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Wacktivism in focus

Nicole Lampert discusses the Rule Britannia row and "wacktivism" on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yes, I’m talking about the stupid Rule Britannia row…

When even the son of Yoko Ono and John Lennon thinks the cultural revolution has gone too far, you know you have a problem. Sean Lennon, who knows a thing or two about wacky behaviour, announced on Twitter: ‘There’s a difference between ‘activism’ and ‘wacktivism’. I think we have planted our feet firmly in the latter.’

His comments came in response to very different but equally extreme events on both sides of the Atlantic as the response to the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing BLM marches has led to a cultural witch-hunt.

Over here, it means even the mere mention of the word ‘slaves’ must be expunged in the most zealous of ways. Yes, I’m talking about the stupid Rule Britannia row.

An urbanite liberal, I’ve never been a big Last Night of the Proms fan. Strange as it sounds, the sight of lots of people waving flags and singing Rule Britannia has always seemed to me to be peculiarly twee and unBritish – as a nation we tend to wear our patriotism more lightly. If it’s on the telly, I will simply switch over to the other side.

But this year demands that the Proms are culturally whitewashed which means that I find myself defending a song I don’t even like. Rule Britannia will not be sung this year. Only the music will be heard. The BBC could have claimed (and people would have accepted this claim) that the decision was made because there will be no audience in attendance this year.

Instead, they had to make it about BLM. This year’s guest conductor, Finland’s Dalia Stasevska, according to a BBC source quoted in the Sunday Times is, ‘A bit supporter of Black Lives Matter and thinks a ceremony without an audience is the perfect moment to bring change.’

The scale of thinking that a song which celebrates military power and not being slaves is therefore racist and requiring a purge was explained when a BBC producer took the whole thing a step even further. Catriona Lewis, an executive producer for Songs of Praise, tweeted: ‘Do those Brits who believe it’s ok to sing an 18th Century song about never being enslaved, written when the UK was enslaving and killing millions of innocents, also believe it’s appropriate for neo-Nazis to shout, ‘We will never be forced into a gas chamber?’

It is hard to know where to start with a sentence which is so offensively wrong other than to say, quite loudly, that a jingoistic song written for an 18th century royal masque about Alfred the Great defeating the Vikings, does not make you into a neo Nazi singing about gas chambers. Once again, the Holocaust – a unique moment in which 6milllion people were killed on an industrial scale for being Jews – is turned into political point scoring.

Over in America things have taken an even nastier turn. In an incident which was filmed and shown on Twitter, a group of mainly white BLM activists in Washington, presumably having tired of looting and burning, turned on diners in a restaurant demanding they raise their fists in support. When a woman refused to, they surrounded her shouting ‘White silence is violence’ and accused her of supporting white supremacy. The crowd around her singing their songs, crowding in on her until she is pinned up against the wall, feeling, presumably, very virtuous.

I don’t think they realised how much like fascists they looked. But this whole cultural war takes elements from both fascism and communism and basically every extreme idea that freedom-loving Brits and Americans are meant to be against.

Yes, there is racism in both countries. And yes, more needs to be done to address it. A lot more.

But demanding a song is not sung or berating diners for not joining your march is not the way to do it. It achieves nothing and is performative nonsense. It doesn’t even provide a sticking plaster for the real structural issues of racism.

In fact, it has the opposite effect. It appals liberals like me and is likely to send others flying into the arms of the far right.

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Nicole Lampert

Nicole Lampert is a freelance journalist. A former showbusiness editor of the Daily Mail, she is also a best selling ghost writer, and now specialises in entertainment and opinion pieces. You can see her work in the Daily Mail, Drama Quarterly, Haaretz, The Spectator, The Independent, The Jewish Chronicle and Glamour.

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