Thursday, June 07, 2012

a year ago today: publicity for the bogan delusion

The weekend was fairly gratifying with Chris Johnston's article getting a lot of interest. I was contacted by the Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday afternoon to see whether I couldn't sum up the thrust of the book in 800 words. I was trying to take a short break to be fresh on Monday for another radio interview so I didn't do anything until Monday morning, when I rattled off a piece for the web magazine The Conversation and the SMH piece in one hit. I am surprised how positive everyone has been who's contacted me personally. Some seem to feel the thing is clarifying or condoning an opinion they'd already arrived at. Of course, I shouldn't let my guard down because there will be some hostility and I don't want to look flustered by that.

The SMH piece came out this morning - less than 24 hours after I started writing it and I guess less than 12 hours from the final edit - why is that surprising to me, it happens all the time. I wish I could say 'money in the bank too' but they gently informed me that they don't pay people who are promoting a product, which in one sense doesn't surprise me. It's funny to see this in contrast with an email received this morning from one of the authors to all others on this Canberra book 'assuming' we would all be paid for our contributions. I had straight-out assumed there would be no money at all on that front.

The SMH piece is, to my surprise, called 'Bogans, reindeers, they're the same to me' but isn't the plural of reindeer, reindeer? It reads:

I had 13 years as a Sydneysider. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I went west of Auburn. In those days, I probably would have looked a little askance at Summer Hill. In the early nineties, returning from work in Darlinghurst or after classes at the University of Sydney, I might very occasionally stay on the train and go to Rockdale or perhaps even some distant berg like Blacktown, just to see what was there.
I was at the very beginning of escape from my middle-class illusions about the superiority of life at the centre. There was, and still is, a subconscious idea that, if you aren't living in a street with a view of Centrepoint, you are somehow disconnected from the radiant beacon of city culture - the only culture worthy of the name in Australia. I did not hate ''westies'', as they might have been known, but I certainly feared and shunned them in any interaction where they did not recognize (for instance) Newtown as the Sun to their Pluto.
I was a snob, and my only defence is that the snobbery was, and I have to say largely remains, pervasive. I'll always be middle-class, but I am no longer inner-city, having relocated to a suburb 20km from central Melbourne. Now I see it from the other side, and it is not pretty. Inner-city elitists in Australia continue to project views about large groups of otherwise diverse people simply on the basis of their geographic location.
Today it's not the westies but the bogans. The word has murky origins, possibly related to the region and the river in central NSW, then popularized by Kylie Mole and the Comedy Company to become a nationally understood synonym for what were known in Brisbane as bevens, Hobart as chiggers, and Perth as bogs. Whatever: to my mind, it's code for ''working class''. I am reminded of the Kurt Vonnegut novel Breakfast of Champions in which a well-to-do couple have a secret code which allowed them to discuss African-Americans in front of their ''coloured'' maid: they discussed the ''reindeer problem''.
The word is ''just a joke'', some will say defensively, pointing to TV comedies such as Rebel Wilson's Bogan Pride - in which, incidentally, many of the funniest characters weren't bogans but ''nerds''. Some argue bogans are a ''culture'' not a ''class''. But ask them ''what's the difference?'' and the derisive term is laid bare: it's a new way to sustain class resentment, to pigeonhole people and places. They've created this creature that is a lesser human being to express unmentionable interclass hatred.
So poorly defined is the term, it's difficult to criticize its use in everyday life: it's applied to Julian Assange and Julia Gillard, and then to violent criminals. Publicising my book on talkback radio last week, many callers were adamant that bogans existed because they'd seen them: even listening to the multitude of definitions did not seem to deter audiences from the firm belief that their prejudices affirmed their experience.
I'm just happy to see the conversation take place. I want to see Australians stop demonising ''bogans'' who dwell ''out there'' on the suburban fringe, so commonly described in anthropological terms as though there was some kind of sub-species prone to anti-social behaviour and hitherto undiscovered. I would also be quite happy if those who describe themselves as ''bogan'' recognized that to self-identify as such is to demonstrate too much awareness to be truly a ''bogan'' in most people's minds. I would also be very happy to see an end to the assumptions that comedy and film - for instance, Angry Boys and Snowtown - are truthful representations, rather than extreme amplifications of the suburbs.
Is all of this ranting against the word ''bogan'' a plea for political correctness? Possibly, but not the way 'PC' language is usually discussed. It's a plea for precision: it's about calling the disenfranchised, or marginalized, what they are - rather than a reindeer. Besides, if Assange, Gillard, Shane Warne and Eric Bana (yes, the charges have been laid, not just because he once played one on TV) are all bogans, who isn't a bogan? Is it praise, blame or demonization? Some clarity in the argument might grease the wheels of the discussion, and who knows, we might just get somewhere.

Later: This was apparently on all fairfax sites so it has been receiving a big bunch of comments from irritated people. Martin Hughes called me to urge me not to read them and I won't. As I said to him, I don't care greatly one way or the other. I have noticed on facebook that there are a lot of people - people I know, and academics no less - who feel happy to comment blithely on things missing from the article (i.e. discussion of 'bevens' and something along the lines of 'apparently Tasmania has a word for them too') which are not actually missing from the article. That is just weird. I couldn't help but post a comment saying that I certainly did not expect people to be au fait with the book, but to then post on facebook about what's missing from a short article, which actually isn't missing from the same short article, seems to me pretty preposterous. I didn't use the word 'preposterous'. It is easy to get shitty with people but I suppose you also have to be happy they're motivated to get involved in the general mix.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yep.Bogs in Perth. Didn't hear the term Bogan till I moved east. Anyway. Was far offset by great bands/venues/friends/lovers to matter. I worry about heritage issues now. Ah Melbourne 'snot what it used to be when I knew every beer dispensing, long piece of wood in this thirsty town. Can you believe, I'm related to Pedal Thorp - in that my cousin married 'thorp' from the vandals PT. Anyway ther're the worst of the worst ala Saxon Hotel. I hate fadaism. F#ck keeping the first '6m'. all my city pubs done (bent) over now. bye bye pubs, M