Brian Edwards Media

On the Pleasures and Perils of Celebrity – Reflections on the Martin Devlin Affair

   

radioawards.co.nz

On the whole being famous is pretty good. I was on-and-off famous in New Zealand from 1967 (Town & Around, Gallery) to 1999 (Edwards on Saturday,  Fair Go, Top of the Morning). Mostly it was nice. Being recognised in the street, having people stop and tell you how much they enjoy your programme, getting special service in restaurants and shops, having your photo in all the newspapers and magazines, exercising a degree of influence on your own behalf and on behalf of others, being paid megabu…  

Well no, the money wasn’t great. In 1969-70 when I was the most famous broadcaster in the country, I was earning $7,000 a year for appearing on Gallery and producing and hosting Checkpoint. Things improved marginally on Fair Go, but I probably wasn’t earning a great deal more than the average household income. The ‘star system’ still hadn’t been invented in New Zealand.  

I have no complaints. I wasn’t in it for the money. Like most people in the entertainment industry, I was in it for the applause that comes with fame and serves to bolster the fragile egos of the most confident looking people. Fame is itself fragile and transitory, but at the time it’s really, really nice. (Providing you can handle it of course. But that’s another story.)  

So the pleasures of being famous are considerable and real, and the financial rewards in 2011, even in a small country like New Zealand, substantial.  

Sounds like a pretty good gig.     

Well, you do lose your privacy, but since you wanted to be famous and to enjoy the benefits and privileges of celebrity, it seems to me that you really haven’t got any solid ground for complaint on that score.  

And of course, if you’re a naughty boy or girl and get into strife with the law, the very things you wanted before – having your name and picture in the papers and your face on the telly – are the very things you don’t want now.  

There is no doubt at all that the punishment for well-known people who fall foul of the law is greater than the punishment for the ordinary citizen who falls foul of the law. The penalty handed down by the judge may be the same but, other than in the case of particularly serious and therefore newsworthy crimes, the celebrity’s wrongdoing will receive much wider publicity. That in itself constitutes a harsher penalty than experienced by the average wrongdoer, whose name will mean nothing to most people  and who will not have to put up with the unwelcome attentions of the media and the general public when he or she ventures into the street. To put it simply, the odium is greater.  

This is the  argument used by famous people to justify the suppression or their names in criminal cases – that they (and their families) will suffer the additional penalty of public odium and contempt, and that this odium and contempt will damage their careers.  

The public is rightly unsympathetic to this argument. Having reaped the rewards of fame, the famous must also recognise and be prepared to accept the perils of fame. The privileges of celebrity can not extend to privilege before the law.  

This is not an entirely noble sentiment. There is nothing quite so satisfying to the hoi polloi as seeing their idols brought down. Schadenfreude goes hand in hand with envy, the combination expressed in such popular saws as: The bigger they come, the harder they fall; How are the mighty fallen (hurrah!); and the biblical standard – Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.  

Though the thinking may not be entirely high-minded, it is nonetheless correct. As one eminent law professor put it clearly on television last night: ‘They should have thought of the consequences before they committed the crime.’  

He’s right. But it’s also a counsel of perfection. Like the rest of us, famous people make mistakes. Perhaps more than anyone else, they should have thought of the consequences. But they didn’t. The question then arises: how do they mitigate the damage?  

Martin Devlin’s (or his lawyer’s) answer to the question was to seek name suppression, in order, he said, to protect his children. When the suppression order was lifted, he then chose to put out a media release, clarifying what had happened, lauding the police and criticising reports in the Herald and the Herald on Sunday.  

I could not describe myself as  one of Martin’s friends, but I know him reasonably well. I like him. I’m a fan. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of sport. I’ve told him that If I ever find myself in the Millionaire chair, I’ll want  him as my sporting ‘phone-a-friend’.  

But given the current media debate on celebrities getting name suppression, he would have been better not to have sought it at all, particularly  for something as minor as the episode that saw him in court. The public would have admired him for not trying to keep his identity secret. Now everyone knows his name anyway and the name of his children whom he sought to protect.  

As for his media release, the tone was OK, but it was too long and contained more personal information than was necessary; his comment about the police will be interpreted as self-serving; his denial that he is a ‘celebrity’ will be seen as false modesty; and there is very little to be gained by complaining about the Herald’s reporting when the general tenor of what the paper said was correct – this was a minor, completely non-violent domestic.  

