Friday, September 17, 2010

My latest post on Love the artist. Hate his racism?

"How Soon Is Now?" by The Smiths is somewhere near the pinnacle of my list of GenX musical classics.

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?


Kathy said...

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.

Thank you. This pretty much sums up how I feel about listening to Morrissey's music right now. I'm not a huge fan of his, The Smiths were a big part of my musical awakening, so to speak. I've spent a lot of time in "fan world" where his behavior is excused or chalked up to eccentricity. No, it's hate speech, not eccentricity.

Shady_Grady said...

There is so much great art created by people who aren't morally good or in some cases who could legitimately be called monsters that one could make a good argument that the creative impulse is disproportionately linked to other less admirable impulses.

For better or worse people create art independent of their internal morality. I think we just enjoy the art or do not.

phx said...

I kind of agree with you Shady Grady - although it doesn't mean they shouldn't be accountable.

In my case, Morrissey's politics have NEVER been relevant to me. I just somewhat enjoy his music. All that's really changed is that whatever he says now NEVER WILL be relevant to me. I'm not interested in those kinds of ideas, that kind of nonsense. But yeah, go on and let's hear Ask Me again.

Thanks for letting me have my say.

Kelly Hogaboom said...

"it's hate speech, not eccentricity."


*groan* I'm almost happy "not knowing" because I agree, it taints the experience. However it is important we expose this stuff and condemn it; those who want to boycott can do so. Remember we are not just working to enjoy our OWN iPods or excuse ass-hattery for our own convenience. We are also raising children and trying to make things better and staying silent or apathetic does not do this job.

Anonymous said...

Because we're adults, and that means we get to see life is complex.

And that means that if you want, you can make comedy a subset of morality or not.

"How soon is now" is a brilliant song, utterly unique.

Morrissey is a fool for his racial comments.

My view: they're both true. End of story.

Now, if you want to start wrestling with yourself over this and try to convince the part of you that likes music (which does not have a conscience) that somehow you 'shouldn't' like it, go right ahead.

But you'll lose that war in the end.

But go ahead and try.

Do you realize how ridiculous it is to try and like art that agrees with your own idiosyncratic, oh-so-delicate sensitivities? Good luck with that.


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