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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

tall poppies « Previous | |Next »
December 19, 2007

Kevin won the election and Natalie won Idol, settling two of our most pressing questions. We'll follow their careers for a while, but sooner or later we'll get bored and start looking around for the next nobody we can elevate to celebrity. If they stay nice and ordinary they'll be allowed to fade into a dignified obscurity, and we'll be pleased and curious when they turn up on one of those Whatever Happened To? shows. But if they start getting arrogant, a bit full of themselves, or taking things for granted, they'll get the ritual public slaying we reserve for those we deem up themselves. We'll crucify them and sneer at their pathetic comeback attempts.

It's all just part of the contemporary fusion, or confusion, between celebrity and democracy. Graeme Turner from UQ calls it the 'demotic turn', pointing out there's nothing truly democratic about the way seemingly ordinary people seem to achieve celebrity via what seems to be popular recognition of merit. Building them up is the entertainment industry's business, but cutting them down is the business of respectable, baseball bat-wielding, egalitarian Aussies doing what comes naturally.

For good or ill, tall poppy syndrome is an Australian tradition. It's a social mechanism we use to preserve the ordinary, egalitarian, mainstream, middle class battler and other words conservative opinion columnists are so fond of. It was central to the successful conduct of the culture wars, where the conservatives accused everyone from truly elitist snobs to baffled Arts undergraduates of arrogance. The entire Left was painted as so far up itself it couldn't see daylight, let alone share the concerns of ordinary people.

The possibility that their own pedestals might come under scrutiny, that their own attitudes might come up for consideration, seems not to have occurred to them. Despite their apparent reverence for the Aussie way of life, the worst of them have made arrogance a personal trademark. Christopher Pearson, Janet Albrechtson and David Flint are stand outs for their sense of entitlement. Their attempts to justify their continued tenure on the grounds that democracy needs dissenting voices miss the point. The presumption that they represent anything other than their own privilege is almost offensive.

Their political and social conservatism is not the problem - it's their clear violation of egalitarian civility codes. As the guardians of tradition and professional spotters of the unAustralian you'd think they'd recognise that, but like many a celebrity before them and many an innocent bystander they've demonised into submission, they seem unable to comprehend their own loss of fabulousness.

It's got nothing to do with a triumph of the Left or silencing dissent or threatening our way of life. On the contrary, calls for them to bugger off or suffer public contempt are upholding a cultural tradition we've successfully incorporated into our new demotic turn. It's a natural consequence of our celebration of the ordinary that can, and often does, happen to the best of us.

They were incredibly good at what they did. Trouble is, they knew it.

| Posted by Lyn at 01:22 PM | | Comments (0)
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