The easiest way to explain what bogans are, to Americans, is that bogans are the Australian equivalent to rednecks. On the other side of that coin, if you want to describe what a “redneck” is to an Australian you can simply tell them that rednecks are the American equivalent to bogans. Sure, there’s some nuance between “redneck” and “bogan” that inevitably gets lost in translation across the Pacific Ocean, but we’re using some very broad brush strokes here.
The Cambridge Dictionary
If you want to know what bogans are, the official definition of “bogan,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is “an insulting word for a person whose way of dressing, speaking, and behaving is thought to show their lack of education and low social class.”
The definition of “redneck,” also by Cambridge, is “a poor white person without education, especially one living in the countryside in the southern U.S., who has prejudiced (= unfair and unreasonable) ideas and beliefs. This word is usually considered offensive.”
Wikipedia’s entry for “bogan” expands on simple definitions of what bogans are by explaining that “bogan” is
[…] Australian and New Zealand slang for a person whose speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour are considered unrefined or unsophisticated…Some features regularly associated with the bogan stereotype include residing in the outer working class suburbs of larger cities, having teeth that have not had dental care due to cost, having an anti-authoritarian or jingoistic stance, as well as being interested in classic rock music, hoon-driving (think “Fast and Furious” – ed) and excessive alcohol consumption…[Bogans] may refuse to conform to middle-class standards of taste, dietary habits, leisure activities, styles of dress and ways of speaking, and might be looked down upon […] due to preconceived perceptions and biases which can often exacerbate the hardships faced by disadvantaged people.
For the word “redneck” Wikipedia also gives a broader explanation:
Redneck is a derogatory term chiefly, but not exclusively, applied to white Americans perceived to be crass and unsophisticated, closely associated with rural whites of the Southern United States. Its usage is similar in meaning to cracker (especially regarding Texas, Georgia, and Florida), hillbilly (especially regarding Appalachia and the Ozarks), and white trash (but without the last term’s suggestions of immorality) […] People from the white South sometimes jocularly call themselves “rednecks” as insider humor.
Buzzfeed compiled a bunch of responses from Reddit from Australians explaining what bogans are (external link) to the rest of the world. One of the best answers comes from u/CarnivorousTypist:
“Bogan — a term of endearment for a person who is simply living their life. A bit rough around the edges, not usually with the times, somewhat uncultured, but generally friendly. Loves a good swear.”
“Derro — someone who either through misfortune or poor decision making is living above their means or below the poverty line. Generally disgruntled at people outside their small circle, though will be okay in short convos. Sees those in a better financial situation as elitists. Durries and grog come before other bills.
Feral — rough, usually acting like everyone owes them something and will actively seek confrontation if in the mood for a fight. The kind of people to swear at old ladies. Usually found in groups to make them seem untouchable. Does not give a fuck about society or those around them that they affect. Definitely spits gollies in public places.
Drop-kick — good for one thing only.
Adding ‘fucking’ into any of these creates a negative effect.”-u/CarnivorousTypist
Rednecks and Bogans
If you noticed, the definitions for redneck and bogan emphasize class differences in order for one group of people to paint one group of people negatively.
For years, “redneck” has been a word that was used to mock a group of people who fell outside of “respectable” American society. Redneck men were (and still are) historically pitted against various “others,” but mostly against non-whites by the “elites,” in order to keep the middle and lower classes suspicious of, and busy fighting among, each other. “The [CONVENIENT ENEMY OF THE DAY] is coming to take away your jobs, your women, your income, your benefits, and destroy your family/country/way of life!” the powerful would say, laughing all the way to the bank.
Historically, bogans and rednecks have been laughed at and easily dismissed as coarse buffoons. They’ve long been stereotyped as mullet sportin’, torn flannel wearin’, hard drinkin’, classic rockin’, trailer trashin’, train wreckin’ simple, unsophisticated, uncultured, and boorish folk who are always on the fringes of acceptable society.
For the most part, we Americans have embraced our working-class, marginalized, and misunderstood brethren. Jeff Foxworthy, known for his “you might be a redneck” jokes, became the best-selling comedy recording artist of all time. Are there racist rednecks? Absolutely, however, there are also rednecks who have long known the system is rigged against them regardless of race, because they understand how racism and sexism are used against them in a broader class struggle. The differences are really just nitpicking across oceans.
Will I offend someone if I call them a bogan?
It depends. Do you feel that “redneck” is an offensive word? Here’s something to think about. Even if the words themselves are rooted in classism they’re also words embraced by the same people they’re intended to be weaponized against. Bogans are loud, proud, fiercely independent, very anti-authoritarian, and above all they are survivors within societies where, to paraphrase George Carlin, the upper-class uses their existence to scare the shit out of the middle-class.
So, anyway, do you want an American Bogan t-shirt?