Image: (Flickr, Connor Tarter)
By Louis Goutos
It is official: the term “Australian icon” should always come with a warning.
This country’s media has an often irritating and potentially dangerous habit of using this term so loosely that any previous meaning is lost. Here is just one, very recent example of this habit.
On October 9, 2013, Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read died from liver cancer at age 58 and, according to the newspapers of the day, was buried at a small, family burial in Melbourne. As with any human death, people mourned and cried, remembering their own intimate moments with the deceased.
But what happens if this person’s life was lived in the public eye?
Chopper was a killer, a criminal and a psychopath. By the age of 43, “Chopper” had spent more of his life in jail than out. Andrew Rule’s expectedly thorough and informative article, appearing in the Herald Sun the day after Chopper’s death, gave an insight into a horrific character from someone that knew him well.
Full of typical criminal bravado with tales of being the most hated man in prison and the desire for infamy, the article reveals in actual fact, insecurity was the real force behind his violent unpredictability.
This may all be well and good, but it raises a more general question: How should you feel when a bad man dies?
Should you mourn because they were human like everyone else? Or should you cheer the fact that our society is better off?
Some of the language used by various media outlets reporting on Chopper’s death and legacy I find bizarre and frankly, offensive. The ABC’s coverage of the event quoted Rule and others, and chose to use phrases such as “wizard with words”, “bizarrely careless” and “victim of the system”. Although I understand the need to add colour to a story, such editorial decisions baffled me.
This man sliced his own ear off and held a judge hostage at gunpoint. Surely some journalistic common sense is needed here.
But somehow the fact that he was a loner, wrote several books, had a menagerie of animals at his Tasmania Estate and was portrayed inaccurately by actor, Eric Bana, seem just as relevant.
Chopper can now be added to the list of Australian criminals who we still see as “larrikins” or just “characters” in our history, joining the ranks with Carl Williams and Squizzy.
To end Chopper’s funeral, the Age reported the celebrant Nigel Davies said “For better or worse…he is an Australian icon”.
Not in my book.