"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: The Tall Poppy Syndrome

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Tall Poppy Syndrome

Why is it that the more successful you become, the better you get at doing what you do, the more people want to criticise you?

It's a bizarre phenomenon that seems to be far more prevalent in Australia than in the US. In fact, in Australia, we have a name for it. It's called the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

It assumes that if you achieve success - or even want to be noticed for something you're doing, then everyone else has a right to cut you down. 

To the extent that 'it's your own fault' for raising your head above the other flora. 

It doesn't matter how proud or good and right you are - the fact you have the audacity to stand tall must mean you deserve every bit of criticism you get!

I've noted that Americans love success - in whatever arena, artistically, creatively, even in business. Doesn't matter - success is the pinnacle of the American Way. 

Not so in Australia. Success is treated with suspicion, even fear by the locals who seem to regard talent and vision as some some kind of illness of which you need to be cured. If not, then beaten down like some leprous interloper and driven back into obscure, safe normality.

Success goes against the Australian Way - where the culture is allegedly based on equality and fraternity. A fair go, as it's called down here.

But to me, it's telling that anyone who's ever made it artistically in Australia ends up leaving these blessed sun-burnt shores. And, really, who can blame them?

They all have the same complaint. 

That not only are artists unappreciated in the land of Oz, they can't get anything done! The entire culture flattens initiative, stifles talent, squashing new projects so fast you can barely hear the wheeze of dying artists.

I used to think it was a generational thing.

I remember my mother - and many of her ilk who grew up in the 1940s and 50s. They encouraged their children 'not to get ahead of themselves', to accept a life of 'security' and quiet desperation. 

I'm sure that anyone who lived in the decades after the second world war would have felt that way. It was a tough time. It was hard to survive on a daily basis, let alone fight your way out of the gray mire to do something worthy.

But times have changed. That war is over.

I grew up in the 80s - a time when you were encouraged to express yourself - in almost ridiculous ways - but still there were those who said, take it easy, artistic success happens to others, not you. Go back to your day job - be realistic!

But now there's no excuse.

Okay, so there's yet another (seemingly ever present) recession - we're always being encouraged to tighten our belts. 

But this is an artist's age, surely. 

Apart from the banks, as ever, who's making all the money?

The media. 

Movies, TV, computer games, books, online information - that's where the new fortunes are being made. 

And that's where we as artists should be heading. To take part in the burgeoning entertainment and informational markets.

But watch out - that way lies the trap of fame!

It's unfashionable to say so but I think being famous is quite hard nowadays. 

Imagine it was you, standing there, paraded in front of the public week after week - and all you get is people taking potshots at you: questioning your motives, denigrating your talent, setting out to undermine your confidence on a systematic basis - when all you want to be is creative.

Can you imagine how that would make you feel?

To be like Kanye or Taylor Swift?

Putting out your products, your music, your books and stories, laying your soul and your unique vision bare to the world - only to be consistently attacked and put down by critics and those with smaller minds.

Why is that? Why?

Because still, in 2017, most ordinary people fear success - other people's that is.

Why do you think the media follows around movie and pop stars, intent on discovering their secrets and exposing their faults?

Obvious. Because it's easy. And to level them - to cut them down. 

To reassure the public that money and power bring you nothing - and least of all: respect.

It takes a special kind of person to handle fame and success nowadays - but maybe that's what those who would criticise you hate the most.

That you're special - and they are not.

Keep writing!

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