Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Case for a Definition or Two

I find the dismissing criticism of people who have achieved as “Tall Poppy Syndrome” a very intriguing phenomenon. The call doesn’t seek to justify or excuse actions, merely dismiss the allegations as unworthy of response as those of the perpetually disgruntled. Much like those who blame terrorist acts on Western states on those envious of the Western way of life, it seems a lazy shorthand, providing an easily-grasped explanation as to why people say or do something when in fact it doesn’t really address or explain anything at all.

What got me thinking along these lines was an article in the Herald about Mike Hosking , rallying to the defence of a founder of a now failed Investment company. I have no idea of the relationship of Hosking to Hotchin, but the call that Hotchin was being “unfairly hounded by media” from a media personality smacks of hypocrisy. If Fair Go were to hound a builder who had bought a car on unfinished work, would this be considered “fair”, and any pestering by a TVNZ camera crew justified?

At any rate, I decided to go to the font of knowledge and check out the definition of the aforementioned term on Wikipedia. Their definition is the following:

Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is a pejorative term used in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada to describe a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.

While I like the general thrust of this definition, I see it as flawed in several respects: it has the cringe-worthy phrase “genuine merit”, which to me is a wholly subjective term that I think is more appropriately considered as “socially recognised achievement”; and it fails to incorporation the notion that such criticism is “unfair”, as otherwise the definition appears to give a blanket pass for anyone who has achieved to never be criticised - which, if Hosking uses this definition to defend his position, makes his position completely understandable.

I suppose the opposite of TPS would be “Beneficiary Bashing” (which does not have an entry in Wikipedia – as I write this – though I have now decided I can refer to it as BB), though that does have the major benefit (from the critics point of view) of generalising a great many people than picking on the flaws (or lifestyle) of particular individuals. While the USA is praised in Wikipedia for its relative TPS-free culture, I view the recent Healthcare debates as a sign that BB is fairly common.

Perhaps I should write to Wikipedia to try and get them to change that definition. Perhaps I should write to Hosking and ask him to define what “fair media hounding” would be, and perhaps also to which people in society this definition would apply and if it applies to everyone.

Both Tall Poppy Syndrome and Beneficiary Bashing are useful catch cries that stifle real debate and exploration of issues. True, as these tend to be attributed to individuals, it can be a useful shield in deflecting attention from the individual back so that we end up questioning the motives of the accusers. But both the accused and the accusers should be given the chance – and be expected - to justify themselves and their positions should there be a genuine grievance. Of course, we don’t always live in that kind of society.

Verdict: Nice to know “Tall Poppy Syndrome” has an acronym, and that “Beneficiary Bashing” is not considered important enough to have its own entry. I think this difference tells its own story, really. But if anyone thinks I should go to Wikipedia with my comments about their TPS definition, let me know. 3 tikis for wiki out of 5.

1 comment:

Off-Black said...

I think what is badly needed is a local variation of Godwin's Law ('s_law )to invoke anytime 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' comes up in online discussion. It tends to be a very lazy and easily refutable throwaway argument in general use.

AS an aside, TPS also stands for 'Tactical Paint Scheme', which is a low visibility camouflage the US navy introduced for its aircraft back in the 80's. It was effective, but also prone to weathering heavily, and combined with the practice of only repainting the bits that needed it, usually wound up with a very blotchy and irregularly shaded finish, which looks cool, but is a complete pain to reproduce on a model. The Tomcats in 'Top Gun' are all in TPS for reference, some very weathered.