Come Christmas Day, many members of the book-reading class are likely to wake up to find a copy of Things Bogans Like (TBL) in their stocking. The book was released in late October but its publicist, Nicola Pitt, is “expecting a spike in sales just before Christmas as people buy the book to give to friends and family. It’s one of those gifts that result in lively Christmas lunch conversation”.
Needless to say, those having lively conversations about Things Bogans Like, which has spun off the wildly popular website of the same name, are not themselves likely to be bogans and any bogan who does stumble upon the book is unlikely to find much to laugh about.
In contrast to Kath & Kim’s Jane Turner and Gina Riley, the six young men (who’ve opted to remain anonymous) behind TBL satirise what they perceive as the pretension, racism, ignorance, unabashed self-interest, clumsy social climbing, sheepish conformism, hyper consumerism and reactionary politics of Australia’s rapidly gentrifying lower orders without the tiniest sliver of empathy or affection for their targets. The vicious humour of the book is irradiated with class condescension of the let’s snigger about what those people watch (trashy current affairs programs), buy (Buddhist-themed home furnishings) and name their children (Chanel or Armani) variety.
The kind of hand-wringing that middle-class progressives engaged at the midpoint of the Howard era when that much gentler satire of boganism Kath & Kim debuted — over whether it was acceptable for the tertiary-educated to laugh it up at the expense of those unfortunate enough to be less tasteful than themselves — seems to have been entirely absent since the TBL website started up in October last year. The book has by and large received rave reviews despite many reviewers noting its “nasty” and “offensive” tone.
This raises the question of why the demographic that usually makes such a show of abhorring any sort of discrimination related to race, religion, disability or sexuality has lapped up barefaced prejudice of the class variety. (It’s evidence of the Australian nervousness about acknowledging social class that many — including those behind TBL — like to disingenuously insist that boganism is unrelated to socio-economic status, as if it is just an amazing coincidence bogans, culturally at least, are clearly identifiable as members of what used to be called the respectable working or striving lower-middle class.)
So why no self-doubting angst in 2010 from TBL’s otherwise PC fans? The two groups we most enjoy a joke at the expense of are those we secretly believe to be either inferior or superior to ourselves. It’s one of the cardinal rules of humour that it’s considered poor form to hammer groups lower than your own in the social pecking order but acceptable to go to town on those more advantageously located.
When I asked ‘Michael Jayfox’, one of those behind TBL, to explain why it was OK to portray bogans as near subhuman when doing that to, say, Jews or Aborigines, would be considered out of order he replied: “The point is the bogan has quite little it can honestly complain about. The other groups you identified clearly do have a bit to complain about. The greatest hardship many bogans endure is that they can’t have any more credit. So in terms of deserving and undeserving targets the bogan is probably a lot fairer game than some other groups of people who’ve had it much tougher.”
While the tone of TBL is snobbishly superior, ultimately, it’s the bitter humour of the oppressed. The meta-joke of the whole TBL phenomenon is that the bogans have far more economic, cultural and political clout than the inner-city elites who find it such great sport to mock them and both groups know it. It’s the bogans, after all, who ensure the media keeps churning out lowest common denominator pap, who earn six-figure incomes working down the mines or as tradesmen (tradesmen!) and who live in palatial houses in the endlessly pandered to outer suburban marginal seats that determine elections.
And so, after more than a decade of being contemptuously dismissed by Howard and politely ignored by Rudd and Gillard, left-leaning middle class types are now reveling in a rare opportunity to feel superior – if only in matters of taste – to their bogan overlords.
“We’ve had reports that bookstores in Melbourne have been having difficulty keeping enough stock on the shelves,” publicist Pitt observes. “A woman at Angus & Robertson Collins Street said, ‘We’ve had nothing but suits come in and buy it.’”