“Most interviews I have been very displeased with because, obviously, you don’t have any control. You can be very merry in an interview and it can come across as being very dour. Or you can say something flippantly which will be written in blood in the music press and it sounds as though you’re deadly serious. You’re throwing yourself on the mercy of a journalist who can be friendly during the interview but can turn out to be something of a behemoth in print.” (Morrissey, 1983)
In November, 2017, Morrissey gave an interview in LA to Der Spiegel journalist, Juliane Liebert.
The way she framed the questions and the way she wrote up the answers would lead to Morrissey being accused of threatening to kill Trump, being a rape apologist, and hating refugees.
He’d been through all this before – the press taking his meandering thoughts about politics, or his lyrics, and turning them into inflammatory rows about child abuse, racism and violence, blaming him for the anger generated by their own journalese, when his main interests are animals, the misuse of state/media power, and music.
Signs of trouble (from the audio):
He directly relates news to mental health – & she doesn’t ask if or how it affected him.
He speaks very gently & gets written up as if he’s ranting.
She’s been told not to ask about politics – she asks anyway.
He tells her he’s exhausted by journalists saying he means something that he doesn’t mean, happily talking to him & then morally correcting him in print. Which is what she does.
He’s not sleeping. (She would write that he kept her waiting as a power move, when it’s far more likely he was too tired.)
She calls Jackie a stupid song & laughs when he says he tries to look good – which is when she should have been politely shown the door.
He reads 8 or so books at a time but has never heard of the BDS movement so he might have ideas but he’s got no grassroots experience.
He’s talking about political structures & she’s talking about Twitter shitstorms.
The vast bulk of the interview is about animals & music; his main purpose is getting abattoirs banned – he compares it to Auschwitz again (which always goes down badly because most people can’t imagine seeing animals as equal). He doesn’t like generic songs. Most of it is cut.
She asks him if he would kill Trump. He says he would. (It’s hypothetical, but in December 2017, he would claim that the American security services had questioned him about making death threats)
She asks if he’s been following #MeToo, he says, ‘to some extent, yes, but then it became a play.’ He says nothing about Weinstein at all. He talks about keeping perspective, clumsy courtships & later twists back on to the casting couch in general.
Other celebrities would make stronger points (most of them memoryholed).
She asks about Kevin Spacey being replaced in a film. He’d been accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year old in his bedroom after a party when he was in his 20s. Morrissey questions the circumstances based on music’s groupie scene. She mentions David Bowie who slept with 14 year olds in his 20s. He condemns all forms of sexual violence. But thinks this story doesn’t ring true (probably because of Bowie) and that Spacey might have been unfairly attacked.
The press/Twitter would claim that he was robustingly defending Weinstein and Spacey, callously blaming the victims, while in full possession of the facts of their cases.
The interview moves on to politics. She thinks bad leaders look like cartoon villains. He thinks the EU is the German Empire. (It does have the most clout.)
He talks about countries retaining their own identity – language, laws, common ground, things that people have fought for – it’s not really controversial, but multiculturalism is one of those buzzwords where you’re not allowed nuance – you must be wholly for or against – because that makes it quicker to write an opinion piece. (Dorian Lynskey, in The New Statesman, will write that this means Morrissey approves of the Nazis.)
After Labour was defeated in the December election of 2019, the left would start to grapple with identity in exactly the way (Irish Catholic English) Morrissey has always been grappling with it.
In parts of the left, there is an unattractive blind spot that misses the importance of collective attachment to an inherited landscape, both physical and emotional. That landscape is not immutable but it shapes a sense of belonging and context. For many Leave voters, particularly those who have traditionally voted Labour, the emotional landscape of “England” has offered a way to express communal values neglected during 30 years of excessive individualism, licensed by both left and right. (The Observer, January 2021)
He then takes a jab at Angela Merkel’s handling of the 2015 refugee crisis and said Berlin had turned into the rape capital of Europe (which is either hyperbole or a viral story he picked up from somewhere). He was blaming Merkel for the chaos, but it was taken as an attack on refugees.
There had been reports of increased sexual assaults, which wasn’t surprising considering how many refugees were young men without any family support.
“Crimes committed by [asylum-seeking] immigrants saw a disproportionate increase last year — there’s nothing there we can gloss over,” said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. He said when it came to violent crimes there were “about 90 per cent more immigrant suspects in 2016” than in the prior year. (Financial Times, April, 2017)
And Merkel’s policy was so disastrous, in terms of resources, organisation and logistics, that in March 2016 the EU negotiated with Turkey to stop refugees from crossing into Europe.
Morrissey’s stance on these things is macro, the refugee crisis shouldn’t have happened; because there shouldn’t be global inequality, we shouldn’t wage war & we shouldn’t destroy the environment.
