Morrissey excerpt from 'The History of the NME' by Pat Long.

Worm

Taste the diffidence
Well, I don't think Oasis or Blur ever combined waving a Union Jack, singing "England for the English" and standing in front of a 20-foot high photo of two skinheads all at a gig where they knew there would be a strong contingent of old skins in the crowd.

True. Then again, I think Chloe Veltman summed it up by saying the flag itself could be taken as "a symbol of arch nationalism", and in the NME article they make mention of the flag being unacceptable in the multicultural "Euro 90s". So any of the Britpop acts who waved the Union Jack ought to have been seen as offensive almost by definition. At the very least there should have been angst about it-- the NME should have published a similar article ("Oasis: Flying The Flag Or Flirting With Disaster?").

Poor journalism is neither here nor there, IMO. Morrissey could have helped himself by not laying his cock quite so obviously out on the slab.

Well, you've really hit on what it's all about, haven't you? Here you seem to agree with Andrew Collins and a number of other journalists and critics. It's also the line taken by a number of posters on this site. The argument is pretty simple: sticking to the facts doesn't matter because Morrissey is clearly guilty of some amount of racism.

I'm guessing if Pat Long were informed that he'd made a mistake about "Bengali In Platforms" being played at Madstock, he would shrug it off. Something like: "Well, okay, he didn't play it, but, look, he did write the song, and it's pretty obvious that Morrissey's opinions about race are dodgy..." That was Andrew Collins' attitude. Defenders of Morrissey argued in pennies, the NME dealt in pounds. Should the article contain a distortion or two, maybe some opinions disguised as facts, a couple of quotes shorn of context-- who cares? The grubby little fans wouldn't utter a peep if they could have seen the look on Dele's face when he walked into the NME offices that day...

Here's the problem. When journalists stop caring about facts, they aren't journalists anymore. Instead of upholding public discourse centered around facts, we have a bunch of competing editorialists. If we can't agree on what the truth is, anything goes. People can say anything they want and get away with it. It's definitely true in the U.S., and I'm guessing it's true in the U.K. Nobody cares if the story is less than accurate about Morrissey. He's just a pop singer. But in the bigger picture it makes a hell of a lot of difference when people speak about racism, or injustice of any kind, because in a fact-free environment everything is read as opinion whether it's true or not.

There are many causes for this state of affairs, and the NME is no doubt a tiny part of the problem. In any case, the thread in common to them all is this. The perception among a lot of people is that there's a group of right-thinking, politically correct people who sit on high, self-righteously passing down judgments based on how they "feel" or what they "just know". You can argue the facts with them up to a point. Then you pass a threshold and objectivity gives way to an implacable, intuitive certainty which allows for no argument whatsoever. In the public sphere, the result of this is confusion, but it's a kind of confusion that nearly always tilts sharply toward the Right. Political correctness was long ago seen to be opinion, not fact-based. Hence it was bullshit; hence any discourse that sounds like political correctness, even if it isn't, can be dismissed out of hand as whiny liberal complaints. It's what happens when journalists imagine they can peer into the souls of their subjects instead of sticking to facts.

I will say this again: the facts did not paint a rosy picture of Morrissey's attitude toward race. I believe the NME could have put out a thoughtful, well-argued, solidly-backed piece, using only the facts, exploring the potential dangers of Morrissey's "flirtation" with far right-wing imagery. I'm not trying to suggest that Morrissey is totally blameless, or that there aren't problems with some of his artistic choices. The point is that the NME strayed from the facts, and now, twenty years on, we get garbage like The Believer and Pat Long's account of Madstock.
 
Last edited:

Worm

Taste the diffidence
What just really kills this for me is what NME did not do. Because if they are serious about their concern - that Morrissey is a racist or at least has indefensible views in that direction, all they needed to do was to ask. If someone's atitude is ambivalent, then he should clarify it. If Morrissey responds by rejecting racism, nationalism and all the nasty stuff - well then, there you are. If he doesn't, ditto. What you don't do is use ambivalence to pass a hypothetical interpretation off as the truth. How it allmade Fadele feel isn't relevant to anything.

So, having achieved a good collective workibg-up through a long adrenalin- filled crisis session, they all sat down "scouring all the lyrics for signs of racism". And 20 years on, thay are still too stupid not to see a pretty fundamental problem with this approach. It's like something out of Little England. What a bunch of idiots.

Aside from my other complaints, what's annoying is that the NME didn't really live up to their own, self-stated standards for the longest time. Try reading Pat Long's excerpt again, only with the fact in the front of your mind that "Bengali In Platforms" was released in 1988 (on an album the NME rated an 8 out of 10), four years before Madstock. Two things jump out: one, Morrissey wrote a "racist" song in 1988; two, between 1988 and 1992 the NME was absolutely head over heels in love with Morrissey and put him on the cover whenever they could. Begging the question: how could the "New Morrissey Express" turn on Morrissey without revealing themselves as shameless, profit-chasing hypocrites?

Oh, they did reveal themselves as such? Okay then. :)

It reminds me of Dean Keaton in "The Usual Suspects". "Hey, that was your mistake, not mine. Did you ever think to ask me? I've been walking around with the same face, same name-- I'm a businessman, fellas. ... It was all your mistake. Charge me with it and I'll beat it."
 
Last edited:

Cornflakes

"A bit iffy" ★★☆☆☆ - AV Club
True. Then again, I think Chloe Veltman summed it up by saying the flag itself could be taken as "a symbol of arch nationalism", and in the NME article they make mention of the flag being unacceptable in the multicultural "Euro 90s". So any of the Britpop acts who waved the Union Jack ought to have been seen as offensive almost by definition. At the very least there should have been angst about it-- the NME should have published a similar article ("Oasis: Flying The Flag Or Flirting With Disaster?").

Actually, I don't think Union Jacks and issues to do with race went entirely undiscussed in the Britpop era. Some of that may have been reasonable comment, some of it may have been sloppy journalism, but I can't be bothered to dig out examples.

There is, though, a difference between being photographed under a Union Jack duvet, on the one hand, and, on the other, turning your stage show into something that might reasonably mistaken for National Front: The Musical. That, plus it might be argued that it's difficult to find enough meaning in a Noel Gallagher lyric so as to be able to question its cultural sensitivity.

