When I went from year 10 to year 11 at high school, I also moved cities and schools. I moved from a private boys school – Haileybury College in Keysborough (Vic) – to a co-ed High School in Canberra – Campbell High. I remember arriving at Campbell and spending lunchtime during the first three weeks across the road at the War Memorial so fearful was I of this peer group I had yet to crack. I was asked what music I liked so I said ‘Deep Purple’ and ‘Led-Zeppelin’. Naturally. I didn’t want them thinking I was a poof. I believed that I liked those bands, but I was also telling one of those lies you convince yourself of when you’re an adolescent. The Campbell kids said they liked Elton John. So much for that. I learned to admit that I liked Elton John more than Deep Purple.
In the first week of my second year a fight broke out between two kids. Their friends immediately pulled them apart and that was that. I had a strange sense that day. A sense for which there could be a telling word or expression in some other language. A word like schadenfreude in German or an expression like deja vu in French. Actually the concept is a kind of obverse of deja vu – the feeling that something new has turned up that you’re yet to put your finger on.
Then I realised that at Haileybury there was a fight about once a week and when one broke out all the boys got in a circle, screamed ‘fight, fight, fight’ and booed if and when a teacher or prefect came and broke it up. There were epic struggles running most of recess and then on and off through lunch. I remember one between two friends of mine – and friends of each other (Hi Michael Dow and Neil Ward in the highly unlikely event that you ever run across this.)
It was then that I realised what a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. You know when something makes you realise how unhappy you were – because you no longer are? Well that’s how I felt. I think the air of violence was an important part of how unhappy we all were (this was confirmed in a reunion a few years back which turned – most unexpectedly – into a kind of encounter session in which we all confessed what a horrible time we’d had. (Capped off by someone who said the school had wrecked him saying that he was sending his own son there – there’s no accounting for tastes. But I digress). Who knows what was responsible for the difference in atmosphere in the two schools. The difference between the cities, between a bit of oestrogen being allowed to circulate with the testosterone, between the middle years of high school and the business end. Perhaps a bit of all of those things made the difference.
I thought of all this when I read Tim Blair on the fracas that Glenn Milne created by trying to pick a physical fight with Stephen Mayne. Here was an act of physical violence and, Blair thought it was funny that Mayne would jump off the stage. He was running away from a (physical) fight. Well who knows if this was physical cowardice. It was certainly socially appropriate to go to some lengths to avoid a physical fight. I don’t think that’s what the audience had come for.
For what it’s worth I think that Mayne handled himself well, and showed that he was not to be cowed. He asserted the power of words over acts of (petty) physical aggression as he returned to the lectern, even if he didn’t rise to the heights of Gore Vidal when physically assaulted by Norman Mailer. Instead of putting up his dukes in response to a physical assault from Mailer he famously had the last word “Once again, words failed him”.
In any event, I find it hard to express how poorly I think of the adolescent smirking going on about what is supposed to be Stephen Mayne’s physical cowardice. I mean just for a start how stupid is this? Mayne might be stronger or weaker in a fight than Milne. He’s taller and younger but he’s skinnier. Who knows? So what is the fist fight supposed to prove? If Milne had pushed a cripple out of his wheelchair should the cripple hightail it out of there or put up his dukes. If Milne had pushed some Olympian weightlifter to the floor, what would it demonstrate for him to flatten Milne?
Under the heading “Award for best TV biff”, Sydney Confidential in The Daily Telegraph said, after reporting the event and Glenn Milne’s saying that “there was no excuse for my behaviour”
Mayne accepted the apology but yesterday whinged about a sore ankle, sustained when he ran from the much smaller and intoxicated Milne, jumping off the stage as the Canberra press veteran was escorted from the venue. “It is quite outrageous that I was attacked on national television,” he said.
“He (Milne) wanted to flatten me.”
Don’t expect stringbean Stephen to launch his boxing career anytime soon.
