Okay, so what do the following have in common: Santa Claus, The tooth fairy, CEO salaries, the tall poppy syndrome? Yup, that’s right, they’re all bullshit. Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘what about the kiddies? you can’t go around crushing the dreams of our young-uns; their heads full of delightful visions of growing up to be rich and or famous and acting like complete assholes with immunity’. So I’m sorry. Really, I am. But we just can’t keep pretending that myths like this are okay to keep propagating. It’s time we grow up as a nation and finally call ourselves out on our own bullshit.
The latest ‘victim’ of this fallacious fertiliser-driven myth is young Rebel Wilson, part of the ensemble cast of the world’s current favourite film: Generic Sports Movie, no wait, Pitch Perfect 2. But maybe I should have written that as the not so young Rebel Wilson? See the problem with young Rebel is that she has been lying to us, and herself(?), about her age. And perhaps the funniest thing about it is that old Rebel Wilson’s age really doesn’t matter, to anyone. But the thing that does matter, Rebel Melanie Elizabeth Wilson, is lying about your age, getting caught out, and then tweeting the equivalent of ‘hey, look, what’s that over there’. So not cool.
Two recent articles in the mainstream Australian press by Chloe Lal in Woman’s Day and Alex Greig in Mamamia prompted this twitter response from Wilson on Tuesday “OMG I’m actually a 100 year old mermaid formerly known as “CC Chalice” ….thanks shady Australian press for your tall poppy syndrome x.” Of course she doesn’t deny any of the age-defying accusations nor does she attempt to correct any misstatements she has made in the past. Instead we just get a lazy knee-jerk reaction and the old faithful it’s tall poppy syndrome counterpunch. But how is publicly correcting an obvious lie an example of cutting down someone of merit simply because they stand out? If your un-famous friend just one day decided to lop 7 years off their age methinks the reaction of most Australians would be a lot less considered than the approach taken in either article mentioned above. Greig’s article actually concluded with the line: “We’’ll be rooting for you, Rebel. No matter how old you.” Hardly a hatchet job.
And therein lies the problem with the tall poppy syndrome as a thing. Calling bullshit when someone famous does or says something stupid isn’t an attempt to lop off their prettier, vertically superior, poppy head. It’s just an egalitarian expectation that celebrities are held to the same standards of integrity as the rest of us. Australians aren’t unaccustomed to turning high achievers into gods. Look at the cult of Don Bradman for god’s sake. A tall poppy if ever there were one, and almost universally revered around the country.
Or if you prefer someone from this century then there’s Hugh Jackman. Universally adored Hugh Jackman. When John Oliver threatened to escalate Depp-dog-gate by having all of those tired Australian cliches deported from the US on his show on Sunday night, the only Australian icon he wanted to keep was Hugh Jackman. Why? Because if Jackman ever acts like a dick, he has the common sense to not tell us about it.
A popular example used by promoters of the poppy myth is Ian Thorpe. I am talking heyday Ian Thorpe here, when he was wearing full length black rubber and smashing world records as often as the rest of us were smashing bowls of ice-cream. The persistent innuendo about Thorpe’s sexuality was shameful (it really was none of our business), but of course simmered along regardless because Thorpe continued to lie about it. And we knew he was lying. When Thorpe finally came out in 2014 I am sure my initial reaction was shared by many around the country: you poor poor man; we really wouldn’t have loved you any less; but the thing is you really shouldn’t lie to us.
Other, admittedly random, tall poppy ‘victims’ Glen McGrath (posing next to elephant tusks), Iggy Azalea (I’ll be polite: extreme cultural insensitivity), Rupert Murdoch (uh, he’s Mr Burns, but let’s say phone-tapping), Shane Warne and Lleyton Hewitt (where would I even begin with those two), were rightly called out for particular acts that were deemed by most to be culturally unacceptable. Again, I argue that most of us would have reacted in much the same way if a friend had showed us pictures of them posing next to dead African animals, or if they completely and offensively misunderstood and misappropriated the history of an exploited people, or if they paid people to hack into the phone messages of victims of crime, or if they cheated on their wife, Liz Hurley, that white trash woman, that other white trash woman, and so on. The only difference being that in the case of a celebrity this all happens in a public forum.
So how about we all just agree that the tall poppy syndrome just isn’t a thing in 21st Century Australia? If high achievers do something worth celebrating let’s celebrate it. If they act like complete dicks let’s call them dicks. But let’s not give a free pass to those in our society who least need it to act like complete prats and then pretend that the criticism is borne purely out of jealousy. We’re better than that. I think.