Johnny Silverhand is a G*dd*mned Poser
Can we talk about Johnny Silverhand for a quick mo? He’s at the heart of Cyberpunk 2077. Everybody knows who he is, nobody actually likes him (although many adore him). And as much as I tried, I found I didn’t like him, either.
Without giving too much away (but yes, there be spoilers ahead), the story in CP77 is one of redemption — redemption for Johnny Silverhand and a setting right of his past mistakes. If you’re less generous, it’s about revenge, but it would be generous in saying Johnny isn’t necessarily successful in setting anything to rights. It’s not the messiness of his character that I don’t like, however. The crusty asshole who ends up doing the right thing for completely selfish reasons is kind of a hallmark of the genre. My issue lies more in that Johnny Silverhand is a hypocritical motherfucker, but not intended to be. He was written badly.
And that’s the thing, he’s a rockerboy, which is to say that he’s all about that decadent rock and roll lifestyle (with added hyper violence because we’re in Night City, baby!) At odds with that is Johnny’s high-minded crusade against the corpos. Throughout the game, he makes a lot of valid points about the evils of capitalism and the corporate overlords that run everything. He also drives a fucking Porsche and is a rampant, unrepentant misogynist.
Johnny is as vocal about his disdain for sex workers and dolls as he is about his hatred of Arasaka. He thinks they’re a waste of space and better off dead than living the way they do. He treats them like they don’t matter. Not only that, but he verbally abuses Samurai groupies and is absolutely garbage to Alt Cunningham (and presumably Rogue, too, given her reaction to him).
In Johnny’s behaviours and attitudes, the game devs miss the mark on something pretty fundamental: you’ll find a disproportionate number of activists among sex workers, for obvious reasons. Chiefly, you can’t really fight for the downtrodden, abused and forgotten in society without fighting for sex workers. So you have to ask, how is Johnny Silverhand’s attitude toward sex work (and women) any better or different to how the corpos treat everyone (especially sex workers)?
It’s not, and this makes aspects of his character really incongruous. Johnny Silverhand embodies the gross decadence of rock and roll in its heyday while trying to be an anti-corporate activist. These things don’t fit well together, and Johnny’s tirades ring hollow when placed in the context of how much he talks about his own dick and about getting wasted. He seems impotent. And not just as an incorporeal spectre 50 years past his prime. All his rhetoric amounts to a petty grudge against Arasaka for taking his GF before he could convince her to take him back — and his reaction to that is the height of narcissism, by the way. He can’t even acknowledge that they wanted her because she was one of the singularly most talented netrunners, probably ever. It had to be as a petty dig at him because he’s somehow a big threat to them for reasons that are never really given. A giant, monolithic corporation isn’t going to care about one disgruntled rocker boy, no matter how big a nuisance he tries to be.
The Game did one thing right. They show that regardless of Johnny’s self-importance, he’s historically irrelevant. He did one insane thing that failed to achieve what it was meant to, and then they dumped his body in an unmarked grave. Even those diehard fans of his music are considered burnouts stuck in the past. His friends can barely muster two nice things to say about him, and only seem to come around out of nostalgia and a grudging like of V.
Ultimately, the disconnect comes from the developers and not from any intended internal logic in his characterization. Someone must have told them Johnny Silverhand was THE punk rocker, and they thought Sid Vicious when they should have been thinking Joe Strummer.