In New Zealand we have, unlike some countries around the world, the right to free speech.
Only a few months ago, an horrific attack on the Paris offices of a magazine who published cartoons which some extremists found insulting left eleven people day and many others badly injured.
So it seems rather strange that when best-selling author Eleanor Catton complains about New Zealand’s ‘tall poppy syndrome’, presenters, journalists and even the Prime Minister are criticising her for sharing her opinion. They’re getting cross with her for speaking freely, for speaking her mind.
Kiwi author Eleanor Catton won the Booker Prize in 2013 for her second novel The Luminaries. It was the longest book to have ever won the prize, and Eleanor is the youngest author to have ever won. The Booker Prize has been awarded each year to the best new novel since 1969. It is one of the most prestigious prizes an author can receive.
But Eleanor was complaining that there isn’t enough support in New Zealand for writers and artists, and that those who do well – like her – overseas are often ignored. The Luminaries won the Booker Prize, but didn’t win the best book at the NZ Book Awards.
Some people think that her comments are a case of ‘sour grapes’ – that she’s moaning simply because she didn’t win a major prize in New Zealand.
But I don’t think that’s why she’s mentioned it…
There’s a sense in New Zealand that we like to be proud, but we don’t like it when people show off about how well they’ve done. Fair enough – no one likes a show-off. But, and here’s the important point, ‘tall poppy syndrome’ also means that we Kiwis don’t really like it when someone stands out – whether they show off or not – they chop them down.
It’s expected that if you achieve big things outside New Zealand – like the All Blacks, Sir Ed Hillary, Lorde, Neil Finn, Mahe Drysdale, the Silver Ferns and so on – you should almost be apologetic about it, shrug your shoulders and shuffle your feet. Say sorry.
I agree with Eleanor. We’re a small country and we’ve a lot that we have to be proud about. It’s time to stop the ‘tall poppy’ thing and get behind each New Zealander who makes her or his mark on the world – whether it’s locally, nationally or internationally.
And most of all, we should never deny or criticise anyone for exercising their right to free speech.
Article written by Ben Egerton
[colored_box color=”green”]This is an opinion-based article designed to provoke debate, discussion and further inquiry
amongst your students:[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”yellow”]Critical Thinking Challenges:
1. What do you understand about ‘tall poppy syndrome’? Do you think that it exists in New Zealand? Have you had any experience of it?
2. Should people have a right to free speech – a right to say absolutely anything they wish? What are the pros or cons of this? Are there any circumstances under which free speech should be limited?
3. “Governments have a duty to support writers, artists and musicians who earn money and recognition outside New Zealand.” Unpick and then discuss this statement.
[colored_box color=”green”]Practical Tasks:
1. Do you think the ways in which your school celebrates success are appropriate? What changes, if any, would you make?
2. Using the internet, investigate what different people have said about ‘tall poppy syndrome’. Find out how the phrase originated and what its original meaning might have been. See what other people have said about it – and decide if you agree with anyone else’s position on it.
3. Create a short profile and biography of Eleanor Catton – collect some other quotes and points of view from her. Can you find some other reasons why John Key would’ve been unhappy with her criticising him and his government?
[colored_box color=”red”]Have Your Say:
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