“What do both UC and ANU students have in common?
They all applied to ANU”.
The above joke caused quite a stir after it was posted in the ANU Schmidtposting group last week. A later post in the group called out the joke and others, such as the long standing insult that UC is a ‘’super TAFE”, claiming they showed a ‘’’distain for working class people.’’
However, the debate reached climax after an article in the ANU student newspaper, Woroni, claimed that ‘’it’s not classist to make jokes about students from the University of Canberra.’’
According to the author, this is because UC students are not working class and they are part of a ‘’history of banter between the universities.’’
Before I engage with the two core arguments presented in the article, I want to make an important point: I believe the debate at ANU has been incorrectly framed by focusing on the relationship between UC and the working class. I’m going to focus on examining if the jokes are ‘’classist’’ in nature, not if UC or our students are working class.
The first argument presented by the Woroni author is that the jokes cannot be classist because our students are not working class. In a strange choice of supporting evidence, the article points to the average starting salary of our grads, an impressive 58,000k.
UC grads earn far too much money to be considered working class, meaning there isn’t an “ANU rich UC poor divide” for the joking relationship to be class-based.
This interpretation misrepresents both the concept of class and the nature of the jokes by ANU students about UC. Class is more than money and isn’t imply determined by the counting numbers of zeros on your payslip. It extends to attributing higher value to one set of ‘’lifestyle norms, values and tastes,’’ over another.
Likewise, class doesn’t have to simply be a distinction between the upper and working class, as suggested in the article. For a joke to be classist, it simply needs to prioritise one set of social or economic values at the expense of another.
Let’s apply this framework to ANU jokes about UC. Jokes calling UC a ‘’super TAFE’’ or attacking our low ATAR entries aren’t about the financial status of our students.
They ridicule the intelligence of our students and the value of the degrees we offer by implying they are not as valuable as the ones offered at ANU, which require higher standards of entry.
This asserts greater cultural value to ANU degrees and denigrates those offered by UC, clearly fitting the above definition of class.
The second argument of the article asserts that the jokes are part of a ‘’history of banter’’ between ANU and UC, meaning they can’t be considered classist.
This was analogised to the jokes between the author’s high school when they played their ‘’rich’’ rivals in cricket.
Whilst comparing the ANU vs. UC rivalry to my own experience of banter between the two high schools located in East Nowra is tempting, I want to offer a more theoretical perspective.
To do so, I’m going to draw on everybody’s favourite crack-smoking 20th century Austrian doctor, Sigmund Freud.
He argued that certain jokes were tendentious, containing a hostile element towards a group. For Freud, these jokes are justified under the excuse of ‘’only joking,’’ allowing for a sentiment to be expressed that would be considered hostile if conveyed through another communicative form (Freud 1953).
From this perspective, the style of joke provides an opportunity for ANU students to make comments about UC that would otherwise be deemed inappropriate, concealing the hostile classist elements behind the joke.
These rebuttals show that a joke doesn’t have to be about working people to be class-based, nor does the justification of ‘’friendly banter’’ render the classist element irrelevant.
However one final question remains. Should we care? As the University of Canberra meme page points out, this debate has been fuelled by ANU students getting offended on our behalf, not criticism from UC students.
To answer this, I suggest turning your attention to the only useful bit of evidence presented in the article: UC grads find work quicker than their ANU counterparts after the completion of their degree.
These statistics suggest that UC students are all probably too busy putting the skills they’ve learnt in the classroom to use in the workplace to spend time worrying about the issue. Leave the theoretical pondering to those who will have a bit more time on their hands after they finish their degree.
Freud, S. (1953). The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press.