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Morrissey and Racism

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

by Brandon Edmonds / 09.09.2010

You beat the dog before killing it. This releases enzymes tenderizing the meat. I was told as much in Korea. The old guy who told me was a benign playschool teacher. His dry old hands caress the heads of children first thing every Monday. Hands that have brutally tenderized dog meat with a stick. Koreans eat pooches. 8 month old puppies are considered best. It’s illegal but customary. A custom making Modernity (with its “alienation from the means of production” – we are shielded from the reality of our own food, from the harsh conditions – of exploited labour and life – subtending so many of our habits) bump up against threatened folkways. A shaggy dog story as old as time.

“Foreign criticism of dog meat reflects lack of understanding of our nation’s ancient culture,” a Korean MP once summed up the popular position. “It is blasphemy, not criticism.” Rabid animal rights ideologue, Bridget Bardot, a now nutty prune once ravishing enough to turn Jean Luc Godard into Roger Corman, see Le Mepris, or Contempt, simply called dog munching, “Barbarism!” A woman who clearly hasn’t spent her evident hours on the beaches of St.Tropez paging through sorely missed Edward Said’s seminal cultural studies best seller, Orientalism, which elegantly details the West’s endlessly objectifying look towards the East.

Is a practice legitimate because it’s old / or illegitimate because our thinking’s new? Our own President embodies the tension. His dick is a time machine. It keeps returning us to prior social modes. Keeps reminding us that we’re never really ‘post’ anything – that our present is a bewildering temporal glut – everything all at once all the time – encapsulated perfectly by the great closing warehouse scene in the first (and best) Indiana Jones movie: the Ark is simply wheeled into inventory amidst all the other piled historical junk. A scene that pre-figures the redundant abundance of online search engines today. Nothing matters much more than anything else. Radical equivalence. Radical relativity. Zuma recently fathered number 22 from wife number four. Dog killing. Polygamy. Folkways are strange. But who are we to judge?

All that came to mind on learning Morrissey – that peerlessly articulate fop who took pop to new heights of anxious yearning with the glorious Smiths in the 1980s – has been saying unseemly things about Others again. Never one to refrain from judging, in a recent interview, he called the Chinese a ‘sub-species’ for ‘absolutely horrific’ treatment of circus animals. Apparently he’d just seen something about it on TV.

Morrissey

There’s been immediate mainstream rehashed conjecture about Morrissey’s “racism”. Is he or isn’t he? He certainly isn’t. The singer is on record and admirably unequivocal: “I abhor racism and oppression or cruelty of any kind… Racism is beyond common sense and has no place in our society.” But the media have followed a fairly tight evidentiary script regardless.

Mention him donning the Union Jack at a Madness gig. The uncool harping on some lost vital pre-diversity nationhood: “the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears”. The race based run-in with NME that led to litigation. Highlight the iffy songs “National Front Disco” (with its ominous race war chant – “you want the day to come sooner when you’ve settled the score” & “England for the English”) and “Bengali in Platforms” (with its truly unforgivable line castigating generations of immigrants – “life is hard enough even when you belong here”). These are songs mind you. Verbal constructs. Texts. Not official statements.

Stories tend to wrap with a Smiths pun like ‘the joke isn’t funny anymore’ – that “his willful testing of race-related taboos really ought to stop”. It’s just narrow identity politics that matters for about as long as it takes to read the article. Who gives a fuck if the artist who cracked the universal code of Sunday sadness – an achievement that speaks to everyone who’s ever been blue – has an exclusivist sense of Britain? It doesn’t matter. He has never advocated racism. Never. He has certainly privileged whiteness in his work. But it offers rich expressive resources as blackness does for James Brown.

Now I love animals. We have dogs at the Mahala office. Beautiful Ella goes nuts each time a motorbike passes. The basset hound Bea is ornery and slow. But consider this: China chomps over 2.5 billion tons of coal annually. That kind of runaway demand means safety is not a priority in the country’s hellish mines. China’s miner death rate per ton is 50 times higher than the US. 50 miners died every week in China in 2006. Imagine those bodies in your kitchen. Piling up. (Not to mention the infanticide).

That seems a graver crisis than circus animals. That seems more urgent than a faded pop star’s measly jingoism. Why not highlight the human costs of economic growth? The media is as reckless as he is at facile race-baiting.

And as the singer once remarked about people: “They are problems.” Rather than animals who are given that glowingly inviolable category: victims. And it is symptomatic of Morrissey’s position in life, wealthy adored icon, that his values – “meat is murder” – have ultimately taken on an hysterical/irrational edge. We’ve hung on his every word so long – the demented fucker thinks he can say anything!

