We have met the bogan and he is us.
STONE the crows! According to the country’s green-left opinion arbiters, the country is over-run by bogans, culturally-clueless xenophobes with appalling politics.
The self-appointed taste-makers in everything from arts to electricity supply, who also see themselves as keepers of the national conscience, are outraged that members of the masses either laugh at their arty-interests and political causes or, even worse, ignore them.
The older of the taste-makers never got over the way vast numbers of workers kept voting for John Howard (at least before the Workchoices unpleasantness). They accordingly transformed lower-income earners into bogans, beings as vulgar as they are provincial, and they are insular in the extreme. Theory holds such individuals are oppressed by capitalism and thus natural allies of the intellectuals,
Now, where have we come across this spurious attempt to demonise people who do not behave as they are supposed to? Well, how about in The Communist Manifesto? There Marx warns against counter-revolutionaries at the bottom of the heap:
…the “dangerous class”, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.
David Nichols nails the doubtful dichotomy between right-thinkers and a moral underclass (but not a financial one as there are plenty of “cashed-up bogans”) in his new book, The Bogan Delusion where he describes the demonisation of conservative working class people who have no interest in the fashionable causes of the self-appointed cultural elite:
…bogans as we now know them are straddling an incredible fence, with fearlessness, aggression and antisocial nature borne of an intentional stupidity, (worse than not knowing; actually not wanting to know!) on one side, and an unquenchable thirst for conservatism and materialism on the other.
Nichols writes mainly about the ways the self-satisfied and self-righteous culturatti have created a straw bogan, (sneering at where they live, what they like, who they hate) as a contrast to their own much more sophisticated values and moral sensibilities.
But he also understands that the bogan serves a political purpose, to provide the moral middle class with an explanation of why the country does not obey its orders, on refugees, for example and especially the environment.
Environmental debates relating to the suburbs are poisoned by the assumption that the suburbs are populated by a large group of self-interested fools. … It would appear that elites and governments (as much as they are separable by mindset) are just a little bit terrified of the bogans in their suburban heaven-hells.
Smarter, well at least younger, cultural critics than the Howard haters, who see the bogan as betraying the student-worker alliance they imagined existed in the 1960s and 1970s, recognise that sneering at the suburbs leaves the left open to the very charges of bigotry they attribute to bogans.
Thus Anna Funder is polite, if patronising, about bogan manques performing at a cultural festival, “perhaps to be a bogan is to expect so little and have so little expected of you that you define yourself by your lack of pretension.”
And Judith Ireland claims laughing at bogans reflects ambivalence about a national identity:
Some might say that bogan bashing is a harmless national pastime, simply proof that we’re jokesters who don’t take ourselves too seriously. Yet there is a creeping persecution of this cultural sub-group in Australia. We’re far less relaxed and comfortable about our identity and status than we’d care to admit.
However her claim that, we are “a young nation (arguably founded by English bogans)”, is a fantastic touch, demonstrating how it is possible for self-selected sophisticates to explain why the country is so vulgar, without actually calling their countrymen and women names – boganness (boganinity?) arrived in 1788, it is the source code of our culture.
Then there is Ellena Savage, who calls on the culturatti to tolerate bogans, albeit while asserting her tribe’s superiority:
So long as the choices hipsters, bogans, and old-fashioned conformists make — however conceited — remain their own and do not harm others, criticism should be reserved for more interesting matters. Arts communities, where hipsters reside, certainly include dilettantes and frauds — they always have. Regardless of their existence, a vibrant artistic culture is an indication of cultural affluence, which should never be devalued.
But it seems older members of the cultural elite cannot help themselves patronising people who do not share their opinions. Thus Judith Brett distinguishes between cosmopolitans and locals (she makes no mention of bogans, but the people who do not agree with her certainly sound like them).
In her influential explanation of a supposed great divide in modern Australia she distinguishes between the cosmopolitan “educated elites” and people “who learn their skills and knowledge in the university of life through hard knocks, practical experience and submission to authority”.
And how, pray, do locals demonstrate their ordinariness?
