This blog is a hostage to fortune.
It’s mostly an exploration of how and why the Irish Catholic English British Northern Mancunian Provincial, Humasexual, Gender Fluid, Working-Class, Autodidact, Animal Liberationist Anxious-Depressive Indie singer/songwriter Morrissey became a folk devil.
A folk devil is the personification of evil. They’re engaged in wrongdoing. An instantly recognisable unambiguously negative symbol with no favourable characteristics. A threat to society. Their sins must be litanised. Good people must identify, denounce and drive them out of public life. The moral boundaries must exclude them. They’re toxic. They taint.
To get rid of the folk devil – there is a moral panic. This always involves atrocity tales – false stories endlessly repeated that sum up their badness and cause outrage. It sometimes involves a subversion myth – a story that explains the way in which a member of a social circle has turned out to be a wrong un & has rained evil upon the righteous.
Stanley Cohen’s model for moral panics goes roughly like this:
1. Labeling – a threat to the social fabric is detected, labeled & magnified by gossip/media/social media etc. Troll, Grumpy Old Man, Racist, British Nativist.
2. Exaggeration – the narrative is amplified, distorted, fabricated & escalates into a moral panic. He’s so toxic he can’t be mentioned by name and his solo music can’t be listened to (his current band contains people of colour and is taboo, his old band, The Smiths, of which he was the only queer member, is all white and, excluding him, is socially acceptable).
3. Symbolisation – shorthands are used to sum up the threat, often visual: Union Jack flag, For Britain pin badge.
4. Prediction – future evil deeds are expected & confirmation bias, intense scrutiny & myths tends to supply them until the panic is over.
Morrissey centres himself as deviant, defective, distressed & defiant & ultimately I think that’s what society finds so disturbing about him.
I also think he’s brilliant.
And not guilty.
“It was very important for me to try and write for everybody,” he said. “I find when people and things are entirely revealed in an obvious way, it freezes the imagination of the observer. There is nothing to probe for, nothing to dwell on or try and unravel. With the Smiths, nothing is ever open and shut.” (Morrissey, 1986)