In Fame, Folk Devils and Generation X-Factor, Heather Mendick and Kim Allen highlight the moral condemnation of the ‘get rich quick’ X-Factor generation, and the profound classing of ‘celebrity’ as (un)appealing and (dis)tasteful. Patterns of culture, consumption and aspiration manifest variously across different national and international contexts and as a visiting scholar at the Australian National University, I’ve had the opportunity to consider the shape and ‘stick’ of class in the Australian context. Specifically, I’ve been intrigued by the figure of the ‘bogan’ as a negative descriptor of white working-class poor populations and an identified ‘new tribe’ of Australians (similar to the UK figure of the ‘chav’, excessively clothed in the wrong brand, and lacking the ‘right’ cultural capital, see ‘Neighbourhood Types’). As Mendick and Allen’s piece highlights, behavioural traits are captured and mis-represented as individual character facts, or flaws, disguising fundamental divisions around legitimacy, authority and material inequalities.
The ‘bogan’, similarly haunts the social and cultural landscape of Australia, with the website Things Bogans Like asking ‘What is a Bogan today?’ In the UK, we are likely to recognise the rehearsed answers, as troubling as they are, in intersecting class and gender with worrying effects. Past as well as present denigrations – and celebrations – of working-class masculinity uneasily collide across time and across space where, for example, the ‘miner’-of-the-past is idealized and elevated as a representative figure of the nation then. The nation falls with the fall of this heroic – if still misplaced – simple, traditional, resilient masculinity. Now we don’t have him. The ‘bogan’ stands in contrast to these idealisations, as a displaced male mobile worker un-stuck from family and community and merely interested in commercial gain: that is, his own. Again, we see much distaste around working-class financial gain (‘cashed-up bogan’) and scepticism about whether they can spend ‘right’.
Assertions of who has cultural capital – and who does not – are abound. In the UK context, a recent Guardian article ‘Michael McIntyre may have the millions but I have cultural capital’ rehearsed the high/low boundaries, intersecting levels of education, urbanity, and consumption, pitting ‘working-class refugees’ (with their deficient income but ‘real’ ways) against the pretentious middle-classes, feasting on their Jamie Oliver dinners. In engaging in the (right?) kind of ‘social and intellectual triangulation’ advised in the article, we see that women are both absent and excessively present in these classed equations, either invisible or hyper-visible. Implicitly, as assumption is made that it is (middle-class) women who will again be in the kitchen this time buying “expensive cupcakes and designer cookware” and excessively “…chucking balsamic vinegar at their Jamie Oliver dinners”. Signs of middle-class femininity have an uneasy purchase in these representations, where working-class women are frequently positioned without any worth, in the kitchen, in the classroom and in the ‘coming forward’ of cultures and countries (see GEA blog ‘Designing Disgust’).
Debates on ‘new tribes’ of ‘chavs’ and ‘bogans’ and the ‘things they like’ suggest a need to revisit important questions about which social subjects are able to mobilise and spatialise their interests in order to achieve legitimate subject-positions in these familiar landscapes. Attention to ‘Fame’, ‘Folk Devils’ and ‘Generation X-Factor’, queries relentlessly individualising discourses of opportunity, choice, responsibility and aspiration. Across different international landscapes, working-classes cannot invest or ‘appear’ in place as the right kind of consumer-worker-residents. Even with some economic success the ‘bogan’ just becomes the ‘cashed-up-bogan’, rich ‘too quick’ and out of place in the legitimate cultural economy.
Yvette Taylor, LSBU