Singers Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan with toy guns, circa 1987. (Tim Roney/Getty Images)

2020: It’s no place for the old

The debate over Fairytale of New York is proof that 2020 is the year in which woke doctrine went into overdrive

Artillery Row

Every Christmas we are subjected to the debate about how appropriate it is to play or listen to that festive favourite, Fairytale of New York, by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, a song that contains the words “slut” and “faggot”.

While the controversy predates the emergence of woke culture, with its hyper-sensitivity to language it fears might hurt the feelings of women, gays and minority categories, political correctness has been going on for ages.

So, it’s no surprise that the issue has returned this year. The fact that BBC Radio 1 has decided to air the song in redacted form, with “faggot” replaced by “haggard”, is still lamented by most. A YouGov poll has found that only 15 per cent of the British populace agree with the BBC’s decision, with 63 per cent being opposed to it.

Woke believers speak of white people almost as a different species

Yet the dispute regarding this song seems louder than ever this time around. This should not surprise us. The decision to censor the song, the publicity given to this by the media, and the public indignation that has ensued, is befitting of a year in which woke doctrine went into overdrive. This has been the year of domestic confinement, of boredom and of idle hands, with woke warriors compensating for the vacant hours, loneliness and impotence by enlisting into campaigns to have words banned and statues pulled down.

The remarkable thing about wokery is not that it’s progressive and forward thinking, as its adherents think, but that it’s so regressive and reactionary. It conceives of different races as hermetically sealed – woke believers speak of white people almost as a different species – and that pigmentation dictates how we think and behave. The worst, biologically-determinist racists of the nineteenth century thought exactly the same. Today’s social justice campaigners condemn males in the way the most egregious feminists of the 1970s spoke of men as subhuman.

The desire to censor offensive words, to shut people up, to punish people for saying unacceptable words, were hallmarks of communism in Eastern Europe in the last century. The latest initiative, now under statutory consideration in Scotland and proposed by the Law Commission for England and Wales, to prosecute people for saying offensive things in their own homes, is something we used to read only see in films about East Germany.

Those who want to articulate their discrimination have more commonly understood words at their disposal

It’s appropriate then, perhaps ironic, that the latest woke storm should be focussed on the “faggot”, an archaic, derogatory, chiefly American term for homosexuality that never caught on in this country. You can still buy pork faggots in the supermarket but Tesco and Morrisons have felt no compulsion to remove them from their freezers. Similarly, the word “slut” is mostly used today in a chiefly ironic or humorous context, UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom’s usage of the word last year in a joke was an example (the joke backfired, of course – literal-minded woke doctrine has no sense of humour).

The word “faggot” is seldom used in anger these days. I have never heard it used in real life. I suspect the same goes for you. Neither have I heard “slut” directed against someone with the intention of hurting her feelings. Most young people probably haven’t heard the word faggot at all. Those who want to articulate their homophobia or misogyny have far stronger and more commonly understood words at their disposal.

Radio 1 is aimed towards a younger generation, and we are led to believe that young people are more inclined to be offended by language that is derogatory of gays and women. This talk of wokery and “snowflakes”, given undue prominence in the news pages, fuels a myth that all people under thirty subscribe to the dogma. It is only a minority of young posh, vocal, well-connected people – mostly students at top ranking universities – who make outrageous or stupid claims that newspaper editors relish. Twitter is not the same as real life.

Being a true liberal, left and right, is about constantly resisting this urge to ban and banish words

The irony is that while most people under-thirty are as tolerant and inquisitive as their parents, and are mostly indifferent and often quite hostile to their loud and boring ban-happy contemporaries, it is white, middle-aged, middle-class people like me, those in charge of the media, who are fuelling today’s woke culture. It is people responsible for the BBC’s output who are instigating this censorship before any complaints have come in. It is middle-aged politicians in Holyrood and middle-aged lawyers in London who are pushing for more censorship. It is white, middle-class academics who are churning out books about how racism is everywhere and that all white people are awful.

If wokery is not an incipient, all-consuming ideology held by a demographic that will be in charge in twenty years’ time, neither is it new. In the 1990s we had “political correctness” which also policed what could be said before that. A decade before, we had inner-city Labour councils always on guard for racism in schools.

All cultures have taboos, which is why they all have things that can’t be said in public. It’s only the target of censure that changes over time, never the human impulse so silence those who make transgressions. Being a true liberal, left and right, is about constantly resisting this urge to ban and banish words that might make uncomfortable.

The regressive action of substituting “haggard” for “faggot” brings back memories of the 1980s, when repeats of films featuring the potty-mouthed Eddie Murphy had his naughty words dubbed over, replace with the likes of “you motherfunker!”. It was laughable then. The same is risible now.

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