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July 25, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

The Bogan Delusion by David Nichols


I’m relieved to discover I’m probably not a bogan. This is surprising, particularly since I used to live so far out of the city that Broadmeadows was the closest thing I got to a metropolitan environment. Prepare yourselves for the shocking truth of my adolescence; for me, going to the cinema meant going to Broadmeadows, the closest cinema complex around.

So it was with an understandable curiosity that I started reading David Nichols’ The Bogan Delusion. A “part travelogue, part social critique”, Nichols takes us on a winding sociological adventure of the bogan persuasion, articulating how Australians define a “bogan” (not very well, it seems). Nichols covers more than enough ground on bad haircuts and “bogan” hotspots all over Australia, and makes good use of the plethora of people prepared to make up ridiculous statistics while commenting anonymously on news websites. His internet research yields interesting bogan statistics, including the odd Facebook-group gem with the tagline “9 out of 10 people who live in Mt Druitt are bogans, that 1% of decent people who live there, I feel sorry for.” He even covers the rather interesting concept of the anti-bogan, the “latte-sipping” inner-suburbanite who buys organic vegetables and has a tendency towards smugness about their enriched, environmentally friendly lifestyle. The book size itself is also something to be appreciated. I’m no good with paper dimensions, but Nichols’ book is smaller and slightly wider than a novel, meaning it’s easy to hold with one hand while, say, on the train from Broadmeadows.

Nichols argues that there is a discrepancy in the ways various Australians define a “bogan”, identifying glaring inconsistencies in our understanding of the species. This is, in many ways, a helpful approach for the average bogan-watcher. The bogan generally used to belong solely to the poor, lower-class folk. Nowadays, the bogan has branched out across the entire spectrum of wealth, with the obvious caveat that they have poor taste in fashion or art and questionable morals. Yet while Australians all deride the bogan, we are just as eager to proclaim ourselves “true bogans” as a marker of our Australian-ness. How did our cultural identity become so ensnared in this mythological creature? It seems the bogan delusion is surprisingly invasive; our ongoing struggle to reconcile our engagement with the “bogan” tends to rear its ugly head every time we try to assert ourselves as an intelligent, civilised society on the international stage.

As much as I want to like every inch of this friendly little book, there’s a few things that irk me about The Bogan Delusion. While Nichols argues about discrepancies in the description of a bogan, the term has remained in the Australian vernacular because people still understand the sense of what it means to be a bogan – it’s a shorthand insult for ignorance, for lack of taste, for lack of knowledge or understanding in the broadest sense. It’s almost impossible to clarify the meaning any further. Nichols seems to confuse Australia’s understanding of the bogan as something that we can define in the dictionary, when many slang words of this nature aren’t culturally static enough to pin down. Most importantly, the “bogan” exemplifies a very Australian type of ignorance. Perhaps that is where the rub lies; as Nichols discovers, it is more difficult than ever to define what “Australian” actually is. Nichols seems to argue that by going to towns such as Bogan Gate and observing the natives in their habitat, he can refute the supposedly unanimous yet fluid agreement between Australians on what it means to be a bogan. The only problem is, the bogan is ubiquitous.

At a recent seminar on publishing, Affirm Press’ Associate Publisher Rebecca Starford noted how easy it was to get publicity for this book – given the recent notoriety of Things Bogans Like, debate about bogans is a hot topic right now. Everyone has an opinion on the topic, but perhaps the definition of a “bogan” is a little like a discussion of religion or politics; it’s a subject so closely linked to a person’s conception of themselves, and of their sense of patriotism, that it’s incredibly easy to get offended by how much someone else’s opinion differs from your own.

I’m still not sure if I am classified as an anti-bogan, or whether I am top of the bogan hierarchy. I seem to be a fence-sitter. While I sit in my moccasins debating whether I should get up and pour myself another drink, I’m also trying to finish a somewhat existentialist review of a book about one of Australia’s most recognisable cultural stereotypes. What would a bogan do?

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