...the thread in common to them all is this. The perception among a lot of people is that there's a group of right-thinking, politically correct people who sit on high, self-righteously passing down judgments based on how they "feel" or what they "just know". You can argue the facts with them up to a point. Then you pass a threshold and objectivity gives way to an implacable, intuitive certainty which allows for no argument whatsoever. In the public sphere, the result of this is confusion, but it's a kind of confusion that nearly always tilts sharply toward the Right. Political correctness was long ago seen to be opinion, not fact-based. Hence it was bullshit; hence any discourse that sounds like political correctness, even if it isn't, can be dismissed out of hand as whiny liberal complaints. It's what happens when journalists imagine they can peer into the souls of their subjects instead of sticking to facts.

I see something different. I see a group of journalists who were alarmed about a particular Morrissey performance (you seem to be agreeing that their alarm was not without basis). They felt that an expression of their alarm and a general discussion of (what they saw as) its context was a reasonable thing to give to their readers. They may have done a brilliant job or an awful job but, to me, that's a bit besides the point. Andrew Collins seems like a nice guy, but I am not really exercised by the question of whether he was a good or a bad journalist 20 years ago.

The point is that there were legitimate reasons to be alarmed.

And the worst thing is that Morrissey has not only never explained himself, but he has spent his career since making stupid comments that compound the impression that he has more in common with Bernard Manning than Oscar Wilde.

So, for example, a few weeks after the NME article, he is interviewed by Q and asked questions which are clearly designed to allow him to make reassuring noises. The interviewer actually says to his face "you have flirted with racism" and he says "Well I like to feel, in some small way, that I'm not actually restricted in anything I wish to write about". That was his actual response. He didn't take the opportunity to say something even vaguely anti-racist or critical of the far-right, as any sensible person would have done (assuming, of course that they were happy to). Instead he says: "I don't think, for instance, black people and white people will ever really get on or like each other" and talks about his affinity with football hooligans. That isn't classic, awkward, loveable Moz. It's disturbing.

[ETA: Actually, the Q interview was probably conducted before the NME went to print, but you get the point I am making.]

I will say this again: the facts did not paint a rosy picture of Morrissey's attitude toward race. I believe the NME could have put out a thoughtful, well-argued, solidly-backed piece, using only the facts, exploring the potential dangers of Morrissey's "flirtation" with far right-wing imagery. I'm not trying to suggest that Morrissey is totally blameless, or that there aren't problems with some of his artistic choices. The point is that the NME strayed from the facts, and now, twenty years on, we get garbage like The Believer and Pat Long's account of Madstock.

Yes, that may be a fair summation. But I don't care about The Believer (I don't even know what it is) or about Pat Long. This seems to me like a bit of a smokescreen.
 
Last edited:

Worm

Taste the diffidence
Actually, I don't think Union Jacks and issues to do with race went entirely undiscussed in the Britpop era. Some of that may have been reasonable comment, some of it may have been sloppy journalism, but I can't be bothered to dig out examples.

No, that's my memory, too. "Not undiscussed": here and there a writer would make a comment about not feeling totally at ease with the Union Jack appearing everywhere and a new "British invasion". But that's all it was.

Plus, although you can say that Morrissey's behavior was much more disturbing than Oasis' or any of the other Britpoppers, most of the artists associated with Britpop were huge pop acts, far outselling Morrissey. You could argue that they weren't as "guilty", but they had a much broader reach, and therefore were deserving of careful scrutiny.

There is, though, a difference between being photographed under a Union Jack duvet, on the one hand, and, on the other, turning your stage show into something that might reasonably mistaken for National Front: The Musical.

Is there, though? Like I said, by the NME's own definition of the problem, both Oasis and Morrissey should have been at different ends of a single spectrum, not taken as totally different cases. Their point was that nationalist imagery takes on a life of its own once it escapes the orbit of the stage/media venue. Even if you're the Spice Girls, you can usher something ugly into the world. Er, well, especially if you're The Spice Girls.

That, plus it might be argued that its difficult to find enough meaning in a Noel Gallagher lyric so as to be able to question its cultural sensitivity.

:rolleyes:

The point is that there were legitimate reasons to be alarmed.

I get that. My point is that the legitimate reasons for alarm should have been addressed factually. Disregarding questions of fairness to the artist, when those with a public platform like the NME show a disdain for facts they're unwittingly helping to create an environment in which opinion sits side by side with fact. It does a disservice to the cause of anti-racism when they botch stories about alleged racists. We need people to speak out, but speak out credibly.

And the worst thing is that Morrissey has not only never explained himself, but he has spent his career since making stupid comments that compound the impression that he has more in common with Bernard Manning than Oscar Wilde.

Not exactly. The problem isn't that Morrissey has made stupid comments and left them unexplained. The problem, for fans and critics, is that he has made some stupid comments and let them exist simultaneously with smart ones. Comments about the BBC playing too much "black music" or the complaint about foreign accents in Knightsbridge are counterbalanced by an entire career of passionately denouncing cruelty, hatred, insensitivity, and ignorance. There's conflicting evidence which cannot quickly be resolved in one direction or the other.

That's my central objection to the NME's article and to most others commenting about his alleged racism. There are entries on both sides of the ledger to consider. The matter is complex. Implicitly a judgment has been made: the "kind and loving" Morrissey is the false one, and the "racist Little Englander" is the real one. But this judgment is an opinion hiding in the background, lurking beyond any consideration of the facts. To some people, it's "obvious" Morrissey has racist views. Some people "just know" how he really feels. His statement condemning racism is "merely public relations", or a "smokescreen". And so on. It always comes back to that, sooner or later. That isn't the realm of reason, fact, and argument. That's the realm of conjecture.

So, for example, a few weeks after the NME article, he is interviewed by Q and asked questions which are clearly designed to allow him to make reassuring noises. The interviewer actually says to his face "you have flirted with racism" and he says "Well I like to feel, in some small way, that I'm not actually restricted in anything I wish to write about". That was his actual response. He didn't take the opportunity to say something even vaguely anti-racist or critical of the far-right, as any sensible person would have done (assuming, of course that they were happy to). Instead he says: "I don't think, for instance, black people and white people will ever really get on or like each other" and talks about his affinity with football hooligans. That isn't classic, awkward, loveable Moz. It's disturbing.

