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Performing Femininity

Our fascination with ‘bogans’ will be televised

Newtown graffiti/Flickr

Television has seen its fair share of characters on welfare with a penchant for flannelette shirts and tinnies of VB in recent years.

We’ve seen an obese mother and daughter in Bogan Pride, Sunnydale’s housing commission residents in Housos, and a drag-racing family at the heart of Upper Middle Bogan. The TV bogan has certainly developed from Full Frontal’s loveable mullet-sporting “Poida”.

Housos’ Paul Fenech has created a new series scheduled to begin on 7mate in the next month called The Bogan Hunters. A promotional poster for the initial call for “real life bogans” lists desirable bogan attributes: “mullets, tatts, jeans, dirty trackies, uggs, thongs, AVOs, de factos. Must be able to swear frequently”. It’s not only a lack of fashion sense and inattention to personal grooming that defines the bogan who we’re encouraged to laugh at, but dysfunctional, violent relationships.

The Bogan Hunters trailer.

The series trailer plays on the style of a David Attenborough wildlife documentary, as it promises to uncover bogans in their “habitations”. Many people who have clearly suffered as a result of Australia’s lack of funding for dental care are featured.

Upper Middle Bogan portrayed the Wheeler family in a sympathetic way that exposed the pretensions of middle-class people who look down on those who live in outer suburbia. Bogan Pride was also less about laughs at the expense of bogans, and more about viewing life through the eyes of a social outcast.

While some people have described Kath & Kim as bogans, the series features characters who own their own homes and late-model cars, run a small business, and who care about their health and image, even if their tastes are gaudy and tacky.

I come from a lower middle-class background, in which I was the first in my family to complete high school. For me, Kath & Kim’s jokes, especially about social and educational aspirations, rang true, rather than seeming to denigrate the characters as “lesser” than the “average” Australian.

Housos and The Bogan Hunters, though they display some affection for the bogan, are firmly about laughing at the exploits of an Australian underclass that is meant to be unlike the TV viewer. Sunnydale residents don’t work, don’t own homes, depend on welfare, and are often criminal. The female characters are crude, vulgar and are terrible mothers.

Housos: Swearing and sex scene warning. NSFW.

While Housos is set in a fictional Housing Commission estate, The Bogan Hunters now promises to locate “Australia’s biggest bogan”. But is the bogan even real?

Academics who have written about the bogan, such as Mel Campbell and David Nichols, have suggested that the bogan is an invention.

Campbell writes:

A bogan does not really exist as a person, but as a concept produced by a matrix of class, socioeconomics, consumption, intelligence and morality. A combination of “traits” that are devalued by middle Australia not only identifies someone as bogan, but highlights their outsider status, denoting them as distastefully unlike the person doing the name calling.

In his book The Bogan Delusion, Nichols accurately sums up the views about bogans that are evident in the preview of The Bogan Hunters, and the very concept of “hunting” for bogans:

Talk about “bogans” is a way for elites to talk about working class (usually but not always white) people as though they were an inferior species, a kind of monkey; it’s racist language tweaked to ridicule a class or a culture.

If clean-cut, middle-class hosts travelled Australia seeking to laugh at the residents of our poorest suburbs, the joke would probably fall flat. (Although The AFL Footy’s Show’s Street Talk segment often visits disadvantaged areas to find comedic fodder for Sam Newman.) But The Bogan Hunters uses the screen of popular Houso’s characters “Shazza” and “Kev the Kiwi”, alongside “boganologist” Fenech, to create the premise that bogans are authorised to mock other bogans.

In publicity surrounding the series, alcoholism, drug use, and violence are described as characteristic of bogan culture. We know that these issues are present in Australian households of all social classes. Yet, as Campbell alludes to, it is more convenient for us to understand such frowned-upon behaviours as the preserve of an underclass of people “distastefully unlike” us.

Housos initially caused concern among residents of public housing in western Sydney, who worried about how the show would affect community perceptions of people who live in government housing. A petition of more than 5,000 signatures, which called on SBS not to broadcast the series, was presented in Parliament by Mount Druitt MP Richard Amery.

Though Housos is obviously fictional and satirical, The Bogan Hunters, which seeks to find “actual” bogans, muddies the line between parody and reality. The question is how much we’re willing to laugh at an attempt to view the bogan as an actual “species”, rather than a creation of middle-class snobbery.

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