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Punkpolitik – The Secret of Theresa May

By Mirek Vodrážka.

Classic social sciences, such as political science or sociology, are frequently unable to explain important phenomena, even when they fall within their scope. This can be seen in the case of Brexit and the politics promoted by Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Conservative Party.

Brexit is often described and explained as something unanticipated, random and far too chaotic. In order to comprehend what Brexit means, what its origins are, and what its future portends, a new interdisciplinary field must be used, that of discourse translatology. Its techniques allow us to “translate” one social phenomenon into the completely different discourse of another, thereby demonstrating the meaning of the original phenomenon.

Let us attempt, with the aid of applied discourse translatology, to translate one subcultural phenomenon, the 1970s punk movement as represented by the band the Sex Pistols, into the field of Brexit policy in Britain today, so as to explain this current phenomenon in an absolutely new light.

Here it is appropriate to recall a basic, albeit random, fact: Theresa May was born in the same year as John Lydon, known today as the former lead singer of the Sex Pistols. As Johnny Rotten, he became an icon of punk and a role model for rebelling youth.

It would be difficult to find two more contradictory or divergent phenomena than that of the punk subculture and Conservative Party politics. Despite this, the year 1975 was of existential significance to both. Not only were the Sex Pistols established that year, but the first-ever referendum was held on whether Britain should remain part of the European Economic Community, the predecessor to the European Union.

In the 1970s, while the individual members of the up-and-coming generation of youth may have seemed as incongruous to one another as do Mr Rotten and Theresa May, they nevertheless all had a great deal more in common with each other than they might be willing to admit, and much more than the disciplines of British political science, or the sociology of subcultures in particular, might be able to currently reflect upon.

When Malcolm McLaren, the manager of the Sex Pistols, declared that their song “Anarchy in the U.K.” was an expression of the band making their own rules, of unlimited freedom and the “Do It Yourself” style, Theresa May, as a member of that generation, became aware that it was exactly such anarcho-punk values that must be brought into the new style of Conservative politics.

The future leader of the Conservative Party, as a member of that generation, also latently appropriated the basic punk philosophy that, for example, nihilism is basically a creative force, an impulse that drives the world of politics, and that negation is itself action.

What the Sex Pistols expressed in the subculture was something Theresa May has been attempting in the world of politics for quite some time.

What, then, is Brexit and punkpolitik about? As unbelievable as it may seem, this Conservative politician has always been latently fascinated by that world in which her fellow-travellers were overdosing on methamphetamine, injecting drugs directly into their own veins and then photographing themselves with the blood streaming down their arms, sending the message that “This is not a game, this is real, fucked-up life.”

Punkpolitik sets up this problem differently, though: Why should just one individual open his veins when it is possible to open the veins of the entire United Kingdom?

With the aid of Brexit, the leader of the Conservative Party has found a way to open the veins of the entire United Kingdom to allow for a collective high. There is both a hidden political force in her apperception of that famous “Anarchy in the U.K.” message and a program for a generationally new politics of rebellion—punkpolitik.

In the 1970s—the days of her youth—the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was fascinated by the fact that a punk song by the Sex Pistols, the very name of which was censored, managed to top the charts as contraband and, mainly, that it managed to spark the kind of panic that it did in British society. Generationally speaking, that was not just inspiring, but formative in a particularly latent way, especially after the British Parliament condemned the punk band as a threat to the English way of life.

Naturally, Theresa May has been aiming for much more than just to see punk discussed in the British Parliament as if it were an external threat to the nation. She comprehended that it is necessary to bring the punk subculture into the world of high politics. Thus, punkpolitik was born.

In the days of her youth May was also fascinated, as most British citizens were, by the fact that it was exactly those same Sex Pistols who, on 1 December 1976, said the word “SHIT” on television for the first time ever. That was an historical event that was long discussed and written about.

As a politician, however, May was aware that a word such as this must be given some actual political content.

It is exactly applied discourse translatology that demonstrates how that all-encompassing, originally punk term, “SHIT”, was given new content by this Conservative punkpolitik of rebellion, namely, through the process of ending the membership of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the European Union.

“Brexit” has become just another expression for overdosing on the methamphetamine of politics, a way that British society, through the media, can watch its own blood flowing down its very own arms and feel that this is no longer a political game— this is, politically, “real, fucked-up life”!