Granted. It is disturbing. Yet, anyone even casually familiar with Morrissey's public persona would know that he's not going to answer criticism with reassuring noises. That was never going to happen. His statement about racism a few years ago was one of those most surprising things he's ever uttered, not because his view was unexpected, but because he has never allowed himself to acknowledge that he might have made a mistake. His refusal to clarify, reassure, or apologize says more about his thorny personality than it does about any "real views" he might have.

I think it's simple. Morrissey's views on race are complicated. Either treat them with the nuance and sophistication they deserve, or say nothing (or at least confine the commentary to small, deliberately generalized asides within larger articles). Neither option was viable because neither option sells papers.

This seems to me like a bit of a smokescreen.

A smokescreen from me, or from the journalists? Because I'm happy to discuss Morrissey's views on race and have done so many times on this site. My argument is pretty much what I said above. There's evidence he holds racist views, and there's also evidence he's a staunch enemy of racism. Weighing both sides of the evidence, I think most fair-minded people would say, objectively, that Morrissey is not a racist; and I would go further and say he is so solidly on the side of those who hate racism that it's not even close.
 
Last edited:

Worm

Taste the diffidence
I thought Peter Paphides' quick account of Madstock, in the "National Treasure" debate at the Guardian's site on Saturday, was reasonable:

"The 1992 show where he sang "The National Front Disco" draped in a union flag seems to have been a turning point. At the time, I was one of the few people in the music press who felt that Morrissey should have been given the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was trying to make some arcane point about the nature of Britishness to a park full of Madness fans. In retrospect, though, it seems pretty clear that he was defying people to misunderstand him, fattening his persecution complex in the process and intensifying his disciples' love for him".

Peter understood that any interpretation of the Madstock fiasco had to start-- and perhaps end-- with Morrissey's penchant for making utterly baffling, sometimes downright perverse choices, as if unable to avoid a course of doom ("the glorious defeat"). A one-page, non-cover story featuring opinions of this kind, presented as editorials, would have been fine with me.

He goes on: "Yes, he might refer to the Chinese as a "subspecies" but I don't think he's a racist. I think he hates all humans equally. His outsiderdom is a function of his misanthropy. And his vegetarianism is the expedient by which he justifies that misanthropy."

Maybe this is true and maybe it isn't. But at least it's an attempt to understand Morrissey as a psychologically complicated man. Attempts to paint him as racist have been crudely reductive.
 
Last edited:

Cornflakes

"A bit iffy" ★★☆☆☆ - AV Club
I'm unsure at this point whether you think conjecture is a good or a bad thing, or whether you think it depends.

PP may be on to something with "defying people to misunderstand him, fattening his persecution complex", but his attempt to interpret "the Chinese are a sub-species" seems to me to be groping in the dark. Why would misanthropy (is it very clear in any case that Morrissey is a misanthrope?) lead someone to say something like that? If someone expresses their misanthropy by dividing people into races and explaining why each one is awful, how does that not make them an appalling racist?

So. "The Chinese are a sub-species". The first thing to say about this is that is contains no "nuance and sophistication", as you put it above. Like most of Morrissey's "controversial" statements on race, it is bald, offhand, unapologetic and unequivocal. Oafish, in short. The second is that it didn't happen by accident and it isn't (simply) a badly-chosen way of expressing his concern for animal rights in China. Morrissey knows how to be interviewed and, given his history, if he ever made a slip-up, it obviously wouldn't be that kind of slip-up.

It also got a few headlines, which may (or may not) be a clue as to what is going through Morrissey's mind when he says these things. It's worth noting that the things not to do with race which he says to grab attention are usually things he very sincerely means.

So, why does he keep doing it? Is he a slow learner? Or does he actively want to associate himself with (what many people perceive to be) racist comments? I think the conclusion is absolutely in escapable that there is no third alternative and that the latter is more likely.

Does he, perhaps, believe that people who would take exception to a comments such as "the Chinese are a sub-species" are unreasonable and need winding-up? That's possible, I would say. But what does this say about Morrissey?

Or is he actually more deeply racist and a believer in his own wisdom, that he actually should say these things regardless of the cost? That he shouldn't allow his freedom of expression to be curbed by the politically correct expectation that reasonable people don't go around spouting racism?

I don't want to think that this is our answer, but I honestly don't see how it can be ruled out with certainty.
 

M-in-Oz

Active Member
I thought Peter Paphides' quick account of Madstock, in the "National Treasure" debate at the Guardian's site on Saturday, was reasonable:

"The 1992 show where he sang "The National Front Disco" draped in a union flag seems to have been a turning point. At the time, I was one of the few people in the music press who felt that Morrissey should have been given the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was trying to make some arcane point about the nature of Britishness to a park full of Madness fans. In retrospect, though, it seems pretty clear that he was defying people to misunderstand him, fattening his persecution complex in the process and intensifying his disciples' love for him".

Peter understood that any interpretation of the Madstock fiasco had to start-- and perhaps end-- with Morrissey's penchant for making utterly baffling, sometimes downright perverse choices, as if unable to avoid a course of doom ("the glorious defeat"). A one-page, non-cover story featuring opinions of this kind, presented as editorials, would have been fine with me.

He goes on: "Yes, he might refer to the Chinese as a "subspecies" but I don't think he's a racist. I think he hates all humans equally. His outsiderdom is a function of his misanthropy. And his vegetarianism is the expedient by which he justifies that misanthropy."

Maybe this is true and maybe it isn't. But at least it's an attempt to understand Morrissey as a psychologically complicated man. Attempts to paint him as racist have been crudely reductive.

Peter Paphide's quick account might be even more impressive if it were accurate. Morrissey didn't "drape" himself in a union flag during 'National Front Disco' - but I guess it sounds better to use that song title than 'Glamorous Glue'. Morrissey seems to treat the glad more like a whip and without much regard than something to be draped in. The use of girl skinheads also subverts the usual. Perhaps like you, I would have rathered the NME to have done a one-page editorial rather than printing their version of what happened, which seemed more like a personal attack on Morrissey.
 

Worm

Taste the diffidence
I'm unsure at this point whether you think conjecture is a good or a bad thing, or whether you think it depends.

