Sitting in the Humanities faculty office on Friday lunchtime, a colleague announced that a Year 10 student had asked in his lesson if Mr Poulton was “the man who looked like Robert de Niro.” In the middle of a mouthful of cheese sandwich, I struggled not to choke. “I can see a resemblance,” another colleague commented.
Because of the way I walk, the only film star I have ever been compared with in the past was Donald Duck. To be compared with a major film actor had to be an improvement on looking like a cartoon bird. With bars from Bananarama’s pop song “Robert de Niro’s waiting” going through my mind, I Googled the Oscar-winning actor. Of course, the images that appeared were not those of the young, dark-haired star of “The Godfather” and “Raging Bull,” but were of a man of much more mature years. The Robert de Niro with whom a Year 10 student would be familiar is a man in his seventies, grey-haired and craggy-faced. Did I really look seventeen years older than I am?
It made me wonder if students often spend time looking at teachers and pondering whom they looked like. When I was at school, I don’t think there was anyone who was ever compared with anyone from the cinema or television screens, but perhaps that was because we lived in a less visual age. If someone said that a teacher looked like a particular actor, then we might have to try to remember what the actor looked like, and unless we had seen a particular film or programme, we might have no idea. We could not have conceived of the possibility that four decades later it would be possible to take a small electronic device from our pockets and make detailed comparisons between the person at the front of the classroom and the actor whose name had been suggested. Perhaps smartphones have made comparisons an everyday occurrence, and I’ll hear that I am thought to look like an altogether star, preferably not a cartoon character, though.
Of course, the comparison begs the question of why the student had been wondering whom I looked like rather than listening to what I was trying to teach them. Perhaps being told you look like someone is more indicative of a lesson having been boring than a reflection on any real physical resemblance. What is certain is that Robert de Niro is definitely not teaching.