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RESPONSES (30)
  1. remedy bru says:

    Y’know Brandon, there’s probably a very lucrative career waiting for you either in politics or in the corporate world as a spin doctor deluxe. I mean, who else can take accusations and evidence of racism against one of their favourite stars and weave so much conjecture and circumstantial subterfuge around it as materfully as you have done here? These talents are worth gold and Mahala cannot possibly pay what they could command in a more lucrative industry.

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  2. Katoey says:

    Brandon we know you’ve eaten cooch; the question is have you eaten pooch?

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  3. Rook says:

    Edmonds… he says the chinese are a sub-species. He offhandedly lumps them all together and paints them with the same brush, that sir, is a racist utterance. he may not wish to be racist. he may choose to try not to be racist. but in that statement he was deeply bigoted and yes, racist.

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  4. brandon edmonds says:

    Ha ha. I did not. Growing up my dog Boots was the only friend I had.

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  5. brandon edmonds says:

    Fair enough @Rook. I was going to go into the meanings of ‘sub-species’ but that just seemed like the path of fruitless semantics. Moz definitely has a big mouth.

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  6. Rook says:

    i think most people are susceptible to the finality of labelling. it’s not like Morrissey is forever a racist, he made a racist remark. Probably flippant, lazy and reactionary. But everyone holds him to that and it becomes a label. A brand, in the old school mean cowboy hot iron on flesh sense. Permanent. Human beings are all susceptible to racism, xenophobia and violence. None of us are born without that potential. What makes a person good is their choice not to be, or do, like that.

    Alas the media instead of interrogating Morrissey and offering him an opportunity for atonement and redemption – just labels and polarises and tends to make hypocrites out of almost everyone.

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  7. brandon edmonds says:

    That’s right. He’s a nationalist if he’s anything. England increasingly represents his youth, his highest creative moments, his past. No wonder he sentimentalizes it. Corporate culture denies the claims of national identity on the whole – replacing patriotism with markets (except in wartime) and belonging with consuming. His “Irish Blood/English Heart” shtick and fierce animal advocacy sticks out. Most pop stars are, as he once put it, “thick as pig shit”. You couldn’t say that about him. Still, “sub-species”. Yikes.

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  8. Sarah Dee says:

    I won’t let myself say anything on this issue. Or I won’t stop. The issue being the West’s fetishistic relationship with the East, not the dog-munching. Because the former creates the latter. (Why don’t the omnivores get upset about Daisy the Cow?)

    All I will share is how hilariously funny I find it remembering on my poor middle-aged, bourgeois, border collie-loving mother wandering around Vietnam, fighting the endless anxiety of wanting to pet every dog she came across, but not wanting to make any culturally insensitive faux pas by accidentally stroking the supper.

    With communication somewhat impeded by an almost impenetrable language barrier, the image imprinted in my memory is of her wild gesticulating and her barking, monosyllabic enquiries of “IS THIS DOG FRIEND, OR IS IT FOOD?! FRIEND… OR FOOD?!”

    Beautiful.

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  9. Sarah Dee says:

    Great article, by the way.

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  10. large S says:

    “Alas the media … just labels and polarises and tends to make hypocrites out of almost everyone.”
    “He’s a nationalist if he’s anything… Corporate culture denies the claims of national identity on the whole – replacing patriotism with markets”

    Maybe you guys have more in common with the impending media tribunal than is immediately obvious?

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  11. Matthew Eriksen says:

    i suppose if you consider the semantics of Morrisey’s statement that the Chinese are sub-species, he’s still logically able to get away with claiming that he isn’t a racist. In terms of his view, the Chinese aren’t even human – thus, not even a race. Which would allow him, if he was so inclined, to bring up the obfuscatory question of what it means to be human.

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  12. Matthew Eriksen says:

    (@Brandon. Oh, just reread this and saw your comment on “fruitless semantics.” Was what I wrote more or less what you were getting at?)

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  13. Anonymous says:

    and people dying are is more important than animals dying because?

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  14. Rook says:

    it’s not anonymous… at least if you read Coetzee’s lives of animals

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  15. Andy says:

    No one ever said that the media was a perfect “institution” without need to improve and evolve itself to a higher standard… that certainly doesn’t mean we support the recent efforts of a bunch of self-interested ANC goons to do the policing (or is that intimidating).

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  16. Andy says:

    sorry that was directed at large S.

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  17. Anonymous says:

    I know it’s not Rook…i was asking Brandon…he implied that people dying is more important than animals dying. Unless I misunderstood what he was saying…

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  18. large S says:

    Right, now that I at least have Andy’s attention.

    There’s a cool documentary out on DVD called “Star Suckers” and it deals with our obsession with celebrities in the media. It’s rather well made and delves into a fair amount of psychological and evolutionary theory to make its point.

