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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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