Customs and Values
Odd facts of Australia
Shouts and rounds
The fear of inferiority
Important social rules
Black and taboo
The true meaning
Having a Punt
Lest we forget
Flogging the tall-poppy syndrome
declared, confidently, that an immense number of women were dying for his diminutive
highness, but became terribly angry, when an ugly, red-nosed publican with a hump-back,
pretended to recognize him as an organ grinder strolling about with a monkey." J.F Mortlock Experiences of a Convict-1865
The tall-poppy syndrome has meant different things to different Australians. To golfer Greg Norman, the tall-poppy syndrome meant a jealousy of success. Norman explained that if someone in America bought a sports car, then other Americans would say "nice car." However, if someone in Australia bought a sports car, other Australians would scratch it. To tennis player Lleyton Hewitt, the tall-poppy syndrome meant ignorance. After seeing his home crowd support a fellow youngster over him, Hewitt said it was the "stupidity" of the Australian public to knock the better players. To swimmer Ian Thorpe, the tall-poppy syndrome meant not conforming to traditional conceptions of Australian masculinity, which led to rumours of being gay. To scientists, the tall-poppy syndrome meant Australians were too focussed on sport, and not giving due recognition to intellectual achievement. For example, when receiving an Australian legend honour at the 2002 Australia Day Awards, a scientist named Donald Metcalf said,
"I could name 11 colleagues whose accomplishments would exceed those of our cricket 11. They haven't been entertaining people. They have been saving lives."
One way to think about the tall-poppy syndrome is that it reflects the diversity of values in a multicultural society. As long as a diversity of values exists, there will always be people criticizing those icons that are held up as the "model" that Australians should aspire to be like. The more diverse the society, and the less the sense of community, the more critical it will be to its "icons." Admitedly, America is also a diverse society yet celebrates its icons. The difference is that America has an over-riding ethic of patriotism that sees individual success as a positive reflection upon the nation.
A good example of cultural diversity leading to criticism can be seen in the 20 years of attacks upon Paul Hogan after he released his movie Crocodile Dundee. After being released in 1986, Crocodile Dundee went on to become the most successful Australian movie in history. Wildlife documentary makers such as Steve Irwin subsequently traded on the crocodile image to push into the American market, and tourists from all over the world travelled to Australia to experience the friendly culture and beautiful environment. Qantas alone had to increase their number of San Francisco to Sydney flights from 25 per week to 40 per week.
Although the appeal of Hogan's character was widespread, it was not universal and some concerned citizens voiced their dissent. For Geoffrey Barker of the Melbourne Herald, Hogan's character reinforced international perceptions that "Australians are gauche, provincial and philistine". Veronica Brady, an academic from the University of Western Australia, said the film was about "colonial servility, violence and a profound confusion of values".
Even though Crocodile Dundee benefited the Australian film and tourism industries, many writers and directors felt it was important to "correct" the inaccurate stereotypes. Consequently, in 1994, Stephan Elliot released Priscilla Queen of the Desert in order to denigrate Hogan's character, and the outback that Hogan had championed. As Paul Byrnes, a critic from the Sydney Morning Herald explained,
"The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert went further than any of these in attacking the Crocodile Dundee mythology of the essentially harmless heterosexual outback male. These same types of men, usually depicted in bars in Priscilla, can be suspicious, violent, vulgar and extremely intolerant, especially when confronted with alternative definitions of masculinity."
What if Einstein had been born in Australia?
There are individualistic methods for individuals to escape feelings of inferiority, and there are social methods. Some of the social methods were predicted by Albert Einstein when he said:
relativity is proved right the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss call me
a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity
is proved wrong the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German,
and the Germans will call me a Jew.'
Self-categorization Theory (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher & Wetherell, 1987) explained Einstein's predictions by saying individuals will make salient a social identity that allows them to be associated with success or distanced from failure. In this way, if the individual is short of esteem on an individual level, he or she can attain some esteem on a social level, which compensates for his or her individual failings. This begs the question, if Einstein had been born in Australia, would the words "Australian" and "New Zealander" have been substituted for German and French?
The answer is probably no. Social esteem is problematic for Australians because there are few strong social identities that individuals can acceptably associate themselves with. In fact, in the eyes of many Australians, simply adopting a social position is a sign of failure on an individual level. The reasoning goes that although you wave a pretty flag, you are still personally a loser or that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."
The wide-spread ridicule of a social position forces the individual Australian to use individualistic methods to deal with feelings of inferiority. Consequently, if Einstein had been born in Australia, perhaps some scientists would have worked hard to try to be smarter than him or to produce even better theories. Other scientists would have dismissed the value of physics and studied astronomy instead. Some scientists would have looked for flaws in Einstein as a person, and criticised those flaws in order to reduce any prestige associated with Einstein. Some scientists might have tried to keep him out of their universities by hiring scientists from “disadvantaged” backgrounds in the name of equity.
Overall, Einstein probably would have found himself in the same position that almost all of Australia’s great inventors and noble prize winning scientists have found themselves in. Specifically, he would have been publicly ignored.
1 (T.J Larkin "Employee
Behaviour" Chapter 5 Customer Service)
2 (T.J Larkin
"Employee Behaviour" Chapter 5 Customer Service)
From national socialism to liberalism
More than soccer
To be different or to be good?
Landscape and Identity
Creativity in the kitchen
Once were popular
Pushing the boundaries