    And now you’re waiting for me to get to my point. Well, part of the doccie looks into the British tabloid press and its ability to take pure hearsay and fabricated lies and to present this as sellable “fact”. Since most British media deals in gossip and the lives of socialites for its welfare, these fabrications have more to do with their ability to sell nothing dressed up as something rather than distortions that actually impact the welfare of the British public. Consequently, there is a growing chorus of objection from British (and generally Western) intellectuals regarding the lack of substance in their media and the lack of accountability that the profit hungry corporates controlling these publications have. Just like ours, the British media is “self-regulating” and their regular transgressions are usually met with meek apologies and retractions, not much else.

    We cannot see the challenges now facing the media in this country as totally separate from the circumstances embroiling the media elsewhere. The lack of the industry’s ability to self-regulate on a global level is something of legitimate concern for some and an opportunity for exploitation by others. Just this morning I heard Jacob Zuma on the radio, remarking that retractions and apologies in our local media did not carry enough weight, using carefully constructed argument not unlike that employed by concerned media insiders in Europe and America.

    So next time we mouthe off about our media channels being controlled by corporates and therefore not promoting national interest, let’s stop for a moment and consider where we are, what time it is and who may be feeding off these sentiments for far more nefarious purposes. This is South Africa and the chance of being quoted out of context is extremely high.

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  19. Sarah Dee says:

    Anonymous,

    What the hell kind of question is that, anyway? Consider the position in which you have to be, in order even to be able to ask it at all.

    The key lies in this line of Brandon’s last paragraph: “that glowingly inviolable category: victims”.

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  20. Storm says:

    Yes, people dying is definately more important than animals dying. Consider the option of choosing between your dog and your child and tell me honestly that you would choose your dog. Even if you dog had been your best friend for 15 years and your child was only 2!

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  21. mort S says:

    Storm – what if the choice was between your beloved pet and a burglar?

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  22. Roger Young says:

    Well, I guess he know how Joan of Arc felt?

    (But still you know, he’d rather be famous than righteous or holy)

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  23. Andy says:

    the argument that the media does a bad job at self-censure and “permanent labelling” – to paraphrase Rook – is spot on. The media is not without it’s faults and those faults should be addressed. And it’s being used as a crowbar by the ANC to foist that oppressive bit of legislation on our free and open society (constitutionally speaking).

    but to say people shouldn’t discuss those things now because of the current political climate, for fear of giving proponents of the Secrecy Bill more ammunition is silly and shortsighted. We need to engage the entire debate and make it clear that while the media has shortcomings, the government certainly doesn’t need special powers to jail journalists and protect information that rightly belongs to the public.

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  24. muerte says:

    “His dick is a time machine” – lol nobody ever said that about Zuma before!

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  25. Anonymous says:

    Sarah Dee and Storm, thanks for summing up what’s wrong with the human race. humans are certainly no more important than any other animal on the planet….we have simply convinced ourselves that we are.

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  26. Sarah Dee says:

    Anon, you clearly didn’t (or can’t) apply the necessary thinking to deal with my comment (since it’s barely related to Storm’s, let alone supporting the same argument. So I’d say its best you just leave it alone.

    Think of it this way, if your arguments were to make you opposing roosters in a cock fight, mine would make me the one tutting at the pointlessness of it, but wondering whether its better to let you just peck each other to death so it can be over and we can all move on.

    Maybe that frames my comment a little better for you.

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  27. Juanel says:

    Whether it is “ethical” of the Chinese in this case to eat dogs is besides the point, and since no one has done so yet, I would like to fart out the obvious: The torture of any creature for any reason should be denounced – well from my moral frame of reference that is. (This statement concerns the practice mentioned in the article of beating the dogs in order to tenderise the meat)

    The West is equally guilty of ill-treating animals raised to be consumed. When the isle in Checkers is sold out of free-range chicken it is more convenient to bitch/sigh and buy what is available than to drive down Kloof to Woolies.

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  28. bahumbugga says:

    @remedy, bru is but one of the silver-tongued individuals suggesting edmonds might more profitably exploit his rhetorical wiles elsewhere than in online scribbling. Political & corporate spinning are often (& understandably) put forward. Real opperchoonidies there, brandon – weigh them carefully. Feel the plump chink of gold florins etc. Yet, I feel your true calling is in fact Military. You have the insane ambition of a dictator, the tenacity of a honey badger, & the moral instincts of a common whore. With the right sort of rigorous basic training, a man could be made of you yet, edmonds!

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  29. brandon edmonds says:

    Tee hee @bahumbugga…an overbearing badger whore is about right.

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  30. Mshini wam says:

    ‘Our own President embodies the tension. His dick is a time machine. It keeps returning us to prior social modes.’
    Brilliantly put

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