The best line in Martin’s statement is: ‘I have no problem in admitting that I behaved like a right plum that morning on Quay Street.’ That’s a pretty good summation of the event and more or less where it could have been left.  

Trouble is, it’s come a bit late. I have very little doubt that most people, on learning that Martin – whose wife had driven off with his wallet and bag in the car-  had run after her, stood in front of the car and tried to stop her driving off again by plonking himself down on the bonnet, would have laughed and said, ‘Bloody idiot!’, a judgement which he himself accepts.  

That said, it’s easy to be wise, when you’re not the well-known person about to appear in court, about to have your bad behaviour exposed in the media. I’ve been there on more than one occasion myself and handled things extremely poorly . Thinking clearly doesn’t appear to be an option in these circumstances. In your imagination the consequences of what you have done and what may happen to you are considerably more dire than they will almost certainly turn out to be. Panic sets in and rational decision-making goes out the window. In that frame of mind, seeking name suppression must seem an attractive option both for yourself and for your family.  

Something similar may have happened to Martin. As a natural worrier and a sufferer from ‘free floating anxiety’, I therefore extend him my sympathy.  But as I’ve grown older I’ve tried to keep in mind Jesus’ words, ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ It’s a useful maxim for everybody, but most of all for geriatric atheists, pondering eternal damnation.  

As for Martin, he should now be allowed to get on with life and to go back to being the top-class broadcaster that he is.  After all, the Millionaire chair could beckon at any moment.

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19 Comments:

  1. my understanding was that the charges may well have been dropped. Had they been (it was a VERY minor charge – no damage to anything other than his own car) his name would have been in the media for no real reason. The officer who busted him was a traffic cop who probably had never attended a real domestic incident and might never have intervened in a similar situation with someone who wasn’t famous. I think it was right to be given name suppression on such a minor charge with the possibility of all charges being dropped. Had it been more serious I’d have a different opinion.

    BE: I think the point here is that Martin and/or his lawyer asked for name suppression. One can argue that the seeming triviality of the incident made such a request unnecessary. It must also be remembered that name suppression invites speculation on who the offender was and can lead to suspicion being cast on perfectly innocent people.

  2. Although justice and the law are not always favourite bed fellows I do consider that “justice is (or should be) meted out objectively, without fear or favour, regardless of identity, money, power, or weakness; blind justice and blind impartiality.”from wikipedia.

  3. “I’ve tried to keep in mind Jesus’ words, ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

    Can’t really see the relevance of this. More to the point would be the injunction to pluck out the mote in one’s own eye before extracting the mote from thine brother’s eye or there but for the grace of god go I. If we followed that advice we (hoi polloi) would not get so self righteous when a celebrity falls from grace.

    We all do damn silly things and it is very rare when something is reported that I do not think to myself that I could be in a similar position if things were different.

    As for Mr Devlin his actions barely raise the corner of an eyebrow. But as you say the punishment is greater for those with celebrity status, which rather contradicts the notion of equality under the law.

    Glad to see an avowed atheist taking some of Jesus’ message to heart.

    BE: The point which you can’t see is that anxiety and panic can lead to people over-reacting in ways that may well be against their own best interests.

    As to Jesus, I find most of what he had to say absolutely admirable, the very best kind of humanism.

  4. @ bigjed

    “a traffic cop” Eh? I may be wrong, but from what I can find, courtesy of Google, “traffic cops” were subsumed in 1992. Get over it, son. Most of the tickets written today are to people who weren’t even born when ticket writers wore black and white. Or is “traffic duty” different to “liquor duty” or “burglary duty” or … Perhaps it is. Whatever the case, I suspect that all cops are trained, these days, for all duty. I don’t think that trying to diminish what the cop did here is what the issue is about.

  5. yes he was on traffic duty. Yes he’s a cop like any other BUT there is an internal distinction. The point is another cop not on traffic duty may well have overlooked this or simply warned him. I’ve seen the damage to the car (a small dent) this didn’t warrant an arrest or charges. A warning would have sufficed.

