Bogans have hit the headlines this week, and not for the usual motorised Esky/paroled in Bali-type reasons. No, the bogans have arrived in Canberra and it’s still six months until Summernats begins.
The chief source of debate has been the Palmer United Party’s Alex Douglas’ dropping of the B word while describing his own party’s incoming federal Senator Jacqui Lambie.
“Bogans have … inherited the earth and the world is full of them demanding their right, in an odd way, to be heard,” wrote Douglas in a letter to Tasmanian PUP candidate Marti Zucco.
“It is no longer satisfactory that they will just buy (and wear) Ugg boots, watch Big Brother, choke on a diet of grease, dye their bright purple [sic], tatoo [sic] and rejoice in their ignorance.”
For an elitist, Douglas has pretty terrible spelling, but that hasn’t been the main focus of the ensuing controversy. At issue is whether “bogan” is a pejorative term or not.
Lambie, for her part, thinks it is, and instead claims to hail from “underdog world”. And while Douglas sounded an awful lot like he was saying that bogans should stuff their Ugg boots in their greasy pie holes, he later claimed to identify as a one himself.
But can you self-identify as a bogan? If being a bogan is as easy as owning a flannel shirt and enjoying a few of the very best, then I certainly qualify. On some level, there’s a bit of bogan in all of us—lawyers go to rugby league games, hipsters own tricked out utes and models wear bucket hats.
At their hilarious best, bogans have been fodder for some of our best best comedies, from Muriel’s Wedding to The Castle. They still are—the finale of 7mate’s Bogan Hunters on Tuesday is just the latest in a long line of bogan-sploitation films and TV shows.
It’s another example of boganism moving from the fringes of Australian public life to something like the mainstream.
“When we started the series I thought it was a bit of a joke. But boganism is a culture,” the show’s creator, Paul Fenech, told news.com.au. “These guys are unashamedly bogans. They love it, they live it, they have a complete lack of any pretence.”
Fenech’s brand of low-budget comedy is equal opportunity: he takes nobody seriously, least of all himself. It’s revealing, however, that four of Bogan Hunters’ seven finalists are from Jacqui Lambie’s state of Tasmania, where half the population can’t read or write properly and the jobless rate is the highest in the nation.
The biographies of the finalists feature teen pregnancies, alcoholism and welfare dependence. Unlike, say, Kath and Kim, where the joke, at least at first, was on the viewer, it seems like the joke in Bogan Hunters is at the expense of an underclass we don’t even like to acknowledge exists.
But if you want a real belly laugh, you need only look to the confused politicians desperately trying to appeal to people they quite obviously hold in contempt.
Douglas claims that his visits to McDonalds qualify him for bogan-hood and said that Zucco “only wants to talk to the latte set” (incidentally, sipping lattes is just a terrible barometer for membership of the elite in the Australia of 2014). Queensland’s local government minister, David Crisafulli, meanwhile, put his credentials on the table: “I drive a ute. I like a beer and I live in regional Queensland”, and accused the PUP of elitism.
Sitting here in my flannel shirt in an inner-city elite suburb, I can’t help but feel that this stouch over bogan-hood reveals a fundamental unease with the idea of class in Australia.
We’ve been told so often that we live in a classless society that we don’t know how to react when class comes into the political mix. I’m all for having a laugh, but let’s not let the word bogan become an excuse for the open expression of class prejudice. Now I’m off to have a VB.