I left the suburbia of Penrith a few years ago for the big smoke of Sydney. At the time I told people the reason I was moving from the place I was born and raised was for convenience and accessibility. What I didn’t tell them was that I secretly couldn’t stand Penrith anymore. Despite being only an hour from Sydney’s CBD, in many respects it feels like its a million miles away from the beaches, the sky-rises and the trendy inner suburbs that define Sydney’s core. It certainly wasn’t the locale of Penrith that didn’t sit easy with me – the snaking Nepean River with the majestic Blue Mountains as a backdrop, the fresh air and wide open spaces mean Penrith provides a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city. Nor was it the ‘typical westies’ that (sometimes) unfairly characterise the outer western suburbs of Sydney. No part of Sydney is immune from these so-called ‘uncultured’ characters, and I find the down-to-earth larrikin nature that inflects the good people of the Western suburbs refreshingly welcome in comparison to their Eastern counterparts. However, what ultimately drove me from my hometown was the rise of what I refer to as the ‘Beefcake-Bro Culture’ – a new wave of disturbing bogan culture festering in the youth of suburbia.
The re-birth of Australia’s muscle bro culture in not unprecedented – Australia has seen a rise and demise in both the surfie culture of the 1960’s and the ‘get big’ gym phase of the 1980’s amongst its blokes. But this new era of ‘roided boganism contains a much more dangerous and volatile streak amongst the suburban youth of today. It really is a perfect storm of factors that has given rise to the latest manifestation of boganesque masochism rampant within Australian youth culture, but particularly apparent in the Western suburbs of Sydney. It’s not just cultural either, with economic, political and ethnic factors also contributing to this ‘Bro Culture’. From Ambarvale to Abbottsbury, Bankstown to Blacktown, Castle Hill to Campbelltown, and Parramatta to Penrith, Beefcake Bro Culture reigns dominant. Here are the factors that have given birth to this new wave of blatant boganism:
1. The state is reeled back – Even though politics dominates our news and popular culture, the state as an institution no longer has the swagger it once had. I’ve written about it in a couple of my posts in regards to free-trade agreements, but the general idea also applies to our society in general. In an era of neoliberal economic policies, the idea is thrust upon our youth that we don’t need society since we are solely responsible for our own personal well-being. It’s a friendly way of framing ‘every man for himself’. In a contemporary context, without the structure and stability provided by the state, the individual no longer feels any affinity to society as a whole and instead bobs around in the rough seas’ of society as a lost buoy (pun intended!)
2. The onus is shifted to the individual – According to neoliberal theory, individuals are naturally self-interested. Because of this they can use this opportunity of individualisation to overcome the restraining powers of society. Bearing in mind neoliberalism’s tendency to value the individual over society, it could be argued that this ideology is hazardous as it acts to tear apart important social bonds. The things that gelled our parents’ generations, and the generations before that together, are melting before our very eyes. No longer is societal well-being important, we are now nothing but mere consumers forced to sell our labour and in return buy more shit. The youth of today are no longer the communal, sentient beings that their ancestors were. They are now supposed to be the epitome of homo economicus – essentially a wholly rational being that pursues wealth for their own self-interest.
3. Education, or lack thereof – Community and society has also been deliberately deconstructed by the state and the markets for the benefits of unfettered economic growth. We’re not a society anymore, we’re an economy. And an economy in a rich developed nation such as Australia needs high-skilled jobs. To fill these high skilled jobs, the youth need to be educated to a very high level. But as the state and the markets demand more from those being educated, they also don’t wanna pay for it. What has resulted in this country is a situation where our education system is in terminal decline compared to other comparable nations. This is particularly notable in the fields of science and maths. The limited funds that are allocated to education are siphoned off to the non-government sector at the highest rate in the developed world – with no difference in academic edge. Essentially just money pissed up the wall. When we turn to higher education, the state is attempting to deregulate the universities whilst pushing those hoping to gain an education into profit-driven private colleges that resemble Ponzi schemes. Add in a compliant, homogenised and concentrated media (the most concentrated in the developed world) and a complacent populous and you have the recipe for a nation of uneducated, mindless dumb-shits incapable of critical thought.
4. Nationalism, Racism and Borders – In an era of ‘user pays’, ‘individualisation’ and ‘free trade agreements’, the state has essentially ceded power over to corporations. Big business runs the show these days. But the state still needs to show us peepz that they’re still relevant. As Tim Dunlop writing for The Drum notes,
“National security” is the last shot in the locker of governments who have actively ceded control of nearly everything else they do to corporations.
As barriers to trade have evaporated over the last 30 years, barriers to the movements of people have, by and large, remained.
The state, incapable of enacting positive change in any other aspect of our lives in an era of neoliberalism, have now turned to their last bastion of control – our borders. Our dumbed-downed youth, angry at the world for delivering them the highest youth unemployment rate ever, job insecurity, high costs of living and a real estate market they’re essentially priced out of, feel the need to blame someone. That ‘someone’ (according to the government of the day – both espoused by Labor and Liberal, take your pick) becomes the other – the immigrant, the asylum seeker, the refugee, ‘illegal’ or temporary worker. Despite being a nation founded on immigration, the youth of today are encouraged by our politicians and our rabid, sensationalist media to demonise these people. We all saw an outburst of the Southern-cross tattooed, drunk and violent kind I’m referring to on that fateful day in Cronulla in 2005. We saw it again yesterday when they tried to bond together over the 10th anniversary of that riot. The youth of today – lost, confused, unable to critically analyse the torrents of (dis)information thrown at them, lash out at what they don’t know and don’t understand. ‘The Other’ becomes our national obsession, our scapegoat – and a place for our disenchanted youth to dump their fear and loathing on.
5. Steroids and ‘Ice’ – However, after a while the pursuit of blaming ‘The Other’ for societies’ ills runs out of steam. With no job prospects, no societal or familial structure, no ‘true enemy’ (except for those that inhabit their dog-eat-dog world), no purpose in life and no education – these youthful men formally enter the realm of nothingness. They are no one, nothing, nihilistic. So they adopt a new persona – that of the douchebag. Their disregard for others combined with their selfish pursuit of individualism (whilst ironically attempting to replicate previous ‘gods’ of this particular culture i.e. the late ‘Zyzz‘) has nearly completed their transformation into a true Beefcake Bro – but one key element is missing: drugs. In a world of quick satisfaction and instantaneous results, why would you wait for anything? Wanna get ripped fast? Don’t just work out and look after your body… take steroids and shady supplements! Now you’re an MMA fighter… congratulations! Wanna get rekted fast? Don’t just have a few drinks or a joint… take speed or cocaine or smoke some ice! These are the new rules of the game.
Combine all these seemingly unrelated factors I have listed together and you have a recipe for a truly unlikeable generation of complete and utter fuckwits. And I can say something like that – because I’m also that generation.
You see, the reason I’ve highlighted these diverse factors is to illustrate that this isn’t some fad that will die down when the racists leave the beaches of Cronulla or when the speakers are finally switched off at Stereosonic. The rise of the Beefcake Bro culture is endemic and entrenched and going nowhere soon. This is because it is the result of structural economic, cultural and political changes that have occurred within our society over the last 30 or so years. This perspective I provide you with will sadly be unable to better equip you to eradicate this nouveau wave of douchebaggery, but it will hopefully help you to better understand why this peculiar culture has arisen. The real shame is that this analysis will not make Penrith anymore inhabitable, as the Beefcake-Bro Culture is deeply entrenched out here in the west of Sydney. The best I can do is hope I don’t accidentally piss off one of their kind next time I’m out having a drink… I’m not too keen on having my face glassed, you see.