Tim Blair’s coverage was the first I saw. “That leap of fright was priceless.” (And going back to it to get the link, I realise I’d forgotten or never really noticed the headline Blair put on it. “Fight, Fight, Fight”. It really takes me back. What a funny fellow.)
And now, courtesy of Crikey we see Jack Marx chiming in.
The most memorable moment of the second was the sight of Mayne scampering from the ring like a rabbit pursued by a hound, leaping from the stage when it looked like Milne was coming back from his corner, only emerging to claim ‘victory’ once he’d allowed a stagehand to do his fighting for him. Unless this was some kind of advanced “rope-a-dope” strategy, I think it’s fair to say that Stephen Mayne turned up to a fight and broke the record for sprinting.
The aftermath has seen a humble and embarrassed Milne pursued (finally) by a smug, war-crying Mayne. What the f**k? Where I come from (and that’s here), the day you bolt like a ninny from a public fight is the beginning of a prolonged period where you best zip it and keep out of sight. Frankly, I’m surprised Mayne hasn’t shot himself from shame (anyone considering suicide should call Lifeline on 13 11 14) and, if I were him, I’d be spending less time making high-horsed demands for apology and more time down at the gym.
Well, at least I admired the writing in Marx’s story of the moral confusion of his sick relationship with Russell Crowe (which won him a well deserved Walkley) but now we know where the moral confusion comes from.
Both Blair’s and Marx’s comments are supposed to be humorous – which makes them a slippery target. Perhaps I’m being humourless. Certainly I don’t expect everyone to immediately jump up and say politically correct things like ‘violence is unacceptable’ – though it is and there’s no harm in some people saying that. (Our friend Whyisitso did make things fairly simple when he asked on Blair’s blog “Milne should have been charged with assault. What’s happening to law enforcement in Victoria?”
But I really am quite upset that it is so mainstream to laugh at a man who walks away from violence – extra-ordinarily socially inappropriate violence at that.
I could go on. The way in which Milne accused Mayne of getting his facts wrong (getting his own facts wrong in the process). The way in which, when challenged on the subject, Milne pressed on with his allegation that Mayne was responsible for a link on Crikey to a defamatory website when the same website had been viciously defaming Mayne.
Milne: “About two months ago he put up a link to a blog site which suggested that I was a sexual predator.”
Cassidy: “Now I don’t think he did, I think you’re confusing that. Crikey, the website, may have done that, but not Stephen Mayne. And in fact Stephen Mayne hasn’t been a part of Crikey, other than as a contributor, for 18 months.”
Milne: “Well, what I’d say to you is that Stephen Mayne founded Crikey, Stephen Mayne writes for Crikey, Stephen Mayne is the public face of Crikey, and I think we all around here know how he deals with the truth.
Talk about a hide! It all reminds me of the totalitarianism of adolescence too. Of the way in which the ‘in’ peer group gets to define social reality, however untruthful, however perverse.
And I recall a particularly chilling chapter in a book by Sebastian Haffner called Defying Hitler a contemporaneous account of life for a decent non-Jewish German in Germany in the late 1930s where the psychopathology of what was going on was laid bare in the stories it told. One story was about a murderous Brownshirt assault on the house of a Jewish person of some standing in the community. The Brownshirts turned up at the house and grab its Jewish inhabitants. The victims offer no resistance against overwhelming odds – (From memory the brownshirts were armed with pistols). Whereupon the talk in the office that day was on how the story illustrated how cowardly Jews were.
Of course had they offered resistance it would have been about how funny it was that they were fighting against guns with sticks, and how it showed that they were enemies of Germany as they’d been accused of all along. You’re either in or out in that world, and it’s got nothing to do with what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s true and what’s false. It is all made up as you go along by the people whose violence rules. And fear festers.
Good on you Stephen Mayne. You’ve shown us plenty of courage so far in your life – though not, fortunately with your fists. In this case you showed us presence of mind in a difficult situation. So we can be grateful for whatever complex mix of emotions that led to your choice not to escalate an outrageous physical attack on you.