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Jan 27, 2016

From hipsters to racists, everyone suffers the ‘idiot reflex’ of outrage

From whiny Millenials to crotchety old racists, everyone's on their own witch hunt.

Helen Razer — Writer and Broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and Broadcaster

About a decade ago, I finished up a stint of bar work. I left when the boss sobered up sufficient to stop paying us all twice the award as he had accidentally been, but also at about the time our young patrons had started to behave like Presbyterian grandparents.

The first time a kid asked Rosie, our barmaid-of-a-certain-age, for a sulphite-free white wine, she told him to fuck off twice — once for speaking publicly about a food allergy and once for ordering white wine, which we did not serve. “This’ll put hairs on your chest,” she said, and passed him a Kentucky whiskey.

About the 20th time someone mentioned sulphite or gluten or fructose, Rosie’s sass wasn’t playing so well. Kids of the mid-noughties had started to complain that the bar staff were insensitive. We were insensitive, of course, but this insensitivity had been a brand attribute beloved of dive bars since a barmaid first spat in Papa Hemingway’s Bellini. We played Sabbath, we free-poured bourbon and we delivered disrespect in equal measure to all. Once, that was why people liked us.

On what would turn out to be my last night, I wrote on the chalkboard sign “If You Can’t Fucken Rock, Don’t Fucken Come”. When a millennial complained that the sign was not “inclusive”, I knew that I had become old and confused. I retired my door bitch uniform and repaired to my home where I could stay in at night and remember a time when food sensitivity would never have been mentioned and banjo music never requested in a punk rock bar. Thank goodness I left before social media arrived; my chalk and I would have likely become an unfortunate headline.

Yesterday, on the NSW South Coast, artist and business proprietor Matt Chun met such a fate. For the use of his chalkboard sign, owner of gallery space and cafe Mister Jones, widely held to serve the region’s most potable coffee, is currently facing what news outlets call “outrage”. Perhaps “the idiot reflex of an enfeebled mass” describes it better.

On Monday, Chun had notified customers that his store would be open for yesterday’s public holiday with the chalked words, “Yes, we’re open on national dickhead day”. Apparently, this was too much for those with the now widespread affliction of humour intolerance and a tiny cafe in a tiny town was the subject of a very many very abusive Facebook posts.

Sections of the cultural right were quick to distribute a picture of this sign and it seems that groups including the Canberra chapter of Reclaim Australia exhorted their followers to contact the business and leave “feedback”. The suggestion box of the internet is currently full to overflowing and many Proud Aussies left so much “feedback”, that Mister Jones has now withdrawn from Facebook.

To date, Chun, described to press as a “non-conformist” by Bermagui’s Chamber of Commerce president, has not apologised. Good. I hope he maintains an attitude of if you can’t fucken rock, then don’t fucken come.

But in the era of the empowered consumer, small business owners often face no choice but to perform an act of public contrition. If Facebook and other social media impose a mob standard, grovelling apology can be one’s only recourse.

It’s relatively easy — for me at least — to be stubbornly on Chun’s side. I happen to both despise Australia Day and enjoy good coffee prepared by “non-conformists” with chalkboards. I am not, however, much of a fan of homophobia — having been subject to it myself — so when a strategically identical but ethically dissimilar social media battle was waged on a Melbourne bar, I wasn’t sure what to think.

Handsome Steve’s House of Refreshments, which is just as self-consciously hipster as its name suggests, displayed a temporary sign that read “no poofter drinks” last finals season. Upon being called “homophobic” and worse for his failed irony, Handsome Steve was gracious and ample in apology.

It did the proprietor no especial harm to apologise, but, within its particular context, the sign hadn’t really done any harm either. This mock-masculinity is a staple of Melbourne bar culture and every weekend, weedy guys of all sexual orientations play with the language of a dying patriarchy while wearing football scarves around their bespoke western shirts. To take a statement that was very clearly intended as a critique of such homophobia and force its author to apologise for satire is a numb vigilantism.

But that’s what we’ve got going these days. Whether culturally right or culturally left, every other twit is accusing someone of drinking a charm to kill Goody Proctor. So sensitive, we cannot brook the signs that advertise bars we’ll never visit or coffees we’ll never drink, we’ve become the middle-managers of Salem.

