Friday, January 30, 2004

On “no-hopers" and "slackers" – Fuck off, Mark Latham

Letting his boomer prejudices show again, the Opposition leader has engaged in a different sort of dog-whistling. This time, the message, be a "hard worker" not a "slacker", is at audible frequency for everyone – but there is the assumption that its GenX hearers will either brush it off, or won’t bother voting, anyway.

"Slacker" is an old word, long synonymous with “shirker”. In the early 1990s, it was reclaimed by GenX, particularly in America, with Richard Linklater's 1991 film of the same name being the seminal manifestation of the zeitgeist. In 1994, a book The Official Slacker Handbook, by Sarah Dunn defined it thus:

The slack sensibility is part old-fashioned bohemianism and part fin de siècle exhaustion, placed against the backdrop of a crappy recession and intolerable suburban irony.

By 1996, "slacker" had made the new words section of the Random House Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, glossed as an "educated young person who is antimaterialistic, purposeless, apathetic, and usually works in a dead-end job." (same URL)

Unlike the other time that Mark “Shanky Ho” Latham tripped-up in the importing of a piece of (mainly) American vernacular, his invocation of the slacker as daemon appears to be a cold and considered decision.

Note that “slackers” are not “dolebludgers” – while in their generally high-levels of education, there is often considerable overlap, slackers are by definition employed; albeit in what is often called a McJob. Despite undertaking such “careers” – something that educated boomers never did – GenX are actually deeply aspirational, just not in Mark Latham’s new-4WD, plasma-TV sense.

The ironic pay-off – and there has to be one – for GenX’s reclamation of the pejorative "slacker" is that they work incredible fucking hard; not only in their low-pay crap jobs, but also in their (generally) unpaid writing, music, film-making (etc) gigs. The 1996 Random House Webster descriptors "purposeless" and "apathetic" may be true quotes from their personnel files - with arsehole boomer bosses like David Brent of "The Office", how could it be any other way? - but they are not fair representations of the entireity of GenX endeavour.

In comparing "slackers" to "hard workers", then, Latham does basic objectivity an extreme disservice (one wonders what he has been reading lately – has Tony Abbott, or one of his minions, penned a “Protocols of the Youngsters of Glebe”?).

Finally, the strangest twist on the Latham’s anti-slacker speech comes courtesy of the Herald-Sun (only, as far as I can tell):

"When I was young, my mum used to tell me there were two types of people in our street – the slackers and the hard workers

In fact, the young Mark’s mum seems to have said no such thing – which perhaps should not come as any great surprise. In the 1960s and early 70s, when "slacker" meant "shirker", the latter would have been an unusual species indeed – it was, after all, a period of full employment. What Mark’s mum did, in fact, rail against circa 1970 was "no-hopers" (same URL). Such a type of person presumably was either a truly sad case on welfare (not the dole, because there was no need for it), or otherwise, a full-time worker bereft of any broader hopes and dreams.

GenX are not, and never will be "no-hopers". That’s you, and your 4WDing fuckwad of a constituency, Mark Latham.

Update 1 February 2004

“Slackers” was Simon Crean’s cut’n’replace! On one hand, this shouldn’t be a surprise; boomer Crean’s previous form on GenX stops just a bit short of proposing special Nuremberg Laws to regulate them. On the other hand, who is in charge of this party? While it is acceptable, and maybe even desirable, for a new Opposition Leader to defer to their immediate predecessor’s judgement on matters of major policy or areas of particular expertise (like IR), what the hell was Latham doing letting Crean change his mum’s words of kitchen-sink wisdom?

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