Just as the public utterance of “SHIT” has been transposed, by punkpolitik, into the term “Brexit”, so the original solipsism of Mr Rotten’s subculture has now been transposed to the level of a nationwide solipsism.

Theresa May loves panic just as much as the Sex Pistols did when they were condemned by the British Parliament as a threat, and therefore the leader of the Conservative Party is currently savouring the experience of that same Parliament sounding the alarm about the threat of Brexit.

Unfortunately, neither the British Parliament nor the citizens suspect that what the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Conservative Party is promoting is actually not “Brexit” at all, but “SHIT”.

Theresa May has allowed herself to be inspired by Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols’ manager, who himself said it was all a con.

She, too, understands very well that punkpolitik, and therefore also Brexit, is a con, but unlike the manager of the Sex Pistols she is not striving to “make money out of chaos”, just to hold power thanks to chaos.

Punkpolitik is essentially a hegemonic swindle, a demonstration of what chaos-key the world is meant to be working in now.

While punk culture was disseminated through record companies like EMI, A&M, or Virgin, Theresa May decided to use the Conservative Party for her promotion in an even more magnificent style.

While Britain has begun, out of concern that there will be a “wild” Brexit, to simulate, for example, the effect of traffic jams at the Port of Dover, the European Union has no idea that what they are hearing from number 10 Downing Street, the official seat of the British Prime Minister, are not instructions on how to direct traffic, but the words and music of that famous punk song “Anarchy in the U.K.”, about how traffic can be anarchistically brought to a halt:

Dunno what I want
But I know how to get it
I want to destroy the passerby

‘Cause I
Want to be
Anarchy

No dogsbody

Anarchy for the U.K.
It’s coming sometime and maybe
I give a wrong time, stop a traffic line …

However, it would be misleading to believe that the meaning of punkpolitik is just to stop traffic and establish anarchy.

The basic philosophy of punkpolitik is located at the level of political time, as presented by Mr Rotten in his famous song “God Save the Queen”:

There’s no future
In England’s dreaming
God save the Queen
No future
No future
No future for you
No future
No future
No future for me

Brexit’s secret consists of its having no future, because it is not about the future. That is its political secret. It is the pure expression of the punkpolitik of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Conservative Party leader Theresa May.

Applied cultural translatology demonstrates to us that comprehending the phenomenon of Theresa May and her politics requires understanding her in association with the subculture that was born during her youth in the second half of the 1970s. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the Johnny Rotten of politics today. It is she who has brought the Sex Pistols’ subculture into the world of high punkpolitik, where the term “Brexit” means nothing other than the punk term “SHIT”.

God Save the Queen.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mired Vodrážka is a musician, feminist and philosopher of chaos. In communist Czechoslovakia, during the 1970s and 1980s, Vodrážka was part of the underground culture and contributed to publishing the samizdat magazine Vokno. He co-organized seminars, cultural performances and conspiratorial meetings of the Charter 77 spokespeople at his Prague apartment. After the fall of the communist regime, Vodrážka became the sole male member in the 1990s of the Gender Studies Foundation in Prague and opened up feminist discussion in the media. He has published the philosophical essays Chaocracy/Chaokracie (1997), Decivilization/Decivilizace (2007), Manifesto of Existentialist History/Manifest existenciálních dějin (2011), Philosophy of the Physicality of History/Filosofie tělesnosti dějin (2013), and Do Czech Women Comprehend Their Own History?/Rozumí české ženy vlastní historii? (2017). He has produced several documentations of the musical underground of the 1980s and is a member of the Center for the Documentation of Totalitarian Regimes (Centrum pro dokumentaci totalitních režimů), a research group.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Gwendolyn Albert studied Czech and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley and came to Prague in 1989 on a Fulbright grant. She participated in the Velvet Revolution as a translator for Civic Forum and has lived in the Czech Republic most of her adult life. She was the Editrix of the zine JEJUNE: america eats its young and has published poetry, essays and translations from Czech to English, including the surrealist novella Baradla Cave by Eva Švankmajerová (Twisted Spoon Press, 2000), as well as contributing to various international human rights research projects She also consulted on the 2016 documentary film “Europe: Which Children Matter?”, directed by Jenne Magno. She translates the news into English daily for news server Romea.cz.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, February 13th, 2019.