Tom Slater

Johnny Rotten’s war on woke

Johnny Rotten's war on woke
Illustration by Natasha Lawson
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God save Johnny Rotten. The former Sex Pistols frontman, real name John Lydon, gave a beautiful interview recently. It’s a moving portrait of his life now, caring full-time for his wife, Nora Forster, who is tragically suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. And it is also a reminder that, despite his newfound responsibilities – and despite being almost five decades into his career – Lydon’s punk spirit remains undimmed.

In the interview with the Sunday Times magazine, he takes aim at woke politics and the humourless narcissists it has produced. 

‘They just view themselves as special’, he says. ‘It’s selfishness and in that respect it’s divisive and can only lead to trouble. I can’t believe that TV stations give some of these lunatics the space. Where is this 'moral majority' nonsense coming from when they’re basically the ones doing all the wrong for being so bloody judgmental and vicious against anybody that doesn’t go with the current popular opinion?’

Lydon puts his finger on a few things here. First is that leftish identity politics, often misunderstood as a ‘collectivist’ phenomenon, is often all about Me, Me, Me. Those who write books and columns about their ‘lived experience’ of oppression, who start every sentence with ‘speaking as a…’, are more interested in talking about themselves, and claiming the mantle of victimhood, than helping anyone else. And indeed for all their #BeKind nonsense these can be some of the most vicious people in politics and culture today.

But above all he sees that this as an establishment phenomenon. ‘These people aren’t really genuinely disenfranchised at all’, he said, and he’s dead right. Show me an identitarian commentator and I’ll show you someone who almost certainly went to private school. The Harry and Meghan saga also showed that wokeness has become a means through which rich and privileged people, royals even, can cleanse themselves of class guilt and pose as victims.

Incidentally, California resident Lydon has some words of advice for the Sussexes in the interview: 

‘[T]hey should mind their own business too, and if you want out of the public awareness then don’t go on the Oprah show… there’s many a McDonald’s both here and in Britain that are more than willing to take on either one or both of them and then they can be truly independent earning their own money.’

Almost 44 years since the BBC banned the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’, dubbing it ‘gross bad taste’, we still have a censorious, snooty establishment – just a different one to the one we had before. While the Tories may hold political power in Britain, cultural power undoubtedly lies with people who have imbibed the divisive, elitist notions of woke politics. The media, the arts world, even the corporate world, are all in thrall to it. This is the new establishment. No wonder Johnny Rotten loathes it.