Of course it depends. For you or me to conjecture about Morrissey on this forum is fine. For a journalist, there are rules to follow. I have no problem with journalists and critics offering up opinions and speculation, provided it's clear they're editorializing and they back up their commentary by assembling and rationally interpreting facts.

"The Chinese are a sub-species". The first thing to say about this is that is contains no "nuance and sophistication", as you put it above.

I know this will sound like a cop-out, but I don't want to re-hash the debate about the sub-species comment. I've discussed this before, at length. My remarks can be found via the search page.

The comment was oafish, for sure. What I meant by "nuance and sophistication" is that one should read his comments always keeping in mind the past statements he's made to the press as well as the overall message of his work. This requires the patience and the willingness to try and think about the big picture and not get too wrapped up in this or that remark. Maybe I've read more Morrissey interviews than most. I don't know. But when I heard him call the Chinese a "sub-species", I knew it was very much in line with hyperbolic statements he'd made in the past. (In fact, as I kept pointing out when the comment was made, Morrissey had already proclaimed that China should be nuked, with no negative reaction whatsoever.) I also disagree with you that he's incapable of a slip-up. I think he is. I also don't think he means everything he says. Half of his comments he probably regrets 20 minutes later. It's old hat. Check out his letters, written to pen-pals when he was a teenager. The majority of the statements are pure nonsense thrown in for pyrotechnics-- his way of sounding "interesting", as he might put it. I don't think he's changed much.

So, why does he keep doing it? Is he a slow learner? Or does he actively want to associate himself with (what many people perceive to be) racist comments? I think the conclusion is absolutely in escapable that there is no third alternative and that the latter is more likely.

Does he, perhaps, believe that people who would take exception to a comments such as "the Chinese are a sub-species" are unreasonable and need winding-up? That's possible, I would say. But what does this say about Morrissey?

Or is he actually more deeply racist and a believer in his own wisdom, that he actually should say these things regardless of the cost? That he shouldn't allow his freedom of expression to be curbed by the politically correct expectation that reasonable people don't go around spouting racism?

I don't want to think that this is our answer, but I honestly don't see how it can be ruled out with certainty.

These are interesting questions. I will readily concede I can't rule out the answers you suggest. As I said above, we have evidence that points to both. It's up to fans to weigh the evidence carefully. However, journalists must adhere to a different standard. I wish the NME had adopted the tone of your post: calm, questioning, unafraid to pose difficult questions but willing to leave them open-ended, and willing to give Morrissey the benefit of a fair hearing-- and perhaps the benefit of the doubt. I think they made a superficial attempt to do that, behind which lay a simple desire to sell papers, turn on a sacred cow they were tired of protecting, sell papers, and sell papers. I know you think the journalists in this case are beside the point, but I must politely disagree. If we care about fighting racism, we should care about fighting it the best way we can.
 
Last edited:

Worm

Taste the diffidence
Peter Paphide's quick account might be even more impressive if it were accurate. Morrissey didn't "drape" himself in a union flag during 'National Front Disco' - but I guess it sounds better to use that song title than 'Glamorous Glue'. Morrissey seems to treat the glad more like a whip and without much regard than something to be draped in. The use of girl skinheads also subverts the usual. Perhaps like you, I would have rathered the NME to have done a one-page editorial rather than printing their version of what happened, which seemed more like a personal attack on Morrissey.

Your objection to the word "drape" is funny, because I was going to post an example of how I think the NME should have treated the Madstock incident. This is how it's done properly. For background, this excerpt is taken from an essay written by Simon Reynolds for the New York Times in September 1993, a little over a year after the infamous gig; the topic of the piece was a new rift between US and UK rock:

The anti-American mood was prefigured by that most England-obsessed singer, Morrissey, formerly of The Smiths. On his 1992 glam-rock-tinged LP Your Arsenal, the song 'We'll Let You Know' mourned the fact that 'we look to Los Angeles for the language we use...London is dead". Shortly after the album's release, Morrissey incited controversy when he draped himself in the Union Jack flag while performing at an open-air concert. The singer was criticized for flirting with a symbol associated with neo-fascist skinheads, who have been escalating bias attacks against racial minorities. Another song on the album, 'The National Front Disco' (named after a Far Right political party), heightened the impression that Morrissey was playing with fire.

If there's a sociological backdrop to this mini-movement of bands who are proud to be British, it's that the UK is in the throes of a political, social and cultural crisis. Economic recession, rising crime, deterioration of public services, governmental ineptitude and a sense of stagnation have all fueled anxieties about where Britain is heading as a nation, what it means to be British. On the one hand, the UK is nervous about merging with its neighbours on the continent in a greater European community; on the other, it feels inundated with American culture, from grunge to Hollywood blockbusters to American Gladiators.

The defiant Englishness of this new crop of indie bands is a sort of perversely parochial and Luddite response to global pop culture-- everything from Nintendo to sampler-based music like techno (a truly international and rootless form of music). Since the future would seem to promise the loss of national cultural identity, these bands turn their backs to the future and rifle the back pages of England's pop glory.​


Now, the first thing to be said is this: Reynolds wasn't writing about Morrissey alone. His account of Madstock might have been harsher if he'd written an essay focusing solely on the topic of Morrissey's dalliance with nationalism. The essay for the Times was about a much broader subject, touching on several bands.

Even so, you can see how Reynolds' analysis is light-years ahead of the NME's. Reynolds read the Madstock fiasco against the backdrop of Your Arsenal, specifically; against the larger backdrop of a nation he saw as being "in the throes of a political, social and cultural crisis"; located Morrissey among a mini-wave of bands fired with nationalism in the year in which the foundation for the EU was laid down (n.b. the Maastricht Treaty was signed in February, 1992); and understood that Morrissey's use of the Union Jack had as much, if not more, to do with a defense against the encroachment of noxious American culture than it did with dislike of racial minorities. With those factors in mind, Morrissey's use of nationalist imagery suddenly doesn't seem as strange. Maybe they don't excuse his "flirtations", but they would seem to be an important and partially mitigating aspect of the story which any decent editor would have tried to include. And Reynolds was writing in September, '93, so it's not as if he had years of analysis to draw from.

