every hyper-achieving Hadley Marie Nagel there's a hyper-grasping Kate Gosselin. We can watch "Celebrity Rehab" and not feel like we have to take a shower right away because we know, there on the other side of society, someone like Hadley is floating around so well-scrubbed and polished, championing James Madison monuments and meeting with geneticists at age 12. We just don't necessarily want to have that brilliance in our faces.
Unless they're one of those people who embody both qualities at once, like Eliot Spitzer and Tiger Woods. Or Gavin Newsom, who got Nagelized himself in the Sunday Chronicle's pretty glowing redemptive report card.
Or party-girl Serena Van der Woodsen, the "Gossip Girl" character that "many, many, many people" (according to - OMG - Hadley's own mother) think Hadley inspired. "Minus the [character's] promiscuity and drugs" of course, the Times story is quick to point out. Hadley is also distinguishing herself from fictional wrecks we love to watch, according to her mom, by "not blowing up, like a lot of kids in college, because of beer."
This isn't about good and evil, but it does allow us to set the outer perimeters of low and high achievement, and understand that most of us fall somewhere, reasonably, in between.
Lately, I've been spending a lot more time with whiz kid entrepreneurs and technology geniuses who talk very fast and always seem impatient (see "The Social Network" if you haven't). I developed the shorthand for them of SFS (So Frigging Smart) as a snickering cover for my own shortcomings.
Now I see that there's another SFS that keeps us all in harmony. (So Frigging Stupid).
Balance is a fabulous thing.
A bifurcated society is the danger our ancestors worried about with their symbolic poppy hacking. Just like all those worriers today afraid of a little pesky income disparity in the world.
The chopped poppy notion showed up in a famous Kurt Vonnegut sci-fi short story, "Harrison Bergeron," where unusually smart, athletic and attractive people were given handicaps to even out the population. Bergeron himself was all those things and had to wear hundreds of pounds of weights, eyeglasses designed to give him headaches, a rubber ball on his nose, black caps on his teeth and shaven eyebrows.
That sounds like the formula for a reality show right there.
Bergeron eventually breaks his egalitarian bonds, along with an equally talented woman. They rebel and both are shot dead by the U.S. Handicaper General. Much worse than a death panel.
But that was satire (although there could be a ball nose and bad eyeglasses waiting for the newly sanctified Gavin Newsom in Sacramento) and Hadley Nagel, far as I can tell, is real. So we have Snooki as equalizer.
Vanity Fair writer Vicki Ward says in Sunday's Times story, "When you read (Nagel's) resume, you just want to throw up in a bucket." Ward is just missing the cultural implications of near perfection, a rare lapse from the Vanity Fair crowd.
Hadley herself gets it, of course. To unwind, according to the story, "Miss Nagel says she watches 'crappy' reality shows." Now that's a virtuous societal circle.
So thank you, Ms. Nagel, for being a pillar of human richness so I can catch the next Tila Tequila that comes stumbling through the doorway.
Causes Phil Bronstein Supports
Good Ones; anything involving the possibility of redemption.