Forgiving Winona Ryder


Today should be a day of reflection for all Americans. As we all know, March 12th marks the three month anniversary of Winona Ryder’s arrest in the Hollywood Saks Fifth Avenue department store. When one of the most beautiful and talented women in the world (in my humble opinion) can fall from grace so swiftly and publicly, we need to reflect on the nature of the beast we call “American Culture.” We’ve forgotten these past ninety days that our problems are not soley rooted in some diabolical Axis. Winning a war half a world away hasn’t solved the personal crisis of one troubled American.

For those of you who are not familiar with the situation, here is some brief background information: Ryder (not class of ’94) is 30 years old and has had a successful acting career stretching back to her early teens. Breaking from the traditional Hollywood mold, she has not used her breathtaking beauty to score the base roles that have made stars of Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock; Ryder’s thought-provoking work in Tim Burton’s surreal masterpieces Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands exemplifies her independent spirit. Also, her two Oscar nominations testify to the fact that her originality is only matched by her acting ability. In December, however, she was caught shoplifting almost $5,000 in merchandise from a Hollywood department store while in possession of anti-depressants without the appropriate prescription.

Public sentiment following the incident has been, quite frankly, disturbingly callous. All the newspaper and magazine articles I’ve read on the subject have adopted tones of condescension and disgust that someone who supposedly “has everything” would stoop to a seemingly purposeless crime. The Crimson didn’t even cover the story. I have yet to find one sensitive source that shares my opinion that Ryder deserves our sympathy.

Movie stars are the American answer to European royalty. They make disproportionately huge amounts of money for mildly entertaining us, and their personal lives provide us with vicarious escapes from reality. They hold their place in our culture because we, the non-movie stars, need that place held. The American public gives stars their larger-than-life status, and then claims ownership over them. It’s true that celebrities choose their lifestyles;however, that choice doesn’t make public scorn and ridicule acceptable (or mature) responses to their misfortunes. Ryder toppled from a mountain of fame built up by all of us, yet somehow we blame her for having such a long way to fall.

Was she wrong to steal? Yes; but, there may be reasons, if not excuses, for her actions. It’s obvious that Ryder is seriously depressed. She’s taking medication (albeit without a doctor’s orders), and her shoplifting episode was clearly intended as a public cry for help. Frankly, it frightens me that a nation obsessed with the mantra, “United we stand,” is so quick to isolate Ryder as a pariah. Perhaps we should demonstrate our self-proclaimed “unity” and give the woman the help she so obviously needs (and wants). Ms. Ryder, if it’s any consolation to you, here’s one person who hears your plea; unfortunately, the rest of America is too busy fighting invisible foreign demons to help you with yours.