Regarding his fairness to Morrissey, Reynolds doesn't sound the siren of racism, he only refers to "controversy" and the "impression" that Morrissey was playing with fire. This is good, responsible journalism (his use of "draped" notwithstanding). Pat Long should have taken the same approach. Instead he asserted that Morrissey made a "calculation" to "inflame" the racists in Madness's audience by performing a song he didn't actually play. Titanically bad.

Lest anyone think I'm quoting Reynolds as a defender of Morrissey, I will close by pointing out that possibly the best thing about the piece is the way Reynolds' essay is actually more damning than the NME's precisely because of its relative restraint and big-picture thinking. In the passage I've quoted he calls the new crop of England-obsessed bands (Morrissey, as well as Saint Etienne, Denim, Pulp and The Auteurs) "perversely parochial", "Luddites", and practically reactionary ("these bands turn their backs to the future"). Morrissey doesn't come across as dangerous. He comes off as stale and backwards.

Incidentally, Reynolds did touch on "Bengali In Platforms" once, in a 1988 interview, shortly after he'd heard "Viva Hate". Guess what? Reynolds, who was as vocal a supporter of black music as anyone in the English music press, and never attempted to hide a certain tendency toward leftist politics, didn't even mention the possibly racist interpretation of the song. Instead he chose to ask Morrissey a series of questions framing the song within the album's nostalgic glances at the Seventies. Asked if he thought the song could be heard as "condescending", Morrissey answered, "Yeeeees...I do think it could be taken that way, and another journalist has said that it probably will. But it's not being deliberately provocative. It's just about people who, in order to be embraced or feel at home, buy the most absurd English clothes". He goes on to explain that he felt glam-rock in the early 70s was "privately English", "a national thing, it brought the provinces alive", and was "a matter of the rest of the world catching up with England, instead of the reverse". (His 'nationalism' had limits: added Morrissey, "One can't deny that the style of the Seventies was the pinnacle of debauched nonsense and human ugliness".)

Again, none of this is to excuse "Bengali In Platforms" completely, only to illustrate how a responsible critic-journalist takes on a difficult subject. Facts matter. Context matters. Not allowing oneself to stop at knee-jerk reactions matters. How different the Madstock fall-out might have been! Who knows, the NME could have started a fruitful dialogue about race relations in the UK. Instead they let loose a blatant hatchet job, just as Conor McNicholas would years later. The Pat Longs of the world are just a marginal, pitiful result.
 
Last edited:

123xyz

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
True. Then again, I think Chloe Veltman summed it up by saying the flag itself could be taken as "a symbol of arch nationalism", and in the NME article they make mention of the flag being unacceptable in the multicultural "Euro 90s". So any of the Britpop acts who waved the Union Jack ought to have been seen as offensive almost by definition. At the very least there should have been angst about it-- the NME should have published a similar article ("Oasis: Flying The Flag Or Flirting With Disaster?").



Well, you've really hit on what it's all about, haven't you? Here you seem to agree with Andrew Collins and a number of other journalists and critics. It's also the line taken by a number of posters on this site. The argument is pretty simple: sticking to the facts doesn't matter because Morrissey is clearly guilty of some amount of racism.

I'm guessing if Pat Long were informed that he'd made a mistake about "Bengali In Platforms" being played at Madstock, he would shrug it off. Something like: "Well, okay, he didn't play it, but, look, he did write the song, and it's pretty obvious that Morrissey's opinions about race are dodgy..." That was Andrew Collins' attitude. Defenders of Morrissey argued in pennies, the NME dealt in pounds. Should the article contain a distortion or two, maybe some opinions disguised as facts, a couple of quotes shorn of context-- who cares? The grubby little fans wouldn't utter a peep if they could have seen the look on Dele's face when he walked into the NME offices that day...

Here's the problem. When journalists stop caring about facts, they aren't journalists anymore. Instead of upholding public discourse centered around facts, we have a bunch of competing editorialists. If we can't agree on what the truth is, anything goes. People can say anything they want and get away with it. It's definitely true in the U.S., and I'm guessing it's true in the U.K. Nobody cares if the story is less than accurate about Morrissey. He's just a pop singer. But in the bigger picture it makes a hell of a lot of difference when people speak about racism, or injustice of any kind, because in a fact-free environment everything is read as opinion whether it's true or not.

There are many causes for this state of affairs, and the NME is no doubt a tiny part of the problem. In any case, the thread in common to them all is this. The perception among a lot of people is that there's a group of right-thinking, politically correct people who sit on high, self-righteously passing down judgments based on how they "feel" or what they "just know". You can argue the facts with them up to a point. Then you pass a threshold and objectivity gives way to an implacable, intuitive certainty which allows for no argument whatsoever. In the public sphere, the result of this is confusion, but it's a kind of confusion that nearly always tilts sharply toward the Right. Political correctness was long ago seen to be opinion, not fact-based. Hence it was bullshit; hence any discourse that sounds like political correctness, even if it isn't, can be dismissed out of hand as whiny liberal complaints. It's what happens when journalists imagine they can peer into the souls of their subjects instead of sticking to facts.

I will say this again: the facts did not paint a rosy picture of Morrissey's attitude toward race. I believe the NME could have put out a thoughtful, well-argued, solidly-backed piece, using only the facts, exploring the potential dangers of Morrissey's "flirtation" with far right-wing imagery. I'm not trying to suggest that Morrissey is totally blameless, or that there aren't problems with some of his artistic choices. The point is that the NME strayed from the facts, and now, twenty years on, we get garbage like The Believer and Pat Long's account of Madstock.




Again , Worm, really enjoyed your series of thoughtful posts. You touched on one particular point which I think is the central horror/irony/black humour of the whole NME-Sadstock saga in your mention of (I'm paraphrasing) a confusion which benefits the Right. Grrr... late for something now , have to dash but will expand later. In the meantime , I'll restrict myself to saying when the NME discuss racism, I'm reminded of a faulty burglar alarm which goes off arbitrarily and how this is worse than a completely broken alarm which doesn't sound at all.
 

123xyz

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Now , where was I ? Ah yes, the central horror/irony being that the NME's Madstock coverage arguably did more to aid racism than deter/combat it. Looking back over Worm's post , I see I'm doing little more than reiterating but anyhow... .

