Public Service Announcement: Wankers and Jerk-Offs

It seems to me that sometimes, our American cousins are utterly bewildered and confuzzled by certain terms in common use in other English dialects. One of the more notable examples of this is the word wanker.
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“Whatareya” by This Is Serious Mum

Possibly the most fundamental conflict in Australian society – more than any question of morality or ethics – is one particular social divide. It’s the one that lies between the two groups characterised by TISM as the yobboes and the wankers. Between the university-educated and the trade-school-educated; between the book reading and the Herald-Sun reading; between chardonnay and beer drinkers.

Americans would recognize it as the divide between jocks and nerds, but here in Australia, although it springs from the same roots, it goes wider. It’s a difference between levels of education, and thus, levels of income. Ultimately, it is a division between the working class and the middle class. But these are all just labels, indicators, general trends. To be a yobbo or to be a wanker is a matter of personal identification. It’s a decision you make for yourself in primary school, not even knowing you’ve made it.

Australia is a land of considerable social mobility, but to travel from one of these tribes to the other is a difficult thing to manage, as both groups are insular and suspicious of outsiders. That said, increasingly, Australia finds itself culturally perched in between the two groups, as politicians of all stripes try to position themselves to appeal to both groups and unwittingly create bridges across them. Australia’s high level of urbanisation also tends to break down the barriers, as it forces the two groups to interact more than would otherwise be the case (as in Australia’s rural areas, where the proportions skew massively towards yobboes rather than wankers). For that matter, there’s a strong tendency in both groups towards culturally appropriating the other group – and this is, of course, because they are not two separate cultures, but merely two facets (albeit large ones) of the larger Australian culture as a whole.

It is, despite what the song implies, perfectly possible to appreciate James Hird and James Joyce, after all. But for exposing the fault line, making it visible, the song deserves a greater recognition, if only to remind us all of a mistake we shouldn’t make.