Perhaps it was simply a terrible case of poor timing. But it's hard to ignore the awkward, tasteless juxtaposition of a bizarre video featuring Geelong's flamboyant mayor, Darryn Lyons, with the latest sombre announcement of hundreds of job losses in the heart of his constituency this week.
The sight of a city mayor leaping about shirtless in a pool shouting to “hash tag” everything from Geelong to his own “abs” in a bid to win a conference for the region, lacks dignity and leaves Lyons open to be labelled a buffoon.
These are not the tags that Geelong ratepayers – of which I am one – want their mayor labelled with as he leads the town through the largest body blow it has received since the collapse of the Pyramid Building Society in the 1990s. With thousands of jobs expected to go from Ford, Alcoa, Qantas’s Avalon operation and possibly Shell, plus a resulting shockwave throughout the community that supplies these industries, it’s possibly Geelong’s darkest ever day.
Lyons has always been by his own admission “a bit different”, which is perhaps understating the disposition of a man who favours pink or bleach-blond hair shaped into a mohawk, flashy clothes and mirrored sunglasses, and formerly ran one of the world's top paparazzi agencies in London.
Popularly elected to the Geelong mayoralty late last year, he polarises opinion in his home town like little else. And the video, which hit the internet in a clear attempt to spur a viral tourism campaign, will only deepen that schism.
In an interview with Channel Seven's Sunrise program earlier this week he says he will “do anything as long as it's all about Geelong” and espouses the tourism value of drawing a major conference on social media to the town.
In media interviews recorded since Alcoa confirmed its long-expected withdrawal of the region and axing of 800 jobs, Lyons plays a straighter bat, assuring Nine's The Today Show that “this mayor hasn't had much sleep, without question”.
He speaks of urgent meetings with the Prime Minster and the Federal Industry Minister, a “rocky” 18 months ahead, and of his confidence that a new wave of technology-driven growth will guide the region to a new prosperity.
“It's not about getting your picture in the paper, it's about making decisions, and the right decisions are absolutely crucial for the entire Australian economy going forward,” he told Today.
I couldn't agree more with you, Mayor Lyons. And personally, I really don't care what colour your hair is if you get results. In times of crisis a community looks to its leaders for action and inspiration and needs to be reassured by the gravitas with which they conduct themselves.
What I fear, though, is that “do anything” stunts like this video – produced and promoted on YouTube by the region's peak tourism body – will irreparably damage the Geelong community's confidence in your ability as a leader and lateral thinker, costing valuable traction as it tries to climb out of an abyss.
It's hard to perceive the pool video as anything much more than a shallow (pardon the pun) exercise in self-promotion. Will he put the needs of Geelong over his own personal need to be loved – remember, he has also starred in a reality TV show for which he had a fake set of abdominals surgically inserted – when it's needed?
Lyons' video stunt might win him the conference, but there's so much more at stake here and it needs to be taken very seriously.