By making groundless allegations of racism ( in a creepily righteous tone), I would argue the effect is that of the boy-who-cried-wolf. Doing so muddies the waters ; it renders the terms "racism" and "racist" subject to such inflationary pressure via hyperbole as to make the words themselves harder to use meaningfully and more just a general purpose ad- hominem insult.

If significant denigration based on ethnicity is of concern ( as goes without saying unless , in fact, apartheid was actually groovy) , then surely it behooves ( yes , I did just use that word) us to wield the associated words judiciously and not least because the spurious accusation of such is a dreadful slur.

By lumping in non-racist behaviours with racist behaviours , the NME have done all casual , or even unconscious , race-haters a great favour. How ? By providing them with an instance of absurd finger-pointing and , perhaps, a further easy dismissal of any more genuine grievances. I would argue tabloid media acts as a potent influence on ballot box decisions and pub-based political chat. If one Right -wing paper is habitually griping about greedy refugees ( hello , "Daily Telegraph" readers in Australia) and the ostensibly " cool liberal" end of the spectrum ( come on down , NME) is making hopelessly overstated allegations about " Morrissey the racist" , then how is a casual browser meant to easily see beyond the false dichotomy ? Between unadmitted racism on one hand and incoherent charges of such on the other.
 
Last edited:

Worm

Taste the diffidence
By making groundless allegations of racism ( in a creepily righteous tone), I would argue the effect is that of the boy-who-cried-wolf. Doing so muddies the waters ; it renders the terms "racism" and "racist" subject to such inflationary pressure via hyperbole as to make the words themselves harder to use meaningfully and more just a general purpose ad- hominem insult.

The boy who cried wolf-- exactly. It pretty much boils down to that, but putting it so tersely takes the fun out of these forums. :)

To use a less emotionally-charged example, think back to the "Climate-Gate" episode of late 2009. Private email exchanges between scientists were leaked. The emails seemed to indicate that in some cases data had been fudged to sell the story of climate change as a man-made phenomenon. This was a boon to cliamte-change deniers, as they felt they had a "smoking gun" revelation of a conspiracy among scientists to perpetrate a massive hoax. They were wrong, of course, but the story is a perfect example of why, in this media climate, it's absolutely vital to get the facts straight. Aside from the hardcore conspiracy nuts, whose minds were made up beforehand, there were probably many undecided people who were handed a perfect excuse to dismiss warnings about man-made climate change, and hence to go on supporting corporations and politicians who are actively destroying the planet. Climate change is as close to a cut-and-dried problem as there can be-- there's essentially an airtight, near-universal scientific consensus on climate change-- and yet that one element of doubt, introduced into the public sphere by the hacked CRU emails, destabilized an already shaky debate. Ground was ceded to the skeptics, and as I said, skeptics-- maybe should I write "skeptics"-- almost always represent the far right wing or, at best, unwittingly stir up enough confusion to benefit the far right wing indirectly.

The problem of racism is even more complicated and far more volatile emotionally. The NME had a right and maybe even an obligation to address the "racism" inherent in some of the ideas and images Morrissey was playing with, but they should have done so responsibly and with great care.

There's an unfair imbalance. To defeat the right, the left has to argue its case with maximum adherence to facts, reason, and sober argument. (They usually fail miserably, but that's beside the point.) On the other side, though, the right, to defeat the left, merely has to introduce skepticism. Findings of a recent poll of Republican voters in Alabama show that 45% believe President Obama is a Muslim. Bad enough, but here's an additional data point which is even scarier: 41% of voters aren't sure if he's a Christian or Muslim. That means that 86% of Alabama Republican voters apparently either do not watch news programs, which have reported many times that Obama is a Christian, or they have seen the programs and simply disbelieve the President or doubt him enough to remain unsure about his true religious status. Now, poll data is often flawed, and Alabama GOP voters are probably outliers, but in general these findings back up my point, above, about skepticism. You don't have to win the argument. You just have to make people doubt the opposition.

The Right doesn't have to convince people that climate change is a hoax. They just have to show that a few scientists lied.

The Right doesn't have to convince people to believe in Creation and Adam and Eve. They just have to show that evolution is a theory with a hole in it.

The Right doesn't have to prove the President is a Muslim. They just have to hammer home a lot of crap about birth certificates and middle names.

The Right doesn't have to take on the arguments of the Occupy movement or consider the London rioters legitimate. They just have to circulate one picture of an anarchist smoking dope or a teenager busting a shop window solely for the sake of a fun thrill.

And, finally, the Right doesn't have to address racism. They just have to show people that those who make accusations of racism are merely a bunch of opinionated, silly, cry-baby liberals who are, at bottom, unserious and possibly unhinged.

That's one way to win over public opinion, if you're on the Right. Instead of making a strong case, all you need to do is make sure the other guys can't win in the court of public opinion. The current media environment makes such a task very easy. Like I said, I hardly think the NME is responsible for this situation. They may have been a tiny, tiny part. But the Madstock story was certainly a representative case, in my view. As you and I seem to agree, it actually hurt the cause the paper was trying to support.
 
Last edited:

123xyz

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
The boy who cried wolf-- exactly. It pretty much boils down to that, but putting it so tersely takes the fun out of these forums. :)

To use a less emotionally-charged example, think back to the "Climate-Gate" episode of late 2009. Private email exchanges between scientists were leaked. The emails seemed to indicate that in some cases data had been fudged to sell the story of climate change as a man-made phenomenon. This was a boon to cliamte-change deniers, as they felt they had a "smoking gun" revelation of a conspiracy among scientists to perpetrate a massive hoax. They were wrong, of course, but the story is a perfect example of why, in this media climate, it's absolutely vital to get the facts straight. Aside from the hardcore conspiracy nuts, whose minds were made up beforehand, there were probably many undecided people who were handed a perfect excuse to dismiss warnings about man-made climate change, and hence to go on supporting corporations and politicians who are actively destroying the planet. Climate change is as close to a cut-and-dried problem as there can be-- there's essentially an airtight, near-universal scientific consensus on climate change-- and yet that one element of doubt, introduced into the public sphere by the hacked CRU emails, destabilized an already shaky debate. Ground was ceded to the skeptics, and as I said, skeptics-- maybe should I write "skeptics"-- almost always represent the far right wing or, at best, unwittingly stir up enough confusion to benefit the far right wing indirectly.

