Activist, writer, sex-positive feminist, single mother, sandgroper, grumpy old woman.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In defence of bogans...

This is a comment I made on another blog post that was defending the stereotyping of 'bogans'. Just posting it here to show someone else - and maybe to point to in future when the debate gets too much for me.

This suburban vs inner city thing seems to come up a lot in the ‘bogan’ discussion. I feel I should point out that that’s very much a Melbourne/Sydney thing. Other cities don’t recognise those issues to the same extent because they are, or have traditionally been, constructed differently – and the bush doesn’t recognise those issues at all. It’s no coincidence that the people most active against anti-bogan sentiment on Twitter have been from WA, SA, Qld and/or regional areas.

Interestingly, all those places are often judged as more ‘bogan’ than NSW or Victoria. The recent WA-bashing is a case in point, with West Aussies frequently described as inherently racist, sexist, homophobic, greedy and selfish. Why? Because it’s the home of the cashed up bogan? Again, I don’t think it’s coincidence that Australia’s primary mining and agricultural states, Qld and WA, are commonly stereotyped as insular bogan bigots.

You said in your post that “bogan was a Melbourne word for many decades …to [Sydney] the bogans of old were westies”.

Firstly, you guys (apparently) defined a bogan by the suburb they lived in. We didn’t. We have ‘bogan suburbs’, known as such because that’s where all the bogans live, ie. the ‘bogan’ is a pre-defined type of person that happens to congregate in that suburb. Those suburbs are almost exclusively welfare and state housing-dependent areas, so for many people, ‘bogan’ is intrinsically linked to low income.

Secondly, Melbourne isn’t the only place where the word ‘bogan’ existed. I was identifying as a bogan in highschool, 25 years ago. I also have friends from Adelaide who claim ‘boganhood’ in their teens and their definition is compatible with mine – someone in black jeans and a flanno who drives a ute, drinks beer and listens to Oz rock. It had nothing to do with bigotry, or ostentatious clothing and houses (the latter being the complete opposite of the traditional bogan).

Which brings us to the crux of my argument – I don’t appreciate my personal lifestyle or history (or state) being re-appropriated to mean something hideous and hated. And it’s really not appropriate for people who don’t inhabit that community or identify with the label to say it’s simply part of the “continuing defining process” and dismiss the concerns of people that do.

This cruel stereotype will cause actual harm to people. It’s already started. For example, Centrelink is trialling income management in select ‘bogan suburbs’ in Perth, because their inhabitants are automatically deemed to be irresponsible and lazy. Actually they’re just poor, but society supports these measures because they firmly believe that ‘bogans’ are a certain breed of people who don’t give a f*ck about their kids or their health or the taxpayer. Hey, that sounds familiar…NT intervention, anyone?

You are creating a new underclass that it’s totally PC to vilify. And it’s all very well to claim that the meaning of the word is changing, but the ORIGINAL meaning of the word is still firmly entrenched in our psyche. What this means is that, today, any person fitting the OLD definition of bogan (black jeans, wifebeater, feral ute, goatee) is immediately grouped together with the NEW definition of bogan (violent, racist, sexist, homophobe). I should add that this is particularly upsetting for country people, like me, who tend to present as the city idea of ‘bogan’, even if we don’t identify as such. Just last week I had an argument with someone about “arrogant country bogans in their 4WDs, who don’t give a f*ck about the environment”.

Apologies for the lengthy rant, but I don’t think people realise just how much this stereotyping is hurting people. I’m actually getting to the point where I’m scared to talk about certain things on Twitter, lest I be deemed bogan and shouted down for it. On the weekend, I tweeted a ‘bogan’ joke and a friend retweeted it – he suffered a full day of insults and accusations of bigotry because of it. (Both of us are left-leaning and known in the activist community AND also identify as bogans). In short, if someone is a bigot, call them a bigot. The word ‘bogan’ is already taken.


  1. And can I add that the people on Twitter who know me have countered my protests with "Oh, but you're different. MOST bogans are racist, sexist bigots". Please, can somebody explain to me how that's different from saying "Oh, I know a couple of Aboriginals who work hard, but MOST of them are lazy"?

    Face are stigmatising and discriminating against a group of people on the basis of their clothes, lifestyles, socio-economic status and/or class. Yes, that is elitist and yes, it is bigotry. Theres really no other word for it.

