I am the son, and the heir, of a shyness that is criminally vulgar...I am the son and heir, of nothing in particular...I am human and I need to be loved...just like everybody else does.
Have there ever been lyrics that more perfectly captured the tenor of the post Baby Boom? And the waawr waawr of Johnny Marr's guitar reminds me of teenage self-seriousness and angsty afternoons spent listening to "Meat is Murder" on the stereo. The Smiths oeuvre could have remained the stuff of my generational reveries if not for former lead singer Morrissey's latest bout of racist idiocy. Now I'm wondering if it is possible to separate an artist's actions from his art.
In a recent Guardian interview, Morrissey called Chinese people a "sub-species" in a discussion about animal abuse in China. In doing so, he condemned an entire group for the actions of a few; slurred a specific ethnic group as less than human; and demonized a people of color. Surely, Morrissey knows about the animal abuses in Western countries, including England and the United States. But I doubt we'll hear the singer calling the English a sub-species any time soon, especially given past racialized comments that have brought him under public scrutiny, including a xenophobic NME interview in which he opined over the loss of the English identity in the face of "floods" of immigrants to the country.
Morrissey's music, his jabs at the political right in England and the U.S., and his animal rights activism have given him particular appeal to a progressive fan base. And so, it is curious to watch fans contort themselves to justify and rationalize his recent statements. One commenter on Gawker offered, "This isn't a racist comment because Chinese people are not a race, they're a nationality. He's not calling ASIAN people (across the globe) a 'sub-species' but rather the behavior of people within a certain nation-state." This excuse, of course, ignores that racial bias that makes it easier to condemn a country of Asian people, while absolving the citizens of other predominately white countries for similar behavior.
I won't claim that I will never again let my iPod rest on a song by The Smiths or Morrissey, but the way I experience those songs has been forever tainted. While I have never listed Morrissey among my celebrity idols, many certainly do, and I find this perplexing. It is one thing to love the music and hate the man, but if you find bigotry abhorrent, how can you then idolize someone who has a history of demonstrating racial prejudice?