[DEBATE] : Morrissey
grinker at mweb.co.za
Wed Dec 5 09:47:58 GMT 2007
Tuesday 4 December 2007
Stop me if youve heard this one before
Former Smiths frontman Morrissey is alleged to have made reactionary
comments in an interview for NME. But whats new about that?
The former Smiths singer Morrissey has threatened the New Musical Express
(NME) and journalist Tim Jonze with a libel suit for allegedly misquoting
Moz in a front-page interview. Apparently, the journalist reported that the
48-year-old singer made hostile remarks about mass immigration into Britain,
saying that the country was unrecognisable. Jonze was incensed that the
NME toned down the piece to make it PR friendly, while Morrisseys lawyers
are using this as proof to press for defamation against the NME after the
magazine refused to publish an apology.
Jonze has hit back on the Guardians Comment Is Free site by insisting that
every single quote attributed to Morrissey is 100 per cent correct, there
was no provocation at all (1). Now, whether it is Morrissey still
blathering on about Little Englander fantasies, or the NME getting upset and
righteous over unacceptable views, weve been down this road many times
before. The struggle to choose between such headlines as Stop Me If Youve
Heard This One Before and Big Mouth Strikes Again is as grimly
predictable as Morrisseys recent albums.
Although The Smiths were a strikingly original and creatively potent outfit
back in the Eighties, Morrisseys views were always profoundly reactionary
and conservative. At the time, it was only NME journalists and
impressionable teenagers who believed that Mozs witterings on animal
rights, ecology, hatred of the modern world and victimhood sensibilities
appeared somehow radical or insightful. Such misanthropic drivel was
considered, to use Eighties argot, right on by journalists then and now.
It is only on immigration and, by implication race, where Morrissey is
suddenly exposed as being a bit backward.
Morrissey, though, has been on a loop about immigrants for nearly two
decades now. Central to The Smiths iconography was a lament for the decline
of the post-war consensus in Britain. It was ironic that while Morrissey
championed the kitchen sink dramas of the Sixties (A Taste of Honey,
Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, Billy Liar etc) as a forlorn counterpoint to
garish Eighties Britain, originally these dramas bemoaned the changes of
1950s Britain and were already nostalgic for a mythical Old Britain
themselves. While many leftish journalists indulged such twaddle, the logic
of this tunnel-visioned, Little England outlook is to start bemoaning
changes brought about by mass immigration, too. And that, of course, is
precisely what Morrissey started to do.
Leaving aside Mozs infamous reggae is vile jibe from 1985, the first
major controversy was around the track, Bengali In Platforms, from his
1988 debut solo album Viva Hate. But it was the furore surrounding his
appearance at Finsbury Park supporting ska band Madness, wherein he waved a
Union flag in front of a montage of skinheads, that caused the NME to ask on
its frontpage Flying The Flag or Flirting With Disaster? back in August
1992. Unusual at the time, but the debacle also made headlines beyond the
music press. The mainstream medias engagement with the controversy was a
sign of how anti-racism was starting to be used to create new moral codes
in wider society.
Although the lefts stern acceptable/non-acceptable codes in the Eighties
(which often meant referring to people or ideas as ideologically
sound/unsound) were routinely ridiculed by the Tory tabloid press, by the
early Nineties this kind of thinking was gradually being co-opted to forge a
new conformist etiquette and behaviour code. The year after the
Morrissey/Finsbury Park debacle, the BBC started promoting anti-racism
awareness on Radio One and the NME publicly backed the re-launched
Anti-Nazi League and their populist Anti-Racist music festivals.
Since then, the NME has been at the forefront of the new conformism, as they
have revealed during the latest Moz controversy. Were really nice
people, were committed anti-racists, you know? seems to be the NMEs
chest-puffing response to it all. Now, correct me if Im wrong, but havent
pop stars generally not known to be the brightest bunch often spouted
ill-informed garbage? Who can forget boy band Blues belief that dolphins
were now sadly neglected because of all the fuss over 9/11 fatalities? Or,
my particular favourite, female grunge outfit L7, who argued that men go to
war because its their way of emulating female menstruation? And then
there is the long documented flirtation with Nazism that David Bowie,
Throbbing Gristle and Keith Moon would use to generate headlines and record
Back in the 1970s, the daft and sometimes dark ideas that pop stars
entertained obviously aroused controversy and anger, but it wasnt used to
draw lines in the sand and denote who was a worthy conformist and who
wasnt as it is today. By all means journalists should question and
challenge duff opinions, but it shouldnt be used as moral
self-aggrandisement or, worse, to justify an even more censorious public
climate. Whats surprising is that, with Morrisseys track record on this
matter, why any journalist would be shocked that he equates Britains
decline with mass immigration.
Nevertheless, Morrisseys response to the NMEs published interview is even
more vile and reprehensible. Calling in the lawyers and the libel laws to
silence the press has always been the rich mans form of censorship. Far
from being an outspoken maverick, even the hermetically sealed-off Morrissey
probably understands that flirting with racist sentiments is now the
equivalent of championing paedophilia, as he once did in his first set of
music press interviews back in 1982. The difference then is that whereas
music journalists saw through Mozs posturing as darkly comic theatre and
grimy rocknroll, today theyd be demanding hed be jailed for such
comments and put on the Sex Offenders Register. I Know its Over (if this
allegation sticks), as it were.
Once, the music press could be replied upon for caustic comments and
Establishment-baiting brio. Today, theyre the harbingers of unthinking,
unblinking conformism. Forget any Morrissey-sponsored panic on immigration.
The censorious climate of public discussion is surely a clear example of
Britain becoming a worse place.
Neil Davenport is a writer and politics lecturer based in London. He blogs
at the Midnight Bell.
(1) Morrisey, NME and Me, Comment Is Free, 30 November 2007
reprinted from: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/4146/
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