In his roundabout way, it’s class-based socialism.
The destruction and abandonment of labor politics means that, at present, immigration issues can only play out within the framework of a culture war, fought entirely on moral grounds. In the heightened emotions of America’s public debate on migration, a simple moral and political dichotomy prevails. It is “right-wing” to be “against immigration” and “left-wing” to be “for immigration.” But the economics of migration tell a different story. (Angela Negle, American Affairs Journal, November 2018)
Liebert says he’s against all immigration.
Morrissey tries to clarify, no, he isn’t, with a squeal, but it’s too late.
Journalists are under no obligation to print everything & only have to prove you said those words, however they edited them. Interpretation, however unfair, is fair comment.
He reacted badly to the way it was sensationalised:
Der Spiegel released the audio, timestamping the most controversial passages, so that most people would miss the lead up and follow on.
He had talked about Trump, Refugees and Spacey and that was enough for everyone to declare that he had been caught lying.
He released a sorrowful video on his nephew’s YouTube account, in December 2017:
Suddenly, I was sympathizing with sexual harassment. I was apparently sympathizing with pedophilia, I was sympathizing with rape, I was sympathizing with everything that would persuade anybody on the planet to stop listening to me. Of course, none of those assumptions were true. I do not support anything like that. You can hear it even in the tone of my voice… However, this is the world we now live in with the print media. It seems to me that, in the first place, they get very angry or very excited if you stop to say something that people are listening to or that reflect the will of the people. They get very nervous. They won’t allow it. They shut it down and so forth… But also, it seems to me that, in England at the moment, the right wing has adopted a left wing stance, and the left wing has adopted a right wing stance, so everybody’s confused, and nobody seems to know what people mean. This shuts down free speech. This shuts down any open debate about anything. And consequently, we’re all in a mess, and we don’t know where we stand… So I fear that the campaign for Low in High School and for the surrounding singles was derailed and damaged purposely by the haters. They’re not listening to the music. They’re not listening to anything, really. They see my name, and they want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. And as I said, in many ways, they do succeed. There’s not really that much you can do about it.
It’s been argued that if he can’t explain himself in a way that chimes with popular debates in the press, then he deserves all he gets. But that means you’re limiting who can participate in the arts to people who are good at press and marketing, which would also restrict the type of art they’re likely to make.
And although he wasn’t part of the culture war – his political focus is relentlessly on animals, and anyone who thought he would become a pundit was sorely disappointed – he had picked up on a real problem.
The left was behaving very much like the right. Anyone who tells you that virtue signalling on Twitter is a good thing, is someone who depends on likes and RTs for their living or their self-esteem. It’s had a catastrophic impact on public life. Polarizing debates, hounding people for saying problematic things, or even for being friends with someone who has, pushing people to the right for solidarity, and rendering us incapable of understanding that good people can have different ideas and experiences from our own fiercely held tribal positions.
… One grandstands when one makes a contribution to public moral discourse that aims to convince others that one is “morally respectable.” By this we mean that grandstanding is a use of moral talk that attempts to get others to make certain desired judgments about oneself, namely, that one is worthy of respect or admiration because one has some particular moral quality—for example, an impressive commitment to justice, a highly tuned moral sensibility, or unparalleled powers of empathy. To grandstand is to turn one’s contribution to public discourse into a vanity project. (Justin Tosi, Brandon Warmke, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Summer 2016)
The internet… has encouraged us to hole ourselves up in ideological fortresses; to build moats around our value systems, to pull up our mental drawbridges; and to fire verbal arrows at anyone with a different perspective… with little room for uncertainty or nuance. The way we are pressured to “cancel” public figures we once admired is spiteful and reductive… It means many of us have a predetermined position on news stories even before they break. (Dani Garavelli, The Scotsman, October 2020)
While fluidity of identity, plurality, and multiplicity are always claimed on behalf of the VC members — partly to cover up their own invariably wealthy, privileged, or bourgeois-assimilationist background — the enemy is always to be essentialized. Since the desires animating the VC are in large part priests’ desires to excommunicate and condemn, there has to be a strong distinction between Good and Evil, with the latter essentialized. Notice the tactics. X has made a remark/has behaved in a particular way — these remarks/ this behavior might be construed as transphobic/sexist etc. So far, okay. But it’s the next move which is the kicker. X then becomes defined as a transphobe/sexist etc. Their whole identity becomes defined by one ill-judged remark or behavioral slip. Once the VC has mustered its witch-hunt, the victim (often from a working class background, and not schooled in the passive-aggressive etiquette of the bourgeoisie) can reliably be goaded into losing their temper, further securing their position as pariah/latest to be consumed in feeding frenzy. (Mark Fisher, Exiting The Vampire Castle, 2013)