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.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

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

  1. Dogs breakfast

    Well done Norman, you actually proffered a viewpoint. I won’t address your points, although that glorifies the scribblings somewhat, other than to acknowledge that yes, in years gone by, emotionally crippled old guys used to beat people up to get their point across.

    Helen, excellent, the rage hasn’t dissipated yet. Not so much left in me now, although I will say that a bar that didn’t serve any wine at all is my kind of bar.

    And I was going to have a go at you about dissing millennials, but google tells me that is the term for gen y, those born last millennium! Go figure.

    Irony is not a strong point for that group, champions of sensitivity and inclusiveness, while reserving the right to dish it out like the worst kind of mob.

    There is hope in the form of the children of gen x, those born at the end of last millennium and this millennium.

    Love the comments, by the way.

  2. pete rommon

    Its just a growing mentality that relies on tribalism or binaries. People just cant handle the power of globalized communications.
    hipsters , millennials, bogans lefties, the endless need to label everything is what drives the tribalism the nationalism the elitism the schism , its hard to keep abreast of “viral” memes, its all getting a bit silly.
    After all we are just humans and primarily a part of nature , we are organic creatures, its really quite a bizarre period in human history, because even on issues that aren’t personal like the climate you see this tribal ignorance , the survival of the human race isn’t enough to bring common sense into it. Humans are stupid creatures they worry about things that don’t really matter.I mean the sun is going to melt your face off and your worried about having an even tan . idiotic…

  3. Scott Grant

    Good Heavens! Are there people out there who actually care what is written in Facebook? Worse still, are there people who actually read Facebook pages? I am outraged! Shocked, even!

  4. Fake Account

    The insensitive clod should have put a trigger warning and had a ‘safe space’ with complimentary cookies and video of frolicking puppies so generation offended could chill the f**k out.

  5. Kfix

    Geez Norman, bit more saltpetre in the Milo than normal this morning? You almost made it to coherence there. However your case for superior usage of the English language might have been helped by 1) spelling the fucken word correctly and 2) not enlisting *whalers* FFS as an example of non-profane users of language. Do you really think that a whale boat was never graced by the sort of salty language that seems to bring a rosy blush to your delicate cheeks?

  6. Graham R

    We’ve become Americans, haven’t we? If something is not flagged “satire” in coloured lights, accompanied by a Police escort, then we no longer get a joke.

    FFS, Australia.

  7. mikeb

    Fucken-A Helen. Top read.

    One of my kids owns a café. In the interests of prosperity she has to offer a whole range of “gluten-free” shit. Irony is the people who demand it are rarely gluten intolerant as evidenced by the same people wanting gluten-free cake but then ordering a rye-bread toastie (for example). Then there is the need to advertise as “gluten-free” produce that would never have gluten in it anyway. Unfortunately nothing is more intolerant than a gluten-free nazi.

  8. graybul

    Graham R . . . An excellent summary of what has been an entertaining series of posts.

  9. Robyn Gilbert

    BaBr whines about old people whining about the whining of milennials. Fantastic! Thanks Helen, keep it up.

  10. Desmond Graham

    society has a new class of people – the group that finds offence in innocuous or humorous statements and those who are automatically offended. –
    in order to cater for the newer classes I am starting a fashion label – Offendi™ [not to be confused with Fendi] and instead of seasonal fashion it will predict offence trends – one of the first lines will be – Genderbenders followed by Normalizers [for the abnormals who want to feel normal e.g. same sex marriagers ] then the Transfats – larger sizes for the larger transgenders the list is endless .

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details