Richard Pratt and the Tall Poppy Syndrome

Just like Mme Defarge who knitted while heads were being chopped off during the French Revolution, we follow her example and chop the heads off tall poppies.

I’d love to say that this is an un-Australian custom, to kick a man when he’s down, but I can’t. Aussies seem to resent success in others. Rather than admire a person who has worked hard or who has a special talent, we can’t wait, apparently, for him to get his come-uppance. How dare he rise above his station? Who does he think he is? The media pounce on a fallen idol like vultures in the moral desert of journalism.

Richard Pratt made a serious mistake and he has to pay for it, which he will do. Steve Vizard also made a mistake and he will get away with it and even sell his book. Senator Richardson will also get away with it even though Rene Rivkin paid the ultimate price for his transgressions. I do have to ask how many of those ‘holier than thou’ critics would have resisted buying shares with insider knowledge? How many punters place a bet on advice from the horse’s mouth?

So why is it that we are so jealous and malicious that we can’t bear the happiness of others? And when they fall because they are flawed, we rub our hands with glee. Mind you, some of us crawled to be in the company of the idols before they fell. We praised them, we asked them for donations, we licked their boots and now we can’t wait to say “I told you so”.

I am not excusing any illegal behaviour of these fallen idols, but I wonder what depths we plumb when we reveal our schadenfreude side.

I can’t help but squirm when I hear another mention of Britney Spears’ torment. This is a young woman who has been in the public eye most of her life. Her family, her agent, her recording studio, the glamour magazines, have all made heaps of money out of her success and now that she’s in trouble, the media will not be satisfied until it causes her death. And then we will read articles such as “Why did Britney kill herself?” and the tall poppy syndrome will flourish once again.

So many stars and entrepreneurs have been sacrificed by the media, but if we weren’t interested in the demise of these folk then the media would not be able to sell their tarnished wares. It is our fault as horridly envious people that the media feels it can dance on the corpses of their victims.

I would like to think that I don’t belong to that group of vultures. I would like to ask the media and all those who want to prune tall poppies how they would feel if it happened to them. Their answer would no doubt be that it wouldn’t happen to them, but only because they have not risen to great heights.


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