Cosmopolitans have the social skills and attitudes that enable them to move among people of different cultures with confidence and purpose where locals, even when they travel, are more attuned to the familiar than the different.
This also explains why cosmopolitans understand our moral obligations where locals don’t:
One aspect of globalisation is the development of human rights as a universal language which creates a universal human moral community co-extensive with the cosmopolitan’s potential field of knowledge. Locals still live inside much smaller moral communities.
Even worse, as Marian Maddox pointed out, the wretches dared vote for John Howard! “Voters accepted lies as political lingua franca and even when not deceived voted an increasingly notorious liar back and back.”
Which makes being a bogan less a matter of income, interests or aspiration than moral failing. As “Mitch,” who responded to a Radio National discussion of Nichols’ book put it:
I think a Bogan (sic) is something that transcends a simplistic class definition. It encompasses all those elements that we would associate with blind nationalism; namely the “f*** (sic) off, we’re full mentality” coupled with an unwillingness to accept the difference of others. Although it is such a nebulous phrase, it captures that uncouth element that permeates any discussion on what it means to be an Australian. Hence you can have Bogan (sic) bankers, plumbers and dole bludgers.
Smart bloke Mitch. He offers a way out of the dilemma for people who loathe Australians who have not signed on to the standard green-left agenda of climate change activism, demands for a high-spending state, contempt for overt patriotism and contempt for anybody with a plasma TV.
You can avoid arguing bogans are created by a lack of education or social disadvantage and thus the victims of a state that does not deliver on social justice (the green-left still believes ever-more public money can fix everything) by attributing their attitudes to individual moral failings.
Just like Marx did, when he explained who backed Louis Napoleon into power:
… the slum-proletariat of Paris was organised into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist General at the head of all. Along with ruined roués of questionable means of support and questionable antecedents, along with the foul and adventures-seeking dregs of the bourgeoisie, there were vagabonds, dismissed soldiers, discharged convicts, runaway galley slaves, sharpers, jugglers, lazzaroni, pickpockets, sleight-of-hand performers, gamblers, procurers, keepers of disorderly houses, porters, literati, organ grinders, rag pickers, scissors grinders, tinkers, beggars-in short, that whole undefined, dissolute, kicked-about mass that the Frenchmen style “la Boheme”.
Literati? No, that cannot be, surely the commentariat is a bastion against moral turpitude of bogan-ness.
But this is Nichols’ point. Sneering at people because they don’t have the correct opinions reduces individuals to archetypes. “Bogan,” he writes, “is a code word for the ‘other’, and it is a way to use humour or ‘common sense’ or both to relegate any problematic person, place or political position to the scrap heap.”
And, given boganness covers everything from address to attitudes, income to interests tastemakers can find elements of the bogan in anybody they disapprove of. Perhaps, in Stalinist style, even among themselves.
As the immortal Walt Kelly could have put it, “we have met the bogan and he is us”.
[i] Karl Marx, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) @ http://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/classics/manifesto.html recovered on June 18
[ii] David Nichols, The Bogan Delusion, (Affirm Press, 2010), 49
[iii] Nichols, op cit 142
[iv] Anna Funder, “All bogans here” The Monthly, November 2007 @ http://www.themonthly.com.au/nation-reviewed-anna-funder-all-bogans-here–713 recovered on June 18
[v] Judith Ireland, “I am bogan hear me roar,” The National Times, June 28 2010 @ http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/i-am-bogan-hear-me-roar-20100628-zd6t.html recovered on June 18
[vi] Ellena Savage, “Hating hipsters and bogans,” Eureka Street 21, 4 (March 3, 2011) @ http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=25267 recovered on June 18
[vii] Judith Brett, Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class, (Cambridge University Press, 2003) 210-211
[viii] Marion Maddox, God under Howard: the rise of the religious right in Australian politics (Allen and Unwin, 2005) 5
[ix] Radio National, Life Matters, “The Bogan delusion” comments, June 3, @ http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1346/1346-h/1346-h.htmwww.abc.net.au/rn/lifematters/storties/2011/3233976.htm
[x] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, V (182) @ http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1346/1346-h/1346-h.htm
[xi] Nichols, op cit 214