Morrissey doesn’t make himself easy to like, and has proved to be as deft at writing catchy, literate indie-pop songs as he is at erecting barriers that prevent the unqualified enjoyment of those songs. He’s egregiously precious and oversensitive, and has a tendency to come off in interviews as self-important, vain, and smug. He’s a vocal advocate for animal rights, but perhaps too vocal. His passion for protecting all God’s creatures is an admirable one, but the rigid, bratty way he tends to express that passion represents the type of myopic zealotry that stunts movements more often than it fortifies them.
I could accept all of this, though, if it weren’t for the fact that Morrissey is also probably racist. I say probably for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that Morrissey is not at all shy about litigation where such accusations are concerned. Added to this, as with any damaging rumor that shadows a celebrity, Morrissey’s alleged racism is a conjecture built of equal parts fact, perception, and apocrypha. But in spite of his insistence that he isn’t racist, an assertion he’s repeated over the years, no one has done more to make the case that Morrissey is deeply racist and xenophobic than the man himself.
Take, for example, his 2010 interview with The Guardian, in which he mentioned his feelings about news reports detailing the treatment of animals in Chinese circuses and zoos: “You can’t help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies,” he said. That comment was so indefensible and so vile that the British anti-racism group Love Music Hate Racism announced it would no longer accept money from the singer, who in 2007 gave the organization a large cash donation to demonstrate his non-bigot bona fides after making similarly disturbing comments in an interview with NME. “With the issue of immigration, it’s very difficult because, although I don’t have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England, the more the British identity disappears,” goes the NME quote.
Before these instances, Morrissey’s defenders had much more to work with. There was the argument that the questionable lyrics of his songs “Asian Rut” and “Bengali in Platforms” were merely examples of a body of songs that includes many skewed views of provocative characters, such as the congenitally deformed woman in “November Spawned a Monster” or the violent stepchild in “The Father Who Must Be Killed.” There’s also the fact that Morrissey was so offended by NME’s 2007 story, he alleged its writer had spliced quotes together and sued the magazine to clear his name, ultimately settling out of court after the magazine agreed to print an apology and retraction. “I abhor racism and oppression or cruelty of any kind and will not let this pass without being absolutely clear and emphatic with regard to what my position is,” said Morrissey in a statement related to the NME fracas. “Racism is beyond common sense and I believe it has no place in our society.”
As comforting a balm as statements such as these have been to Morrissey’s fan base over the years, it’s beyond my common sense to total all of the evidence and conclude that Morrissey is simply misunderstood. If I had to guess, I would say that Morrissey holds some absolutely repugnant views, and attempts to keep them hidden for fear of alienating his fan base and destroying his career. I also believe that’s partly the reason he’s notoriously press-shy; the ratio of interviews in which he’s made sickening comments to the relatively small number of interviews he’s done suggests that he probably says many indefensible things, and it’s just a matter of whether a tape recorder happens to be nearby to capture it.