  6. Although I am sympathetic with Martins plight its really up to the prosecuters and courts to decide if a case deserves to proceed.Violence against children and domestic violence always deserves further scrutiny.

  7. theysay all publicity is good publicity….in the cult of celebrity anyway.

  8. “Violence against children and domestic violence always deserves further scrutiny”
    PJR – Why bring this into it? There was absolutley no suggestion of this in any of the reports.

  9. If you need further evidence — that the public regard for our police is at an all-time low, then, you need to look no further than this case. How idiotic! A guy has a bit of a tame public “domestic”; and pouts, by sitting on the bonnet of his OWN friggin’ car. And gets arrested?! WTF is going on here? Sure, arrest him, if it had been another motorist’s car. But it wasn’t. Our intrepid Mr. Plod wanting a contrived respite from being decamped on the Waikato Expressway, hiding around blind corners on quiet open roads etc., nailing motorists who breach the speed limit by 5 kph? A nice little interlude to an otherwise boring day, perhaps?

    This cop should have warned Devlin to behave himself; not arrest him. Is there wonder, our courts are clogged, when you have equally wacko judges not tossing this out? (Or is there more to this than what’s been reported?).

    Devlin’s first mistake was to request name suppression; his second, was the self-
    castigation. Because it simply wasn’t warranted. He shoulda come out expressing his public outrage at the cop, who was galvanised into action — seemingly — more by enacting the Police manual’s hard-and-fast rules to the nth degree, rather than exercising a modicum of common sense.

    And the sooner, the public gets to see the back of that oaf Howard Broad, the better.

  10. Brian, I too would ask for supression for such a trivial charge if there was a chance that that charge might be dropped. That was the case – talking to Martin recently it sounded to me that the frustration with this whole thing was not knowing if the charge would proceed or not. When he showed me the dent on the car and recounted the story (obviously from his point of view) he felt hard done by and was still hoping the charges wouldn’t proceed. The Herald obviously thought he’d win permanent name suppression otherwise why pull out the “household name” description when even the Judge didn’t know who he was. They obviously were gilding that lilly over a very slow Christmas news season. I’ve seen (and heard) plenty of comments along the lines of “who’s Martin Devlin?” or “it was ONLY Martin Devlin?”…

    BE: Like you, I believe the charge should never have been laid.

  11. “I have very little doubt that most people, on learning that Martin – whose wife had driven off with his wallet and bag in the car- had run after her, stood in front of the car and tried to stop her driving off again by plonking himself down on the bonnet, would have laughed and said, ‘Bloody idiot!’, a judgement which he himself accepts.”

    I wouldnt.

    I think its a very strange thing to do, to run out in front of traffic to stand in front of his car and get on the bonnet so that his wife couldnt leave. Particularly when they were in the midst of a disagreement with each other. Its really quite an aggressive thing to do.

    BE: Hmmm… It seems to me that ‘when they were in the midst of a disagreement with one another’ might be precisely the sort of time when you might do something stupid like this. I don’t see it as necessarliy ‘aggressive’. Idiotic, histrionic, irresponsible, attention seeking, over the top – yes. But aggressive? I don’t think so. There is a funny, madcap side to this.

  12. I have to agree with Merv when he suggests the cop should have warned Devlin and that Martin Devlins misdemeanour was so minor, the actions of the cop bordered on some type of warped vengeance. In saying that, I’m sure Martin Devlin and his wife both learned a good lesson about self control in public in the future, given both of them have reasonably high media profiles.

  13. Marie: “I think its a very strange thing to do, to run out in front of traffic to stand in front of his car and get on the bonnet so that his wife couldnt leave. Particularly when they were in the midst of a disagreement with each other. Its really quite an aggressive thing to do.”

    No Marie, DESPERATE is the word, and that’s precisely when it happens (though usually not so publicly). I’ve done it myself, and I’ll bet many others have, if they’e willing to confess.
    —————

    Consider this exchange (paraphrased) from “Boys from the Blackstuff”:

    Social worker: “You wife claims you assaulted her”.
    Yosser (desperately trying to get access to his children): She assaulted me!”
    Social worker: “Physically?”
    Yosser: “Mental’s worse”

  14. On the more mundane level, nobody should have to give a damn (apart from those directly involved) that this happened to an-averagely-well-known person such as Devlin. It’s bog-standard domestic drama, gone tomorrow if there’s no downstream (and not, if there is, such as longer-standing angst in the equation), and to think that it’s even barely reportable, let alone suppressible, is risible. Everybody, get a grip.

