The job enthusiast is the shit of shits and clearly a bosses’ man. Crucify the bastard. (5)
I have been helping my parents sought through my grandmother’s estate at her house getting it ready for sale. I came across a very interesting little book of essays by Max Harris “Ockers: Essays on the bad old new Australia”. Each chapter is a column that appeared in The Australian newspaper. Harris is super-critical of the emergence of an ‘extroverted ockerdom’ describing it as “ocker redivivus, the ugly Australian rampant.” There is a chapter on “The Nasty Notion of Ocker Mateship”:
Mateship is about ignoble a philosophic notion as could be thought up in the mind of half-developed man. It is a social imperative which calls for blond aggressive loyalty to your tribal group, whether they be made up of criminals, thugs, or theologians.
If the idea is extended to a larger grouping, it leads to the witless self-deluding nationalism affected by countries of provincial insignificance. There is no difference between a collective Australian national mateship and the ugly discredited theorem of “my country right or wrong”. […]
What I have been trying to do is get behind the surface manifestations of rampant ockerdom in Australian politics to the dominant psychic drives. On the Bazza-Paul Hogan equation one is likely to think of ocker politics as larrikin disorder in parliamentary debate, vulgarity parading as wit, ignorance affecting the trappings of logic. Despise this aspect of our political character if you like. But it hasn’t much to do with the ultimate moral malaise which causes the more cerebral swinging voter to become nauseated and disillusioned with each successive power situation in turn.
The disillusion stems from the feeling that the power manipulators do not seek out an efficient infrastructure based on an impartial pursuit of merit and capacity; but rather that power is used on the old courtly, or modern mateship tradition, of casually capricious patronage. It is not necessarily buddy-buddy motivation viewed as preferable to the meritocratic abstract system applied by the impersonal business corporations that put efficiency first. (22, 25)
The quote at the top of this post comes from the second chapter, “Life in Bludgerland”. Harris uses ‘bludger’ in a slightly different sense than that of the Van Wheels article, “Dole Bludgers’ Guide” (see image of cover here). In Van Wheels a ‘bludger’ is a person or identity defined in terms of the relation to paid work (and the social welfare allowance of the ‘dole’). For Harris ‘bludgerland’ diagnoses a structural condition whereby the pleasure of work has been exorcised from work itself because of the socio-political reforms to the capitalist workplace (5-6), the hedonistic education of the young (7), and the effects of the mass media (7-8). He actually advocates the need for Depression to “produce a more genuinely creative and effective aftermath than the present casual worship before idols of slobdom” (6).
The present problem is that the ‘creative and effective aftermath’ of the society wide Depression has been distributed within the structural conditions of society itself. So rather than general condition of unemployment and society-wide debt, relatively successful young professionals and the like live with the insecurity of casualised labour and massive personal debt. Capitalists harness this energy. A good example of the depravity of the new worker condition is captured by the Dan Ashcroft character in the raucus BBC production Nathan Barley. What I have attacked on this blog as the ‘careerist mentality’ required to ‘get by’ in any sort of academic work is congruent with what Harris calls a ‘job enthusiast’. We have to be enthusiasts of our own careers.
Not everyone at the time was against the general coordinates of the ocker as cultural event. Reproduced as an appendix to Harris’s tome is an essay/column by Phillip Adams. Adams defends the cultural producers that are working within the cultural milieu that Harris is attacking on a political and social level. For Adams artists and the like were reacting against the banality of their environment:
[T]he success of the larrikin films did seem to emphasise a problem for Australian cinema: a comparative lack of problems in Australia itself. For although I’ve been involved in the politics of film for the last ten years, I’d long doubted whether we had a sufficiently dynamic society to sustain a successful industry.
It seemed to me that the really vital film industries were based on societies with profound social problems. […] For Australia? Like Switzerland we seemed too content, too lucky. We were too guitless in our pleasures, too lacking in social conflicts. Certainly our film makers seemed devoid of passion, excessively dull and complacent (which explains why so many of them were content to work in the art form of affluence and make televsion commercials ad nauseam). Meanwhile the most significant people in Australian culture were mutant — paradoxes like Patrick White and Barry Humpries who’d reacted violently against the banality of their enivronment. Just as a diamond is formed from coal under enourmous, continuing pressure, their rather exotic talents seemed to have been produced by the pressure of boredom, by the listlessness that so pervades our vast continent that every day can feel like Sunday. (36-37)
In an essay on suburbia, McKenzie Wark isolates the general function of this 1970s ‘ocker’ (and slightly misrepresents the argument of Harris) as a vehicle of the urbane to trangress the suburban strictures of the ‘larrikin’:
As the poet and columnist Max Harris put it, “the most fascinating event, coincident with the Whitlam era, was the resurgence of that ill-educated, dogmatic, incoherent, and arrogant psychological phenomenon – the Australian ocker.” The ocker was a creation of urbane culture of the 70s. As a way of popularising urbane artistic and intellectual dissent, artists and writers used the ocker as their vehicle for the transgression of suburban strictures, once the province of the larrikin. Those suburbia resisted because of their intellectual or creative excess felt a kinship, or rather a mateship, with those suburbia charged with physical excess. Hard thinkers linked arms with hard drinkers.
Since then there has been a bifurcation in the Australian popular arts (to coin a term), whereby the ‘wog’ (or ‘leb’) and ‘bogan’ have been used in a similar fashion, or in Wark’s example, the transgender exploits of Priscilla. What is very interesting in all this is the intersection of the relation between capital, labour power, and these quasi-romanticised identities. Think of Nick Giannopoulos’s Wog Boy, which is entirely concerned with the ethics/ethnics of mobilising reserve labour power and productivity. Or in Kath and Kim, there is a constant tension between them around Kim narcissitic dysfunctionality to hold a job. (See Mel’s article on Cashed Up Bogans). There seems to be a more complex refraction of critique and identity going on here that is repeated in different eras with different class, ethnic, gender and aged-based signifiers.