The notion of the “bogan” has evolved and changed over the years. When we were kids a bogan was more like a dag, someone who was still sporting tight jeans and a mullet in the ‘90s. Bogans were people who didn’t have much money, and were possibly unemployed and on the dole, but no one really remarked on them. We lived in a world where it was broadly accepted that sometimes people ran in to life problems, or lost their jobs, or struggled to get one in the first place, or were simply happy walking around with a haircut that was a decade out of fashion. Sure, there were plenty of jokes about “lazy dole bludgers” but no one really cared about bogans, and there wasn’t quite the level of analysis, or of hatred and loathing, of anyone who didn’t have a job, a modest house in the suburbs, and a haircut and wardrobe that were a sensible attempt to stay on trend.
Or was there? Because let’s face it, we Australians aren’t exactly known for our tolerance of anyone who isn’t “normal” or “decent”. Decades of Australian comedy from Barry Humphries to I Love Green Guide Letters has mocked our tendency towards wowserism, and the way in which many of us feel the need to express strong opinions about people who are different to us, or to complain about, say, TV shows where people swear and have sex. Elections have been fought and won, and newspapers have been kept profitable by politicians and journalists appealing to the shocked and appalled talkback radio caller within us all.
But what’s changed in the past decade or so is the way in which condemning bogans (and anyone else who hasn’t got much money) has extended beyond the wowsers and the snobs, and become an accepted thing to do out there in mainstream society, amongst people who are relatively small L liberal. You know, people who don’t particularly have a problem with, say, gay people, sex and swearing on TV, or ethnic minorities. And that’s weird because once upon a time we Australians prided ourselves on not being snobs or having a class system – wasn’t that something our ancestors left behind in mother Europe?
Reacting against mainstream society’s newfound distaste for bogans is something Paul Fenech prides himself on. His shows Fat Pizza, Swift & Shift Couriers, Housos and now Bogan Hunters are, he says, celebrations of ordinary Australians, and if you don’t like it he doesn’t care if you ring up and complain about all the swearwords because this show’s not for you. Furthermore, if you earn a reasonable salary and live in a reasonable suburb there’s heaps of TV for and about you, but if you’re an ordinary Aussie there’s just his shows.
On his recent Logie win for Housos, Fenech said:
We’re from the real fringes of Oz, we’re real people, we just get out there and have a go. This is a great win for the true people of Australia. Not the fake stuff that’s out there, but the real battlers.
And while he’s kind of right, isn’t he forgetting something really important about television? TV networks don’t make shows because they want to give reviled groups a voice, they make shows that will attract viewers and sell advertising slots. And Bogan Hunters is exactly the kind of televisual click bait that will get the sort of middle-class suburbanites advertisers are keen to target expressing their shock around the water cooler with colleagues (“Oh my god, did you see the guy with no teeth? Rank!”).
Bogan Hunters, for all its pretence of being a show for ordinary Australians that sticks it to political correctness, is actually just a series of kinda dull clip packages featuring (drunk) people who happen to like drag racing or motorbikes or smoking bongs. Some of them are petty criminals, some of them have bad teeth, some of them have what you might call a chaotic lifestyle, and some of them are very happy to tell you about their favourite sexual positions, but in a lot of cases they’re playing it up for the cameras and therefore aren’t even remotely “shocking”.
Proof positive that this program is essentially 7Mate’s way of enticing potential customers of their advertisers away from Buzzfeed, is that the competition element of Bogan Hunters – in which Fenech and chums are travelling the nation looking for Australia’s biggest bogan – is barely mentioned. There are eight judges of the bogan “contestants” but we barely see or hear from them, and we’re given no understanding of what they’re looking for in a winner. But we do get lots of footage of that toothless guy in the flanno who starts drinking at 10am plus a pile of vox pops with bogan chicks who all seem to like doggie, and if there’s anything that’ll get us middle class suburbs-dwellers spitting out our organic lattes and posting about it on Facebook it’s that!