About

Gay men paved pop’s way this year. With Boy George’s wardrobe fully open, all the closet cases came spilling forth: Burns and The Bronskis, Frankie and NRG. The subtlest victory was Morrissey’s – his the least fairy-tale, the least gaudily exhibitionist. Maybe its because he conjured a ghost from all our pasts: the outsider, the Weird One, the pariah you put at full-back so you didn’t catch his leprosy. When Morrissey refused to play “festive faggot”, he was appealing to something fundamentally more lonely in us. He was making the outsider a star. (Barney Hoskyns, the Virgin Yearbook, 1984)

His name still conjures up deadly deeds.

This blog is a hostage to fortune – it’s mostly an exploration of how and why the Irish Catholic, 2nd Generation Immigrant, English, British, Northern, Mancunian, Provincial, Emigrant, Gay, Asexual, Bisexual, Humasexual, Fourth Gender, Transsexual, Gender Fluid, Working-Class, Autodidact, Animal Protectionist, Anxious-Depressive, chronically shy, 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.

2. Exaggeration – the narrative is amplified, distorted, fabricated & escalates into a moral panic.

3. Symbolisation – shorthands are used to sum up the threat, often visual.

4. Prediction – future evil deeds are expected & confirmation bias, intense scrutiny & myths tends to supply them until the panic is over.

The UK music press was uncomfortable with Morrissey’s sexuality, gender identity, social awkwardness (shyness combined with bluntness), deadpan humour and passionate intensity from the beginning, and it evolved over a series of symbolic linguistic scandals into a myth that he had gone from a gentle, kind radical to a vicious, cruel reactionary, whilst also, Always Being Like That.

The narrative hinges on 4 articles. The first is framed around the journalist’s theory that all pop music is divided into Indie (which is white and intelligent) and Black (which is dumb and dancey) and his interest in getting Morrissey to say he’s gay. The second uses false allegations of racism to accuse Morrissey of inciting a homophobic hate crime against himself because he had a fetish for racism and was attracted to skinheads. It takes some of its cues from a Channel 4 documentary about gay skinheads transmitted a month before. The third takes mild comments about immigration and links them to fascism by rehashing the 2nd article. And the 4th thinks Morrissey has finally proved their false allegations true by expressing political interest in the far right leader, Anne Marie Waters, a gay vegan, who had complained that she was being lied about in the press. Morrissey clearly stated that he despised racism and fascism and believed she was being lied about, he also dropped her in May 2019, but it wasn’t enough up against a myth 40 years in the making.

Frank Owen, Melody Maker, September 1986, Home Thoughts From Abroad.

Danny Kelly, Andrew Collins, Stuart Maconie, Gavin Martin, Dele Fadele, NME, August 1992, Flying The Flag or Flirting With Disaster?

Tim Jonze, NME, December 2007, Has The World Changed or Has He Changed?

Tim Jonze, The Guardian, May 2019, Bigmouth Strikes Again and Again.

Detractors also wildly overestimate his threat – describing him as full Gammon, an active racist, having daily outbursts. When in reality he rarely gives interviews, or makes statements. Has never been part of a political campaign. And almost never appears on tv, radio, podcasts or at celebrity events.

Morrissey centres himself as deviant, defective, distressed & defiant & fundamentally that’s what “decent society” finds so disturbing about him.

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Timeline of negative labels directly or implicitly applied to him, and the publication that either, prompted, instigated or amplified it:

1983 – pervert, paedophile (Sounds, The Sun)

1986 – racist, xenophobe (Melody Maker)

1992 – fascist (NME)

2007 – anti-immigrant, rogue Tory (NME, Word)

2010 – genocidist (the Guardian)

2013 – misogynist (Reviews of Autobiography)

2015 – predatory creep, homophobe (Guardian, Financial Times)

2017 – rape apologist (Der Spiegel, BBC, Twitter)

2017-2019 – white nationalist, pariah (Guardian, LA Times, Twitter)

It was very important for me to try and write for everybody… 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)