There’s a figure that has long permeated Australian culture. We fear it. We reject it. We try to deny that it’s a part of us. And when it keeps coming back, we laugh at it.
The bogan is at once terrifying and hilarious. But it is not ‘us’. Most Australians would deny being a bogan. Or they would only admit to being one in order to justify not knowing something – one of the bogan’s greatest traits is anti-intellectualism. As Area-7 put it, nobody likes a bogan.
ABC television series Upper Middle Bogan is ranked the seventh most-watched show on air in Australia. In ratings, it even beat two reality shows – gaining 645,000 viewers.
I love Upper Middle Bogan. It’s clever and gives us just the right amount of discomfort.
But it’s also problematic. Like Kath & Kim, Full Frontal and Bogan Pride before it, Upper Middle Bogan positions us to laugh at bogans. We’re supposed to identify with Bess – well-to-do, happily married and outside of the bogansphere. The show gives the bogan – or what we perceive as ‘the bogan’ – another beating. Its success infers that 645,000 people enjoy laughing at bogans on a regular basis.
The actual act of laughing at these TV shows is fine. Comedy is often made up of perceived stereotypes because, well, ‘it’s funny because it’s true’. But we have to wonder to what extent the bogans presented in Upper Middle Bogan, et al are true.
The definition of ‘the bogan’ differs depending on who you talk to. Website-turned-book and regulation bogan-definer Things Bogans Like says:
The word bogan has had a bad rap of late – still associated with wife beaters, flannelette, VB, utes and mullets. But this conceals the new, modern bogan. The bogan with money. The bogan with aspirations. The bogan with Ed Hardy t-shirts.
Both these evolutionary stages of the bogan are accurate. Additionally, they’re often thought to be working class, sexist, racist and/or homophobic.I’m assuming that if you’re reading this you’re most likely Australian, educated and have encountered a bogan at least once in your life. Perhaps you are one.
I’m kind of a bogan too.
I’m doing my Masters degree but I’m still obsessed with getting more piercings. I wrote an Honours thesis but it involved references to sex scenes and several uses of the word ‘fuck’ – and I thought that was pretty funny. I’m Asian, so if you looked at me you might think I would have an Asian accent. But I guess you might be shocked to hear me swear, say ‘orright’ and pronounce ‘couch’ (and ‘pronounce’, for that matter) like it has a W in it. And I have, up until recently, used the non-existent adjective ‘bogany’ to describe anything related to bogans; am I such a bogan that I didn’t know any better way to describe bogans?
Many bogans adopt their manner from their familial upbringing; this is certainly true for fictional representations of bogans (The Castle, in addition to the abovementioned television series). But I got mine by attending a delightfully rundown high school.
Elizabeth Humphrys points out in this Overland article that the figure of the bogan comes from a need to laugh at the working class. Like me, she faced a clash of social standards when she compromised her working class upbringing to assimilate at university. Is this not what we think bogans want migrants and immigrants to do?
Similarly, in his book, The Bogan Delusion, David Nichols says the bogan was constructed as a way for inner-city dwellers to avoid going to the outer suburbs. He says suburbs such as Broadmeadows don’t necessarily live up to their bogan reputations. He considers why we buy into this reputation, this delusion, and what that does to Australian people.
Boganism isn’t restricted to the working class or to the suburbs. It has now evolved to include people with lots of money who spend it stupidly (cashed-up bogans).
In my mind, the only reason we employ the word ‘bogan’ is to marginalise people who don’t live up to our expectations of Australian behaviour.
Society tells us that being a bogan will reduce our chances of getting a job and generally of being respected in public. Society tells us a nasally ocker accent will make everyone cringe. Society tells us Ed Hardy and tattoos (or, worse, Ed Hardy tattoos) equate to low intelligence. Society tells us to withdraw in fear when bogans board a train with us because they’ll attack us or take our money. We discriminate against them the way we imagine they discriminate against women, LGBTI people and people of ethnic background – by othering: ‘them’, ‘they’, ‘those people’.
As Nichols says, the figure of the bogan ‘is just ‘other’ – someone not worth thinking about beyond funny put-downs, much less talking to or engaging with’.
It’s easy to insult bogans. But by doing so we only feed into the same kind of prejudice they exert. For progressives, being sexist, racist or homophobic (implicit or explicit) is aberrant. Yet many progressives also believe the best way to address this is to similarly exclude bogans from everyone else.
We want the Cate Blanchetts of the country to shine, while we deride the Shane Warnes. We can’t stand that Crocodile Dundee is still a symbol for us overseas.
All of this is no doubt problematic. When I lived in the US, I was constantly fending off questions about kangaroos in my backyard – although when I was growing up we did have a field very close by that the ‘roos would often hop through (I told my American friends as such).
I can never really tell if I’ve detoxed myself of my boganism. Nichols says the word bogan is ‘always a crass put-down, and even the “bogan and proud” brigade know they’re wrangling a slur’. But I’m okay with being proud of having a bogan influence on my life. I would rather laugh at myself for being a bogan than laugh at others.
So maybe we should all just lay off the bogan-hate. Orright?
Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.
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