What Difference Does It Make?: Morrissey and the Fruitlessness of Modern Offence

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It feels utterly futile contributing to the humourless vacuum that is internet commentary, yet unfortunately, aside from procrastination and making a damn fine pasta bolognese, it’s all that I’m really good at. Yes, the modern world of the thoughtless thought-piece, where the aimless and the inconsequential chastise the successful, treating their subject matter with all the warmth and respect of a Russian insurgency. It reminds me of a routine by Stewart Lee where he theorises that journalist Stuart Maconie is a spectral, alien-like being, free to speculate on culture but cruelly, never able to directly intervene. However, unlike that golden age of valid critique, we exist in an era of faux-outrage. In a single misstep an allegiance can vanish; one moment you’re the cross-generational voice of emotional anguish, the next you find a Kickstarter campaign fund-raising for your involuntary euthanisation.

The latest victim of such a fate is Morrissey, whose video for ‘Kiss Me a Lot’ has caused upset amongst people with an incredibly low tolerance to the use of the female body in art. Now, those with even a passing interest in Mozza/The Smiths will know of two things. Firstly, throughout the decades Moz has kept his sexuality a beguiling mystery; his assertion of asexuality contrasted by flirtations with gay subculture in his lyricism has made his sexual preference a matter of hypothesis and conjecture. It is thus highly doubtful that he’s all of a sudden going to go all Danny Dyer on us or have a collaboration with Lil’ Jon in the works (although if the latter happens in the future I do think I am now deserving of a writing credit). Secondly, a cursory glance at the cover art of The Smiths/Morrissey’s solo career will clearly illuminate his adoration/borderline-obsession with pop starlets and iconic 60s film stars, both male and female. This appreciation of aesthetic beauty in a way seems divorced from sexuality or at the very least is concerned more with the power, the idolatry and the allure that comes with such aesthetic perfection rather than “phwoar, what a sort” objectification. ‘Kiss Me a Lot’ could easily be regarded as an extension of this tradition, however follies like context only get in the way of synthesised anger production.

Since when did everyone become such prudes again? How is a “ban this sick filth” attitude progressive? It seems that in the same way that the hard-line Christian right may brand something they dislike as Satanic, the left can easily attach plentiful buzzwords to whatever content they wish to eradicate. In fact, this is part of what is known as horseshoe theory, a concept attributed to French philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye which contends that both extremes of the political spectrum resort to similar tactics in an attempt to get their way e.g. authoritarianism, violence. It’s essentially the same as a mother at her wits end telling two squabbling siblings “you’re both as bad as each other”, except the siblings are fascists. However, whilst religious institutions are crumbling the ideologies that prop up left-leaning thought are excelling; though that is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, its anti-dissent militia certainly is. What does this mean for art? Well, somehow it’s going to have to challenge ideas without upsetting people, which is, rather obviously, impossible. Stephen Fry is often quoted in saying “better sexy and racy than sexist and racist” however it’s apparent that some cannot tell the difference and thus would prefer neither. It is at least delightfully ludicrous seeing people tell an asexual, anti-monarchist animal rights activist to check their privilege.

Now he really knows how Joan of Arc felt.

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I write about music. When not at gigs I like to spend my time being annoyed that I'm not at a gig. UPCOMING // Takedown Festival

1 Comment

  1. avatar
    Emily Priscott on

    Thanks so much for this article, it’s really insightful. Morrissey has indeed made such a valuable contribution to an ‘outsider’ vision of gender/sexuality which I, for one, am truly grateful for. His entire career can, in one sense, be seen as an exploration of what gender is, with him occupying various positions on the ‘gender binary’ at different times. However, I saw something slightly different in the Kiss Me a Lot video. Whilst yes, Morrissey’s previous depictions of the female body have been respectful of women’s subjectivity and power whether they were clothed or not (and of course, the female imagery during The Smiths days was balanced by an abundance of semi-clad, vulnerable male imagery, itself a profoundly political statement at the time), I thought that the women in the Kiss Me a Lot video were used slightly differently. Not only were they of the glamour model type (which is obviously fine in itself-this is not a prudish criticism of female bodies), they were covered in lipstick slogans which did, I feel, make them into objects. Morrissey was fully clothed and therefore powerful, whilst the women around him were semi-nude and therefore vulnerable. Of course, I don’t believe that Morrissey has a genuinely sexist bone in his body (he’s proved that over the years), I just think this was done clumsily and it’s unfortunate. Within the context of his oeuvre he can be forgiven for this (I know, I’m so generous), but my discomfort with it is, I think, valid.

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