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Monday, 3 January 2011

Oh dear.

The holidays have not even ended and already I've got a gripe, and not a trivial one. The attack, by journalist Brigid Delaney, on inner-city types who go to art galleries and wear tight jeans and sand shoes is another example of the kind of reaction against progressives that we have already seen from Christian Lander, author of Stuff White People Like. Back in my days of youthful experimentation, the run-of-the-mill progressives who favoured Newtown over wherever they originated from (Brisbane or Dubbo), were dubbed by us "droogs". The term derived from the 1971 Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange but unlike the Droogs in the film our droogs were just the routine latte-sipping trendoids who got shit-faced at friends' parties at squats in Pyrmont then went to work in the public service on Monday like everyone else. Like the bogans.

The thing that Delaney and Lander forget about the inner-city type is that he or she often came from somewhere else, gravitating to those parts of the big cities of Australia because of an often-inchoate yearning for a better way of living. There may now be critical mass in some areas. The election of Adam Bandt, of the federal seat of Melbourne, to the Lower House of Parliament, is merely the result of decades of demographic shifting in that part of town. When I was young and living in a share house in Newtown there was little choice for droogs: it was Sydney or Melbourne and nothing else. Now, the same shift is no doubt occurring in other major urban centres in Australia. The thing to remember is that the change was a long time coming. And it was never, for the individual, a sure thing.

The barriers that used to exist that worked against a shift to the inner city were significant. We called these people droogs in a humorous vein, considering them to be just nice, middle-class kids with grungy pretensions (and this was a long time before Pearl Jam appeared). But the progressive impulse, which both Lander and Delaney choose to lambast, is often the result of a long period of gestation. During this period the individual can go through a process of soul-searching as they decide what to do to mitigate the sense of ennui that regular suburban life engenders in them. As I said, it's not usually a sure thing, although it suits glib pastiche to redeploy those motivations in such a way as to make them small enough to criticise. As such, the criticism is essentially facile.

The cute duality that Delaney sets up - between the bogan and the intellectual - ignores the rather depressing fact that bogans overwhelmingly outnumber intellectuals. Many intellectuals came from bogan families and then rebelled at the end of their teens. A far smaller number were privileged to grow up with parents who respected their ideas and gave license to alternative life choices. Most broke out of the bogan straight jacket in order to "find themselves" in a more congenial environment - this they knew to exist at the very centre of the major conurbations. It takes a large city to support a droog, whereas a bogan can live anywhere, even in such inhospitable places as Karratha or Rockhampton.

The thing is that the intellectual, the droog, is still a minority and intellectual types like Lander and Delaney should know better than to slip the knife in where it can do real damage. They should know that, on the streets, people who look different still get hurt.

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