On Blowing Up the Pokies: The Pokie Lounge as a Cultural Site of Neoliberal Governmentality in Australia

Fiona Nicoll

Abstract

In 1999 The Whitlams, a popular ‘indie’ band named after a former Australian prime minister whose government was controversially sacked in 1975 by the Governor-General, released a single titled ‘Blow up the Pokies’. Written about a former band member’s fatal attraction to electronic gaming machines (henceforth referred to as ‘pokies’), the song was mixed by a top LA producer, a decision that its writer and The Whitlam’s front-man, Tim Freedman, describes as calculated to ‘get it on big, bombastic commercial radio’. The investment paid off and the song not only became a big hit for the band, it developed a legacy beyond the popular music scene, with Freedman invited to write the foreword of a ‘self-help manual for giving up gambling’ as well as appearing on public affairs television shows to discuss the issue of problem gambling. The lyrics of ‘Blow up the Pokies’ frame the central themes of this article: spaces, technologies and governmentality of gambling. It then explores what cultural articulations of resistance to the pokie lounge tell us about broader social and cultural dynamics of neoliberal governmentality in Australia.

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