The problem of racism is even more complicated and far more volatile emotionally. The NME had a right and maybe even an obligation to address the "racism" inherent in some of the ideas and images Morrissey was playing with, but they should have done so responsibly and with great care.

There's an unfair imbalance. To defeat the right, the left has to argue its case with maximum adherence to facts, reason, and sober argument. (They usually fail miserably, but that's beside the point.) On the other side, though, the right, to defeat the left, merely has to introduce skepticism. Findings of a recent poll of Republican voters in Alabama show that 45% believe President Obama is a Muslim. Bad enough, but here's an additional data point which is even scarier: 41% of voters aren't sure if he's a Christian or Muslim. That means that 86% of Alabama Republican voters apparently either do not watch news programs, which have reported many times that Obama is a Christian, or they have seen the programs and simply disbelieve the President or doubt him enough to remain unsure about his true religious status. Now, poll data is often flawed, and Alabama GOP voters are probably outliers, but in general these findings back up my point, above, about skepticism. You don't have to win the argument. You just have to make people doubt the opposition.

The Right doesn't have to convince people that climate change is a hoax. They just have to show that a few scientists lied.

The Right doesn't have to convince people to believe in Creation and Adam and Eve. They just have to show that evolution is a theory with a hole in it.

The Right doesn't have to prove the President is a Muslim. They just have to hammer home a lot of crap about birth certificates and middle names.

The Right doesn't have to take on the arguments of the Occupy movement or consider the London rioters legitimate. They just have to circulate one picture of an anarchist smoking dope or a teenager busting a shop window solely for the sake of a fun thrill.

And, finally, the Right doesn't have to address racism. They just have to show people that those who make accusations of racism are merely a bunch of opinionated, silly, cry-baby liberals who are, at bottom, unserious and possibly unhinged.

That's one way to win over public opinion, if you're on the Right. Instead of making a strong case, all you need to do is make sure the other guys can't win in the court of public opinion. The current media environment makes such a task very easy. Like I said, I hardly think the NME is responsible for this situation. They may have been a tiny, tiny part. But the Madstock story was certainly a representative case, in my view. As you and I seem to agree, it actually hurt the cause the paper was trying to support.




Worm , don't mean to piss in your pocket but yes , yes, exactly that. Don't know where you find both the patience and the erudition but have you ever read Thomas Frank ? Of course , I'm now veering into Off-Topic territory... . Isn't it funny - Intelligent Design isn't even a theory ( i.e. falsifiable ) but how many voters will realise evolution is precisely that and , hence, a thousand miles beyond creationist blather ?


As for "tersely', you're a goose. Life and time are both too short for anything other than shooting straight ...:)
 
Last edited:
G

goinghome

Guest
:nicethread:

The last book of essays on Fandom etc -
http://www.amazon.com/Morrissey-Rep...504173/ref=cm_rdp_product/184-4418145-4842662 - includes a few that touched on the controversy. In particular, chapter three by John H. Baker's on Morrissey's attraction to the skinhead cult, 'In the Spirit of '69?...' sets out, step by step, what happened before, during and after Madstock in Finsbury Park 1992. Just a little analysis shows how the media left reality well behind in biased coverage. Morrissey's song videos featuring skinheads are considered. At the event itself, confusion abounded, and malice was not aforethought. We might as well be prepared to hear much more about it when the court case comes round.
 

Qvist

Active Member
The boy who cried wolf-- exactly. It pretty much boils down to that, but putting it so tersely takes the fun out of these forums. :)

To use a less emotionally-charged example, think back to the "Climate-Gate" episode of late 2009. Private email exchanges between scientists were leaked. The emails seemed to indicate that in some cases data had been fudged to sell the story of climate change as a man-made phenomenon. This was a boon to cliamte-change deniers, as they felt they had a "smoking gun" revelation of a conspiracy among scientists to perpetrate a massive hoax. They were wrong, of course, but the story is a perfect example of why, in this media climate, it's absolutely vital to get the facts straight. Aside from the hardcore conspiracy nuts, whose minds were made up beforehand, there were probably many undecided people who were handed a perfect excuse to dismiss warnings about man-made climate change, and hence to go on supporting corporations and politicians who are actively destroying the planet. Climate change is as close to a cut-and-dried problem as there can be-- there's essentially an airtight, near-universal scientific consensus on climate change-- and yet that one element of doubt, introduced into the public sphere by the hacked CRU emails, destabilized an already shaky debate. Ground was ceded to the skeptics, and as I said, skeptics-- maybe should I write "skeptics"-- almost always represent the far right wing or, at best, unwittingly stir up enough confusion to benefit the far right wing indirectly.

The problem of racism is even more complicated and far more volatile emotionally. The NME had a right and maybe even an obligation to address the "racism" inherent in some of the ideas and images Morrissey was playing with, but they should have done so responsibly and with great care.

There's an unfair imbalance. To defeat the right, the left has to argue its case with maximum adherence to facts, reason, and sober argument. (They usually fail miserably, but that's beside the point.) On the other side, though, the right, to defeat the left, merely has to introduce skepticism. Findings of a recent poll of Republican voters in Alabama show that 45% believe President Obama is a Muslim. Bad enough, but here's an additional data point which is even scarier: 41% of voters aren't sure if he's a Christian or Muslim. That means that 86% of Alabama Republican voters apparently either do not watch news programs, which have reported many times that Obama is a Christian, or they have seen the programs and simply disbelieve the President or doubt him enough to remain unsure about his true religious status. Now, poll data is often flawed, and Alabama GOP voters are probably outliers, but in general these findings back up my point, above, about skepticism. You don't have to win the argument. You just have to make people doubt the opposition.

The Right doesn't have to convince people that climate change is a hoax. They just have to show that a few scientists lied.

The Right doesn't have to convince people to believe in Creation and Adam and Eve. They just have to show that evolution is a theory with a hole in it.

The Right doesn't have to prove the President is a Muslim. They just have to hammer home a lot of crap about birth certificates and middle names.

The Right doesn't have to take on the arguments of the Occupy movement or consider the London rioters legitimate. They just have to circulate one picture of an anarchist smoking dope or a teenager busting a shop window solely for the sake of a fun thrill.

