Denial a popular pastime with benefits for us all

Beck Eleven
Beck Eleven

American writer Mark Twain is credited with the quote "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt".

Our Prime Minister John Key proved that to be true this week when he denied telling a group of Dunedin schoolchildren that celebrity sportsman David Beckham was "thick as batshit".

It's a shame. As far as international incidents go, I like mine to be interesting, maybe involving a little sex and an email. Ours just involves the viscosity of a bat's whoopsie.

In psychological terms, denial is a powerful defence mechanism in which emotional conflict and anxiety are avoided by refusal to acknowledge any thoughts, feelings, desires, impulses, or facts that are consciously intolerable. For example, I deny copying and pasting that definition from the internet.

But no matter what damage denial does to our precious emotional state, it works on a much higher and more important plain - the court of public opinion and popularity.

Yes, we have had plenty of fun at Key's expense this week but he is not the only leader to have said something idiotic and he is not the only one to try wriggling out of it.

I am sure David Beckham will understand. Remember that time there was "no truth to the rumours" he was having an affair with his assistant Rebecca Loos?

Politics may be the natural habitat of denial but politicians share it with many celebrities.

Scanning the pages of any gossip magazine you would think rock stars and A-listers were addicted to drugs or alcohol but you'd be wrong. According to their various spokespeople, they are simply suffering exhaustion or dehydration.

Bill Clinton did not have sexual relations with that woman. Richard Nixon said: "I am not a crook."

Lance Armstrong did not use any kind of performance enhancing drug. O J Simpson denied killing his wife.

Hitler, after annexing Austria and a large chunk of Czechoslovakia said: "I have no more territorial claims in Europe." A few days later he invaded Poland.

News of The World denied tapping phones.

In journalism school, we were taught never to use the word "denies" in a story because it carries more inference than the word "says".

In the real world, however, denial has become something of a Kiwi pastime. It's how Tui's "yeah, right" tagline became so popular.

Sir Edmund Hillary, on an expedition to set up supply depots across Antarctica for Sir Vivian Fuchs' attempt to be the first person to cross the continent, could not then resist the temptation to drive on and beat Fuchs. New Zealanders went crazy when their great hero beat the Pom.

Hillary, though, had to be tactful. It was not a race, he said.

Are you there Tui? Come in Tui?

Denial is not the sole territory of those who make headlines. The comb-over is the hairstyle of the man in denial. A woman in denial will wear tight clothing over the muffintop area.

And I leave you with one more quote about denial from a guy I deny ever having a teenage crush on. He's a man who I categorically did not have a fantasy about . . . where I was water skiing, fell off my skis and David Bowie passed by on his jet boat and pulled me to safety.

Anyway, David said: "I re- invented my image so many times that I'm in denial that I was originally an overweight Korean woman."

The Press