18
Apr 00

MORRISSEY – “Bengali In Platforms”

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MORRISSEY – “Bengali In Platforms” (from the album Viva Hate)
A link to my piece on Morrissey was published on a big Moz website, and it garnered much praise but also caused a bit of controversy. This ‘review’ is my reply to that last letter, sent via e-mail.

Dear Lars,

Thanks for the thoughtful comments on morrissey-solo about ‘Bengali In Platforms’ – I thought I’d e-mail rather than get into a debate on the site.

I think the quote from the LA Free Press article is pretty typical counter-culture disdain for what it perceives as ‘pop fandom’ – the idea
that the mass of music consumers won’t accept change in their idols (and how telling that the comparison is to a Barbie Doll) has been disproved time and again – Stephen Gately of Boyzone’s coming out being the latest example. But I don’t think the Morrissey/racism thing (and I don’t think Morrissey is a racist) is to do with fans not allowing an idol to be what he wants. Fans should be a star’s best critics as well as most loyal boosters, and independent-thinking fans should be free to disagree with a star’s artistic
decisions without being accused – however slyly – of wanting that star to never change.

As for “BIP”, I’m sure it is ‘gently mocking’ – I still don’t think that makes it any better. I don’t think there was any racist intent in the song, but I do and will always think that the specific lines “Shelve your Western plans, and understand that life is hard enough when you belong here” are spectacularly clumsy and foolish ones for a non-racist to be using in a song, and I’ve never read a convincing defense of those lines. Oh, I’ve read plenty of defenses of Moz’ right to write or sing them, and I agree, but someone like me who finds the song ‘distasteful’ isn’t trying to ban it or even suggest that Morrissey shouldn’t sing it, so the argument isn’t appropriate. Discussions over it seem to often boil down to this assertion that the artist should be free to do whatever they like, which of course they should, but not without criticism. And criticism isn’t trying to bully an artist into being something they’re not: it’s reacting intelligently to what they are.

So the specific songs ‘we’ choose to criticise show up our prejudices….well, yes. And? If I’d been a Tory Morrissey fan I’d no doubt
have been very offended at “Margaret…” and not batted an eyelid at “BIP”. (As it is I don’t like “Margaret….” either, because it feels like a bit of a knock-off musically) And “…Monster” and “We’ll Let You Know” (and “MOTG” for that matter) did attract their fair share of controversy. It would be a particularly fence-sitting critic who took umbrage at any possible offence-causing commentary in songs.

With “Monster”, anyway, the tone of the song feels different – Morrissey sings angrily, not in ‘gentle mockery’. A potentially more ‘offensive’ to the disabled song would be “Mute Witness”, if you want to pick one out.

Anyway, thanks once again for taking the time to reply, and reply with intelligence.

Cheers,
Tom.

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