Woke …. moi?

17 September 2020

View from the Cotswolds

Woke …. moi?

By Paul Branch

This week I’d like to start with a short quiz, but again I’m afraid those under the age of 70 should look away now.  The rest of you need to cast your failing memory back to the halcyon days of wireless in the 1950s and the BBC Light Programme.  The questions are:  a)  who was the band leader with the catchphrase “Wakey Wakey”?  b)  what position did his son of the same name hold later in the BBC?  and c)  can you name ten shows on the Light Programme of that era?  Note:  Google had not been invented then so you can’t use that, and anyone nominating The Goon Show should remember that this was broadcast mainly on the Home Service with only occasional repeats on the Light Programme.

Nostalgia for the good old days is tinged with sadness at just how far our language has drifted from the standards set then both by the Queen and the BBC.  Notice the use there of the phrase “the good old days”, which could equally well have been replaced by “a long time ago”.  Back then no one would have dreamed of using that current paean to slavering Americanism, “back in the day” …. just writing the words brings a shiver of revulsion to my aged frame.  Which finally leads me and my petty conservative nature (with the smallest “c” imaginable) to my theme for today:  what in heaven’s name does “woke” mean?

I read that woke is an African-American derivation of “awake” or perhaps “aware”, used to denote being awake to or aware of the social issues and injustices of the day, with particular current reference to racism and Black Lives Matter, but also encompassing multi-culturism generally as well as gender differentiation, migration, climate change and probably anything else that interests or concerns you.  I find myself broadly sympathetic to most if not all of the causes surrounding these issues, so I actually took a survey the other day to see if I fit the woke profile, and indeed I do apparently.  But the worrying thing from my point of view is that I see national newspapers and commentators using the term “woke” as a weapon of abuse, as if those accused of having such feelings are on a different planet to the more enlightened members of mankind and really do need to wake up, smell the coffee and get real.  So as Dusty and the Pet Shop Boys might ask, what have I done to deserve this?  Or more likely, just what is wrong with me?

Having spoken to some of my neighbours versed in such matters I now understand that wokeism (?) can have its more extreme tendencies, for example wanting to cook in a manner representative of another country could be seen as being overly patronising to that culture and therefore should not be considered by true wokeists (??).  And another would be Julie Burchill in this week’s Sunday Telegraph using the catchy intro to her features column: “A warning to XR: Go too woke and you might go broke” … by which I assume she means that XR should do away with the more extreme bits of “R” or else lose their remaining credibility.

So let’s start with our planet and its less-than-rosy predicted future, where the argument for Extinction Rebellion and other conservationist movements now seems to boil down to the really urgent pressing need do something now or we’re all doomed.  This has been the case for many years, with countries signing up to all manner of ecological improvements to try to prevent the world frying in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.  Of course there are the nay sayers, plus those developing countries still eking out a living by generating noxious fumes, and Donald Trump.  But we can’t put all the blame on Trump for the continuing worsening situation:  world governments generally and those who empower them are just as responsible for the impending calamity, simply due to the decades of insufficient activity or lack of real commitment to starting to make a difference.  And finally the patience of mainly the younger generation has snapped.  If no one is prepared to take action, what else is left but to protest, and to protest in such a way that someone somewhere finally sits up and takes notice.  Sadly in our case the main fallout from XR temporarily stopping the delivery of some of one morning’s newspapers has been a focus on the alleged challenge to freedom of the press, which sounds just as extreme in one way as some of the activists in theirs.  What else are these protestors supposed to do in order to get a reasonable response from government to ensure they are actively looking to fulfil their stated commitment to reduce global warning?  Wait for another election perhaps?  Five years is a long time for the temperature to keep on creeping up and for icebergs to melt.

Black Lives Matter is another case in point.  Racism has also been an issue for decades, but again when patience evaporates in the face of good words but no action other than condemning the vandalising of statues, inevitably protests become more extreme in the attempt to get government to start listening and actually do something.  And equally inevitably, as we have seen in cities in the USA, the result is extreme violence on the part of protestors and police, inflamed by the actions of morons who attach themselves to such movements as a way of creating trouble, leading to death, injury and the destruction of property.  But if everyone agrees something needs to be done to achieve a more socially just community, what’s the alternative?  The good citizens of Belarus are trying very hard to make their point by peaceful mass protests, but the chances are they will continue to be ignored by a President very aware that he has a strong friend on his doorstep, so peaceful protest may well soon turn into outright revolt.  It does seem that people have to die before the world’s crises are resolved.

Speaking of which, we still turn our backs on migrants trying to get to a better life in the hope that Greece and Italy will continue to bear the brunt of the problem.  At Nigel Farage’s apparent behest our gallant Royal Naval will repel them all … with little or no thought seemingly that with all our relative wealth and resources we could try a bit harder to help solve the problem.

So is this all overly woke on my part?  Or are Priti Patel and her mates the antidote to wokidity (???), as the obstacles to facing up to reality and compassion by getting something done at last?  Hopefully it’s time for less hokey cokey and a bit more wakey wakey and wokey wokey.

Answers to the quiz:  a)  Billy Cotton (Snr);  b)  Bill Cotton (Jnr), Controller BBC1;  c)  The Al Read Show, The Archers, Beyond Our Ken, The Billy Cotton Band Show, Children’s Favourites, The Clitheroe Kid, Dick Barton – Special Agent, Educating Archie, Family Favourites, Hancock’s Half Hour, Have A Go (with Wilfred Pickles and his wife Mabel at the table), Housewives’ Choice, I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, Journey Into Space, Life With The Lyons, Listen With Mother, Meet The Huggetts, Mrs Dale’s Diary, Much Binding In The Marsh (said to be set in an RAF station in the Cotswolds), Music While You Work, The Navy Lark, Round The Horne, Sing Something Simple, Sports Report, Take It From Here, Woman’s Hour, Workers’ Playtime and many more.

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