  2. Thanks DD for this well-reasoned refutation of the Preston Towers blog. A couple of months ago, Preston became so incensed at my criticism of his insufferably elitist use of the term "bogan" that he unfollowed me. I guess I'm just too much of a bogan for him -- but I know on whose side of the tracks I prefer to stand. While I agree that the anti-bogans are bashing the poor, I also think there in some validity in the following post I read a post recently from "danj":

    "Its jealousy. The types that coined the phrase ‘cashed up bogans’ are secretly jealous that the blokes who left school and went and did a plumbing or carpentry apprenticeship while they spent six years at uni doing an arts degree with honours are making more money than them and have a better lifestyle than them. The CUBs are homeowners, often a smallbusiness owner with a new SS commodore or XR8 parked in the garage (which they probably paid cash for), married with a couple of kids and a jetski or motorbike round the back for the weekend. They take the fam for a holiday to sunny Queensland regularly and enjoy a barbie and a few VBs or Jimmys with their mates. The arts graduate is still renting in a share house in Carlton, has a crappy job where they’re on 30 grand a year, drive an 82 Peugeot, spend their spare time at a cafe in Fitzroy by themselves sipping lattes while reading a book. The last trip away was to Nepal to do some volunteer work so that they could feel better about themselves and feel better than their friends. If they do have a beer it will be a corona which is just overpriced dishwater, that’s why you have to put the lemon in. And all the while the arts graduate can’t understand why CUB has a happier life when at the end of the day they’re… a bogan, so they make lists like (Things Bogans Like) to feel better about themselves."

  3. Totally agree, Marion. I had a late-night (very confused and badly written) rant about bogans 'rising above their station' last year:

    I've asked people to explain exactly what's so awful about 'bogans' earning heaps of money and buying big houses, etc and nobody seems to be able to tell me. So what they buy is "tasteless"? What gives people the right to decide what's tasteful or not? And why is a person who buys "tasteless" stuff automatically associated with violence and bigotry?

    I find the term "aspirational bogan" SO fucking offensive...what the hell is wrong with having aspirations? Especially when so many of them started with nothing. Grrr.

  4. I have to disagree, as I'm sure you'll not be surprised to learn.
    The difference between vilifying bogans and vilifying Indigenous people is that you don't have to be a bogan. You don't have to get southern cross tattoos, drink eleven Bundy and Cokes, start "glassing c*nts" and attend No Carbon Tax rallies. It's a choice. People make a concious decision to behave this way. That's very, very different to being born a certain colour or with a certain sexual preference.
    I understand that people like yourself might think it's offensive to stereotype people from a region as a particular type of person, and I agree. Not all bogans come from Narre Warren or Rooty Hill, and there are plenty of people in those places who are not bogans. But there are plenty who are. Just as there are plenty in every other city, including Canberra, my home town, the town in which I had my jaw broken when a group of bogans, drunk out of their skulls, ambushed me and kicked me in the head with steel-capped boots. Nobody forced them to do that. They did it because they are part of a subculture that encourages violence.
    Like it or not, this is what a bogan is now. People who were bogans once but aren't like that are no longer bogans. They're ockers, or Westies, or Labor voters...however you describe them, it's clear the meaning of the word 'bogan' has changed.
    It might not be fair, but words change meanings all the time.
    As long as these people continue to fight, drink excessively, make racist comments and have absolutely no class or manners, you bet I'm going to vilify them. You bet I am.

    All that being said there's a decent chance I'm full of crap.

  5. This is just it DD - only the "educated elite" are entitled to "aspire". How dare the lowly "bogan" rise above her station! It really is the most neanderthal of "Upstairs,Downstairs" thinking. The "bogan" is a mythical creature invented by elites to make them feel like less like failures. As David Nicholls says, "The more you seek to define the creature, the more you are defined against it."

  6. Sorry, Cam. I didn't mean to sound like I was comparing bogans with Aboriginal people - just the arguments used against them. Aboriginal people came to my mind first, because of the damaging stereotypes that led to racially-based policies like the NT intervention. It could just as easily be "all single parents are bad mothers" or "all priests are paedophiles". Either way, we are tarring an entire group of people with the same brush; punishing the many for the sins of the few.

    Anyway, I don't agree that the word bogan has changed. I think it's being extended, to include more and more things we don't like.

    Why do we not just call your violent, bigoted, steelcap-wearing version of 'bogan' a skinhead or neo-nazi? Because he's more than that. The new version combines those particular traits with the clothes and lifestyles of the 'traditional' Australian bogan. The two are inextricably linked. And the traditional bogan and the country yobbo are also inextricably linked. Flannos, steel caps, feral utes, excessive drinking and a reluctance to embrace change - all rooted in outback culture. You can't just take an established sub-culture and designate new characteristics to it.

    I fully support your right to vilify violent, abusive bigots. No question. But mis-labelling those violent, abusive bigots is leading to the vilification of a whole group of people who DO NOT fit that profile.