New Zealand’s elite has invented and popularised the idea that the masses have a cultural trait that pulls down anyone who steps into the limelight.
They say a “tall poppy syndrome” exists where the general public try to undermine people who are successful, especially artistically, or have non-mainstream views.
This syndrome does not exist. It was created by the elite to “explain” to themselves why they are insufficiently loved by an ungrateful populace.
What the masses do have is an acutely tuned sense of when someone is getting uppity – when they are beginning to believe their own bullshit, and when this self-belief is undeserved.
The uppity poppy syndrome can be found in all cultures. It isn’t unique to NZ. Pomposity-pricking is a bulwark against the contorted logic and self-justification of those who decide they are cleverer and better than the rest of us, and that their way should be our way.
Eleanor Catton isn’t exactly a tall poppy. She wrote one impenetrable book which won one well known international award for impenetrable books. But she became an uppity poppy once she used that position to spout off about politics, and critique the rest of us as ungrateful, and unwarranted in appreciating or having claims on her literary insight.
There’s a terrible history of the elite, especially the literary elite, looking down on the masses (read John Carey’s book, the Intellectuals and the Masses). Catton is attempting to join this group. She made those comments to ingratiate herself to international literary snobs.
It’s ironic that those who criticised the rant from Sean Plunkett, would have nodded in agreement had he ranted about say, Bono – another uppity poppy. In Bono’s case it’s okay for the literary snobs to cut him down because he’s uncouth in his uppitiness. They think his working class origins and lack of intellectual chops does not give him rights to public political or ideological position.
The elite think it’s okay to criticise John Key because he’s not one of them – he made money through grubby means and he doesn’t have enlightened ideas. He speaks to the masses. John Key’s shrug of indifference when asked about the comments was the perfectly weighted response.
The weakness of the elite, which Eleanor is keen to join, is their sense of superiority. It’s a blind spot which is easily and ruthlessly exploited by the uppity poppy syndrome. When you take yourself so seriously, it’s infuriating to have people laugh at you. How dare they!