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rotten is as rotten does: our response to johnny rotten’s offensive television tirade

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So, Johnny Rotten lived up to his stage name in an interview with Channel Ten’s The Project on Tuesday night. It is now subsequently the interview about which seemingly everyone is talking – if you haven’t seen it yet, watch it here.

The interview, which was to promote his tour with band, Public Image Ltd (PiL), landed him the label of ‘sexist misogynist pig’ by those on the panel. It was over thirty years ago since he was in his heyday as a punk rock god with the Sex Pistols.

Clearly, this interview has caused controversy across a variety of social media. There were thousands of Tweets in support of Carrie Bickmore, the host he so viciously verbally abused; equally as many stating that Lydon (Rotten’s real name) is a ‘has-been’, a no longer relevant voice of a bygone generation and, just generally, a rude, grumpy old man

But could we really have expected anything less from Lydon? To me, the whole thing screams publicity incident, timed to coincide nicely with the death of the punk movement’s enemy, Margaret Thatcher.

Even before the pre-recorded interview was aired, there was plenty to suggest that this was going to be a controversial, must-see interview. Dave Hughes, on the panel for the interview, Tweeted before the show that they ‘attempted’ to interview Lydon, and that he was a ‘total asshole to Carrie’, then encouraged followers to watch the show. There were warnings on the show itself before the interview was aired, stating the nature of how their questions unfolded. It was already a basic guarantee to generate controversy and discussion.

It was also made perfectly clear that Lydon was in the country touring with PiL, and that his appearance on The Project was to promote his band’s tour. Well, he certainly created a renewed sense of interest in what he has to say. Promotional genius? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Perhaps the interviewers should have been a little bit more prepared for what they were getting themselves into with Lydon. The man became famous in the first place for essentially pissing off authorities with his typically punk rock behaviour, extreme working class views and being a walking, talking generator of controversy on issues from the royal family, to swearing and, now, misogyny. After all, generating heated discussion and anti-authoritarianism was what the Sex Pistols were all about back in the ’70s.

But this attitude isn’t the way to go for a man pushing sixty. Although he may not want to accept this, the punk rock movement from the ’70s is essentially dead. Very few people are going to think of it as “cool” to give Bickmore such a foul tirade of abuse on national television over something as innocent as interrupting him to ask him a question.

Lydon is clearly out of touch. Very few people can get away with holding the attitudes they held more than thirty years ago, and even fewer can be considered “cool” for doing so. He needs to move with the times; acknowledge the success he once had as a bad-boy punk rock frontman, and move on. In the interview, PiL are hardly even mentioned by either party. Of course the Sex Pistols attitude was going to be at the forefront of what was discussed.

So, it is pretty clear that the abusive and slightly deranged ramblings of Lydon were for publicity purposes. Audiences are willing to forgive him given the reputation he has carved out for himself over the years. But this forgiveness only extends so far – we could probably forgive him for having some not-so-kind things to say about Margaret Thatcher and a few witticisms here and there. What we cannot forgive, though, is the ending of the interview. Even if he was trying to generate controversy; even if he was trying to self-promote; and even if he genuinely was having issues with his earpiece which led to all of the panellists sounding ‘like excitable children’, we cannot forgive the fundamental heart of what it was he was saying.

That he would intentionally target Bickmore amongst an otherwise all-male panel, calling her offensive names and unfairly labelling her, offends the larger public as well. It is extremely inappropriate for Lydon to taunt and bully Bickmore in the manner in which he did. Similarly unacceptable was the opinion that he perpetuated that ‘when a man is talking, do not interrupt’ – this wasn’t even an attitude that was current in Lydon’s ’70s heyday. This is, quite simply, unacceptable. Also unacceptable is his referring to himself as a ‘master of the universe’, followed by a possible Nazi salute (although we can’t be sure that this is what was intended). His self-glorification, arrogance and pigheadedness in this interview completely counteract his persona of punk rocker (presumably unfazed by loud noises) and working class battler.

Then again, maybe the whole thing is just another act; a desperate plea from a man whose relevance in the industry seems to have expired. And if nothing else, it’s certainly got us talking.

By Alexandra Van Schilt

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3 thoughts on “rotten is as rotten does: our response to johnny rotten’s offensive television tirade

  1. Considering it was pre-recorded I would have told him he was a cock sucking piece of shit and go fuck himself then cut the interview and walked away. You don’t sit and tolerate that, laughing along with him, as they did, and accept that sort of behaviour from anyone. I would have applauded her if she had a go at him and walked away but she stayed and took it. Not good.

  2. Sadly rotten’s misogyny will cause a reaction and get him the publicity he obviously craves. He will appeal to the many misogynists out there waiting for yet another excuse to do their thing. I just read a comment posted one hour ago on UTUBE by a woman defending him and agreeing with what he said about the female presenter’s voice. When women are complicit in the denigration of their own gender it is even sadder.

  3. I am a massive fan of John Lydon and I don’t think he’s a misogynist. He has been married for 35 years to a strong woman who he is famous for involving in his business decisions. He’s also well known for having non-gender delineated roles in his family life and in the raising of his kids. British 1970s punk, which the Sex Pistols pioneered, as a movement was based on quite an inclusive philosophy and paved the way for a lot of strong female singers: The Slits, Siouxsie Sioux, The Raincoats, etc – and the riot grrl movement of the 1990s has its roots in punk.

    When I watched the interview, the panelists (including Carrie) do talk over the top of him and don’t seem to be affording him an opportunity to finish. I appreciate that they need to get their soundbites but I can also see why he’d be offended by this.

    The words “don’t interrupt when a man is talking” are sexist in themselves but much of what Lydon says (in this and other interviews) is intended ironically. While he has a history of being deliberately inflammatory I don’t think that’s what he was going for here and I think getting upset about this shows a lack of understanding of his particular sense of humour.

    I’m still a fan – he’s done a lot for progressive movements over the years and I find it refreshing that he isn’t polite all the time. For me, that’s what punk is all about!

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