There’s an old view on the radical left that the presence of censorship in a nation is a good sign. If there’s some kind of communication that the state feels the need to control, so the logic goes, then dominant state ideology is threatened.

What we make of a society in which we continually impose our own limits on speech, I’m not quite sure. I do know, however, that from Fitzroy’s hipsters to Reclaim Australia’s extremists, we are very eager to detect the unacceptable. We can no longer fucken rock.

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22 comments

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22 thoughts on “From hipsters to racists, everyone suffers the ‘idiot reflex’ of outrage

  1. mike westerman

    I am grateful that the number of dickheads has not burgeoned to the point of a Sedition Act and cyber squad for social media as is the case in my current reside to the north of Oz. Mind you as oil revenues evaporate and economic tensions rise, there is some support for the social theory that the masses tolerate dickheads only so long…

    Thanks Helen for your surgical critique…always refreshing

  2. BaBr

    Sorry, but this Millennial-bashing really is old and tired now. If you fucken rock, someone else’s white wine couldn’t possible stand in your way! If you know how to do it, just do it.

    one of the things even more annoying than constant whining, is this constant whining about how young people are such whiners.

    When *we* were young, we were strong and mighty and [poverty/working in the mines/war/famine/full-strength beer/dirty jokes] was just a normal part of our lives! But these whining brats nowadays are so spoiled and pampered, they can’t even deal with [poverty/working in the mines/war/famine/full-strength beer/dirty jokes] anymore.

    Same old story over and over again, since the fucken days of Socrates. Yes, the next generation is incredibly *soft*, which is why the world is going to hell in a hand basket. But we better get used to the idea: because *their* days are coming, and food allergies are here to stay, and they won’t go away before *we* kick the bucket.

  3. ken svay

    I hate Australia Day as well but I noticed very few cars with fucken flags on this year.A mate in Perth barely saw any either. Did the dickheads all stay home?

  4. zut alors

    The ‘dickhe@d’ sign would ensure I give the cafe patronage in future.

    And I judge it an accurate renaming of 26th January.

  5. Amark

    Sign deliberately written to outrage and get social media hits does just that

  6. Peter Evans

    Nothing will eclipse the “Happy Father’s Day, Mother Fuckers” sign at Eat Peach back in the day. Brunswick’s finest, RIP.

  7. AR

    We are now seeing the result of the last 30 years which the Wanker Brigade spent trying to pretend that we are all equal, a’la Life of Brian.
    For those who can still read may I recommend Vonnegut’s “Welcome to the Monkey House”?

  8. Bronwyn Hazell

    “”If You Can’t Fucken Rock, Don’t Fucken Come”. When a millennial complained that the sign was not “inclusive”, I knew that I had become old and confused.”
    – When I read that I literally cackled with laugher, drawing attention of my fellow patrons of my local hipster cafe. I’m on the cusp of Gen X and Y, perhaps I am old and confused before my time.

  9. AR

    KenS – nah, ‘fraid not, they are thick (sic!) on the ground west of the GDR.

  10. Norman Hanscombe

    Clearly, Helen, you’d dismiss me as a dinosaur in that I’ve repaid moneys I knew weren’t moeally mine. I also developed the habit as a youngster of writing Englishh without needing to prop it up with expletives or crass comments, which may well also arouse your suspicions?
    I note your need to inhabit bars where it was expected you’d be insensitive, although I doubt Hemingway shared that need. I don’t doubt foe a moment that, as you say, you “had become old and confused”, but it probably happened long before what you assumed was your epiphany.
    On the plus side, it certainly prepared you for the Crikey Zeitgeist, didn’t it, and it’s equally clear that Mr Chun is suitable as a Crikey “journalist”.
    When one of my Great, Great Grandfathers hunted whales off Bermagui they’d have been less gentle with their comments about any laddies who sprouted the sorts of nonsense attributed to Mr Chun than was the Bermagui Chamber of Commerce President; but men were somewhat less dainty in their emotional needs than now seems to be the case, and they’d have been able to do it without the crutch of the kinds of poor quality language used by Mr Chun.
    You conclude with an apt paragraph admitting, “What (you) make of a society in which we continually impose our own limits on speech, (you’re) not quite sure. Full marks for that if nothing else.
    Finally, to help enraged Crikey Land Fellow Travellers when the Censor decides to pass this Post, please do your best to address the matters I’ve actually raised, won’t you.