I’m a fan. Like most fans, my admiration for you isn’t entirely rational. I don’t actually know whether you’re guilty of the Internet crimes the American Government accuses you of. You could be as guilty as sin for all I know. And your slate isn’t entirely clean. You’ve been convicted of computer fraud and embezzlement. But you’ve paid the price for those crimes and you’ve started a new life here in New Zealand. When people ask me about the qualities that make up the average Kiwi, I tend to put ‘fair-minded’ at the top of the list. We abhor injustice. So we didn’t like it when, having filed indictments against you and six others on criminal copyright infringement charges, the FBI started pushing us around and demanding your extradition to the States to face the (pirated?) music. As a small nation, we’re particularly sensitive to bullying. And we liked it even less when our very own Keystone Cops, energised by the successful outcome of their.
Rambo exercises in the Ureweras, decided on an armed-to-the-teeth assault on you and your family’s home in Coatsville. We weren’t too impressed either by your arrest, denial of bail, imprisonment for a month or the seizure by the Crown of almost everything you own. We’re addicted to that pesky legal principle that people are innocent till proven guilty. We hadn’t seen any real evidence of your guilt or indeed been acquainted with the specifics of the charges against you. And we still haven’t. So I’m making an educated guess that last week’s finding by Justice Helen Winkelmann (Bless her little cotton socks!) in the High Court that the raid on your mansion was illegal, the removal of cloned copies of your hard drives unlawful, and the warrants for the seizure of most of your possessions invalid, was greeted with joy unconfined across the nation.
And what really impressed me was that you didn’t crow about your victory. There’s no-one we admire more in Godzone than a self-effacing and modest winner. But, oh dear, you didn’t keep it up. I can’t open a newspaper, turn on my TV or browse the Internet now without seeing you hamming it up with friends in the pool, fronting protest marches, hanging out with Flight of the Conchords, being interviewed by John Campbell or tweeting to your 46,607 followers (as of this morning and including me). You’ve joined the celebrity circuit. I see you described in this morning’s Herald as the ‘hero du jour’. The phrase means ‘today’s hero’, in much the same way that ‘flavour du jour’ means ‘today’s flavour’. There’s a warning there for someone said to be ‘a master of PR’. See, you had a couple of things really going for you – you’d been shamefully treated by the Americans and then by us, and you seemed to be a nice, funny guy.
But your currency – the eccentricity, the stick-it-to-them attitude, the defiance of convention, the madcap behaviour – is in danger of being debased by over-use. A good rule in public relations is that less is generally more. It must feel nice picking up 46,607 – probably more since I started writing – followers on Twitter in just over a week, when it’s taken the Prime Minister years to get only five thousand more than that. But I doubt that it had any effect on Justice Winkelmann’s decision or will have any effect on future court decisions either here or in the States. It’s a distraction, and not necessarily a helpful distraction in the long run. I’m a fan. If you’re innocent of the charges made against you, nothing would please me more than to see you stick it to the bastards. It’s in that spirit and as someone who knows a little about our national psyche, that I suggest you cool it just a bit till all the verdicts are in.