The Politics of Envy – Dissecting the Tall Poppy Syndrome.


A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet Ruby Rose because we were both working with a make up brand. Now there is a sentence I never thought I would write. Frumpy mummy blogger and a gorgeous model/slashie/DJ/actor. Made total sense at the time. Anyway, I have watched with interest how her career has been going from strength to strength in the States.

On the weekend, I read an interview about her. In it she talks about Tall Poppy Syndrome.

“I definitely believe in tall-poppy syndrome and I think we don’t support our own as much as we should,” she continues. “There’s a strange way Australians react to success. Not just the media, but people, too. The media might write a really nice story, but the comments are going to be filled with people trying to take them down. What I like about America is that they don’t build you up to tear you down. They just build you up. People want you to succeed. They want you to do well, and when Australia finally sees it, they seem to follow suit a little bit.”

Ok, so let us just back up a bit.

Years ago I was in New York, having been sent by the same company to attend BlogHer, the worlds largest conference for women working in Social Media. It was totally overwhelming and I felt like the smallest speck of an ameba drifting around in the Atlantic ocean. But the thing about American Bloggers is that they are super friendly Y’all! So I met a few new mates, because apparently I had “The cutest accent ever…. GET OUT!”

So this particular group of bloggers started talking about their blogs, and they spoke with such confidence, outlining all the things that they had achieved and cool work that they were doing, that I understood that I was in the presence of greatness! I took all of their business cards and later looked them up online, only to find that they were all fairly small fry in the American scene. (Which is HUGE might I add.) And you want to know something?

I just fucking loved that. I loved that they spoke with authority and with passion. Like Ruby said, Americans love to succeed and self promote, to build themselves up with no apologies. Sure, there can be a touch of arrogance that can flare from time to time, but there is something very unique about a culture that cheers others on.

Maybe it is just unique to me, because I am an Australian.

We are tough on each other. I had a chat about it with a very wise friend who basically told me that there is such an awareness of wanting the battler to overcome their struggles and diversity to get to a certain level of accomplishment but there is an inmate sense of “Don’t get up yourself…” She also talked about the fact that there is a strange sense of insecurity, that if someone else “makes it” it makes you look lesser.

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The notion of the  Tall Poppy Culture is very ingrained into our culture and was first mentioned in 1864 following a bitch fit thrown about a knighthood that should not have been.

“It is more difficult to find a similar recommendation for such a dignity as the Order of the Garter. But then it derives a collateral value from the fact that it is always given either to people of singular distinction, or else to men whose social position is sufficient to make them formidable to the Minister of the day. It is a kind of public proclamation that you are a tall poppy and that, as in these days your head cannot be struck off, it is worth while to buy you.”

I think TPS plays a key roll in the revolving doors of home-grown celebrities. One minute you are hot, the next you are not, which is why many of them do their stint on Home and Away before ending up sleeping on someone’s couch in Hollywood, much like Ruby Rose had to do. The media can mould and shape a persona, and write glowing reports of how “AH-MAZING” they are, then questions their success, whether it be earned by hard work or accidentally, before kicking the boot in.

In my field of work, which is writing on the inter webs, sometimes an opportunity will present itself that is a little, or a lot, out of my comfort zone. On the rare occasion that I am feeling brave, I think to myself “What does this button do?” so I press it and PRESTO! Magic happens. Got to catch me on the right day though. I need more of those days.

When my first book came out earlier in the year, I had to deal with people telling me that I didn’t deserve a book deal. Just who the hell did I think I was? So I faltered and crumpled. I doubted myself so much that I refused to promote it, because in my head, I was an imposter. Madness, isn’t it? So I stayed inside my safe little bubble, where nobody could get to me. And it is something, looking back on, that I really regret. I should have been so proud of myself but instead, I cowered, frightened of what people may think of my writing.

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Em Rusciano is one of the hardest working women in the media and has picked herself up, and dusted herself off a couple of times. She tours the country with her stand up shows, writes opinions pieces, has a radio show, a successful podcast and a new book about to be published. So essentially, the perfect recipe for Tall Poppy Syndrome. But she doesn’t just step outside her comfort zone. She smashes through it with glitter bombs and bugger those who dare question her. She slays nay-sayers and is true to her talent. Massive kudos! I think we can all learn something from her. I know I need to take a leaf out of her manual.

So be good. But no better than anyone else. Sing amazingly, but keep it in check. Dare to dream, but be realistic. Have a fabulous idea, but keep it to yourself because others might think you are stupid. Step back into line. Pipe down. Who do you think you are? 

Negative self talk. I am just about to let this bullshit go. Join me?

Why are we programmed this way, and how can we change it?