Hit & Run: Welcome to the dark side

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The Independent Online

There comes a point in every blonde's life when she suddenly becomes acutely aware of the easy, cheesy, compliant and bland signals her hair hue is transmitting. And Scarlett Johansson, it appears, just had that epiphany.

To the disappointment of men the world over, this week at the Hollywood premiere of He's Just Not That Into You the actress finally revealed her dark side. Styling-wise, it was a strangely flat, limp, Nineties throwback – the result of over-zealous use of straightening irons. But this is a mere teething problem. In terms of colour, she was spot on, suggesting a newly serious, challenging, intelligent and intriguing Scarlett.

Still, you might ask, what was wrong with the blonde? Didn't it suit her bombshell status? Perhaps – but it also spoke of pappy, candyfloss, cheesecake Americana; like Paris and Britney, she had reached the vanilla apogee of blondeness. So blonde was she that Dolce & Gabbana hired her to imitate Marilyn Monroe in one of their ad campaigns this spring.

But, like legions before her, on climbing to the top of the mountain marked "blonde and iconic" she found that there was absolutely nothing there.

The problem faced by cool young actresses such as Johansson is that, while being blonde has its benefits, a girl's never going to look remotely edgy or counter-culture if she's flaxen-haired, not unless she's a Gwen Stefani/Debbie Harry punky peroxide, or is ravaged and root-ridden like Courtney Love. And you're never going to look smart, however many Woody Allen films you star in.

In short, Scarlett's dalliance with the Nice '*Easy was a professional decision. It was the equivalent of choosing to work with an acclaimed indie director like Darren Aronofsky after years of starring in Jerry Bruckheimer blockbusters. And as Penelope Cruz and Angelina Jolie prove, being dark is no bar to sex appeal. Now Scarlett can have it both ways. I once met her, five years ago in New York at a Calvin Klein perfume launch, and I have to confirm that brunette is far more appropriate for her persona: she is ballsy, forthright and fearless. Far more sagacious, and sharp than your stereotypical bubbly blonde.

Independent she may be, but a starlet's hair colour is closely related to the kind of male audience she is seeking, and everyone from Cate Blanchett to Cameron Diaz has switched sides – either for particular roles or to reflect a stage in their careers. As a blonde you can expect support from the sports jocks, the white van men and great swathes of average Joes. Brunette stars such Rose McGowan and Dita Von Teese will hook a far more interesting and cerebral breed – geeky, punky, outsiders. It comes as no surprise that Johansson's husband, Ryan Reynolds, something of a free-spirited motorcycle freak, used to date the uncompromisingly unconventional (and naturally brown-haired) Alanis Morissette. I bet he prefers Scarlett dark.

Bethan Cole

Beware of soft furnishings

Valentino Rossi, the world's most successful motorcycle racer, worth £75m, came crashing down to earth this week. The Italian danger man fell victim not to a tyre wall or oily hairpin, but a pair of curtains. While drawing his drapes, he fell on to a glass table, and needed stitches. He can perhaps assuage his embarrassment by taking note of other bizarre sporting injuries. Hit&Run's award for daftest mishap ever goes to Britain's elite cyclist Mark Cavendish, who came a cropper while playing Shaun White Snowboarding on his Wii Fit Board. Totally gnarly!

Jamie Merrill

An etymology of Obama's screwup

When the US President this week publicly admitted, 'I screwed up', it was another episode in the storied history of a very handy piece of slang. The first use of 'screw up' as meaning 'to err' appeared in the December 1942 issue of 'Yank' magazine, but it really gained currency after the 1951 publication of 'Catcher in the Rye': "Boy, it really screws up my sex life something awful." Curiously, although the verb remains taboo, 'screwing up' is free of any vulgar or sexual connotation; so just so long as he doesn't forget the crucial particle 'up', Barack Obama can screw away...

Susie Rushton

Modern Druids: mystic and misunderstood

Druids usually only have one day in the sun each year, when they descend on Stonehenge for the summer solstice with their white robes, knobbly sticks and shaggy beards. But the recent dispute over a child's skeleton in Avebury, Wiltshire (Druids want the centuries-old remains reburied; archaeologists say they should stay in a museum) has thrown new light on the mysterious religion. Are they just "hairy hippies from Bristol," as one colleague describes them, or is there more to contemporary Druidry than meets the eye?

Emma Restall Orr (inset) does not have a beard or a knobbly stick and is rarely seen in robes. She is also one of Britain's leading Druids. "There are so many myths about the religion," she says from her Warwickshire home. "Most Druids have nothing to do with Stonehenge. It's not about medieval dressing up – sometimes we wear robes for ceremonies but many Druids don't even have them."

So if the Druids we see at the end of the news in June aren't the real thing, who is? "The average Druid is a teacher, a nurse or a midwife – people who live an ethical, sensitive way of life," says Orr, who is a member of the Druid Network and organiser of the annual Druid Camp, the religion's largest gathering. "Essentially, Druidry is about the relationship between people and the land. It's the sanctity of heritage. Deity is part of nature and our churches are woods, gardens or, sometimes, standing stones. In the poetry of Druidry we'd say we are honouring the spirit of place. But, ultimately, what we're saying is we just love nature."

Simon Usborne