  15. ….Martin Devlin has been revealed as the 46-year-old celebrity who jumped on a car in Auckland during the holiday period….Judge David Harvey lifted name suppression today in the Auckland District Court after a request from Devlins lawyer Jenni Smith….The sports talkback host and Dancing With the Stars contestant who faces a disorderly conduct charge has been remanded on bail until April 19 for diversion to be considered….A right plum..Today Mr Devlin who fronted TVNZs soccer World Cup coverage issued a statement saying he behaved like a right plum during the incident….Frosty atmosphere with wife Andi Brotherson..Mr Devlin claims he sat on the bonnet of his car for some inexplicable reason after his wife TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston a former OneNews reporter last seen defending Paul Henry drove away with his wallet and bag in the boot by accident….He said he had missed the Waiheke ferry on December 29 due to watching a soccer game….As a result the atmosphere was a little frosty between me and my wife….In the statement Mr Devlin said he had sought name suppression to protect his family and his career….Now that I can be named Im hopeful the newspapers will go away and find a much more worthy story for the front page….Many already knew – thanks to Twitter..The name suppression had been largely pointless. A justice system operates the most effectively in full sunlight and any sort of suggestion that people of influence … Because apparently being famous means that you can have name suppression….

  16. ….Martin Devlin has been revealed as the 46-year-old celebrity who jumped on a car in Auckland during the holiday period….Judge David Harvey lifted name suppression today in the Auckland District Court after a request from Devlins lawyer Jenni Smith….The sports talkback host and Dancing With the Stars contestant who faces a disorderly conduct charge has been remanded on bail until April 19 for diversion to be considered….A right plum..Today Mr Devlin who fronted TVNZs soccer World Cup coverage issued a statement saying he behaved like a right plum during the incident….Frosty atmosphere with wife Andi Brotherson..Mr Devlin claims he sat on the bonnet of his car for some inexplicable reason after his wife TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston a former OneNews reporter last seen defending Paul Henry drove away with his wallet and bag in the boot by accident….He said he had missed the Waiheke ferry on December 29 due to watching a soccer game….As a result the atmosphere was a little frosty between me and my wife….In the statement Mr Devlin said he had sought name suppression to protect his family and his career….Now that I can be named Im hopeful the newspapers will go away and find a much more worthy story for the front page….Many already knew – thanks to Twitter..The name suppression had been largely pointless. A justice system operates the most effectively in full sunlight and any sort of suggestion that people of influence … Because apparently being famous means that you can have name suppression….

  17. I understand that the legislation applies automatic name suppression to alleged sexual offenders in cases where a minor is involved or where the relationship with the accused means that the victim can be identified or when you are really really famous . Why?Why does being the victim of a sexual attack mean that an individual shouldn t be identified? If the attack had been of a physical nature would name suppression be put in place? And just to exaggerate the point further is the honour killing of rape victims by relatives in some countries to cover up the attack and the way it tarnishes the family just a more brutal version of a similar moral instrument in our society.And no Im not suggesting that we specifically name victims just that using possible victim identification as the reason for perpetrator name suppression is well trite.It seems that we as a society and through our legislation have applied a moral code. We have decided that to be sexually abused or attacked means to be broken in a way that is unsuitable for others to have knowledge of. As a society we have decided that people who are sexually abused might have their reputations besmirched by being a victim of such an attack. Of course to move away from that would mean allowing victims or an adult in their place to have more say as to whether perpetrators and potentially they as victims are named.Again I ask you if it would be different if a well-known man had allegedly physically beaten his step-daughter? Would he require the same sort of name suppression?Name suppression of the alleged or convicted perpetrator has the possibility of actually putting sexual abuse victims in more of a box to isolate them further and to effectively make it clear that we as a society don t want to talk about that sort of thing.I m not saying there isn t a place for name suppression more challenging the reasons behind it being a necessary or automatic measure in some cases.I d also like to place some faith in the justice system so do think it is important that a person has the potential for a level playing field before they go through trial to be found guilty or otherwise.