And, finally, the Right doesn't have to address racism. They just have to show people that those who make accusations of racism are merely a bunch of opinionated, silly, cry-baby liberals who are, at bottom, unserious and possibly unhinged.

That's one way to win over public opinion, if you're on the Right. Instead of making a strong case, all you need to do is make sure the other guys can't win in the court of public opinion. The current media environment makes such a task very easy. Like I said, I hardly think the NME is responsible for this situation. They may have been a tiny, tiny part. But the Madstock story was certainly a representative case, in my view. As you and I seem to agree, it actually hurt the cause the paper was trying to support.

Hm, I must have missed that moment when the left turned staunchly rational, in consistent contrast to the emotionalism of the right? :) What you describe works a bit in either direction, if you ask me.

The global warming issue is a pretty good example of how both sides tend to overdo their thing. Now, I agree that given the weight of scientific opinion, it is simply rational to accept that global warming is established enough to act on - that's not the issue. But right wing sceptics essentially tend to distrust the notion of global warming because they distrust the people who tend to go on about it. They suspect that not only are the scientists less certain than they make out, additionally the theory is pounced upon by a group of people seemingly instinctually addicted to some sort of doomsday scenario that they can use in order to advocate the sort of political solutions they already favored in the first place. The more well-informed among them will tend to recall such things as the ozone layer turning out to be able to seal itself with an astounding speed none had suspected, and that suggesting any such thing in 1987 would have been ridiculed. Letting that override the fact that global warming is essentially scientific consensus is of course irrational, and amounts to pig-headed obstinacy, but there you are.

On the other side, it is kind of hard not to notice that prior to global warming there was the ozone layer scare, and prior to that it was imminent nuclear armageddon, and before that again there was global cooling - all of whom, funnily, were sequentially believed in by the same people who incidentally advocated policies to address them that were indistinguishable from the policies they advocated to solve all other kinds of problems too. With the extreme urgency of the problem rather too frequently used to justify all manners of logical shortcuts and, erm, convenient takes on fact. Of course, that doesn't alter the fact that global warming has a scientific consensus behind it, but if it's the people and not the theories we're discussing.....

As for creationism, that's just beyond the pale. Not even being religious is an adequate excuse for even taking it seriously.
 
Last edited:

Worm

Taste the diffidence
Hm, I must have missed that moment when the left turned staunchly rational, in consistent contrast to the emotionalism of the right? :) What you describe works a bit in either direction, if you ask me.

It does, yes, but I think what we've seen, in recent years, is a total spectrum shift toward the right. The people who are, today, on the "left", might have been in the center, or even on the right, a few decades ago. I am one of those people. Also, I think the right is now split off from the rest of the political spectrum in its weird blending together of a quasi-religious rejection of science and quasi-rational skepticism toward the same (i.e. many who demand evidence in some cases totally eschew it in others). It's necessary to rethink what right and left mean. Of course, I admit that in my post it seemed very cut and dried.

The global warming issue is a pretty good example of how both sides tend to overdo their thing. Now, I agree that given the weight of scientific opinion, it is simply rational to accept that global warming is established enough to act on - that's not the issue. But right wing sceptics essentially tend to distrust the notion of global warming because they distrust the people who tend to go on about it. They suspect that not only are the scientists less certain than they make out, additionally the theory is pounced upon by a group of people seemingly instinctually addicted to some sort of doomsday scenario that they can use in order to advocate the sort of political solutions they already favored in the first place. The more well-informed among them will tend to recall such things as the ozone layer turning out to be able to seal itself with an astounding speed none had suspected, and that suggesting any such thing in 1987 would have been ridiculed. Letting that override the fact that global warming is essentially scientific consensus is of course irrational, and amounts to pig-headed obstinacy, but there you are.

On the other side, it is kind of hard not to notice that prior to global warming there was the ozone layer scare, and prior to that it was imminent nuclear armageddon, and before that again there was global cooling - all of whom, funnily, were sequentially believed in by the same people who incidentally advocated policies to address them that were indistinguishable from the policies they advocated to solve all other kinds of problems too. With the extreme urgency of the problem rather too frequently used to justify all manners of logical shortcuts and, erm, convenient takes on fact. Of course, that doesn't alter the fact that global warming has a scientific consensus behind it, but if it's the people and not the theories we're discussing.....

As for creationism, that's just beyond the pale. Not even being religious is an adequate excuse for even taking it seriously.

Well, I think you're right, but even if we concede that the people warning us about the ozone layer were overdoing it, there's a case to be made that they were right to do so. Science works on models of reality which are only valid until they're not. If the best evidence suggests that human beings are going to cause irreversible damage to the planet, perhaps resulting in the extinction of the species, then you can't really blame anyone for (a) acting on the best evidence and (b) reacting with appropriate intensity. It may well prove that science will revise its findings on climate change in the years and decades to come. But should we gamble the future of the planet on that? And aren't we better off using "clean" energy in almost every conceivable way?

Your point does hit on a very interesting part of these debates, however, which is that liberals almost always fail because the claims they make require a level of evidence and argument they have no chance of reaching. It is the people, and their arguments. Absolutely. In the area of law, prosecutors know that winning or losing a case can depend on what charges are filed against a defendant. For example, a conviction can be won or lost based on whether the state attempts to prove manslaughter or first-degree murder. It all depends on the accusation. In the public domain, liberals typically make accusations they have no hope of proving even with truth on their side. With climate change, then, it's usually "We're killing the Earth!", a claim which is true in one sense and easily falsifiable in another. The easiest example is that people usually say "global warming" rather than "climate change", so when snow falls for a few days in a row they can cluck their tongues and call the theory disproven. Every winter storm debunks the science, they say. Which isn't true, but it demonstrates the crucial importance of how we frame these problems.

The real problem is that the opposition has figured out a way to use this to its advantage with far more skill than the left does. It's not even close. But it's hard to see because they understand they don't have to make a successful counterargument, they merely have to delay, distort, or muddle the debate long enough to achieve the desired result. Big oil doesn't have to disprove climate change, just thwart the debate long enough to go on reaping billions of pounds, euros, and dollars.
 
Last edited:
Top Bottom