Disturbing accusations of sexual abuse, harassment and rape have shaken the entertainment industry for the past two months. The tidal wave of allegations streaming out of Hollywood feels like a watershed moment in popular culture; a throwing back of a veil that had kept the sordid details largely away from the public. But it’s also exposed how far some will go to justify the actions of the powerful and acclaimed. And in the case of Morrissey, it’s exposed just how off-base the former Smiths frontman’s values are.
Interviewed by German publication Der Spiegel, Morrissey offered justification for Kevin Spacey, who has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by dozens of people, including attempting to have sex with the actor Anthony Rapp when Rapp was 14 years old.
“As far as I know, he was in a bedroom with a 14-year-old. Kevin Spacey was 26, boy 14. One wonders where the boy’s parents were,” Morrissey said.
“One wonders if the boy did not know what would happen. I do not know about you, but in my youth I have never been in situations like this,” he continued. “Never. I was always aware of what could happen. When you are in somebody’s bedroom, you have to be aware of where that can lead to. That’s why it does not sound very credible to me. It seems to me that Spacey has been attacked unnecessarily.”
Morrissey was also dismissive of the dozens of women who have accused producer Harvey Weinstein of abuse and harassment.
“People know exactly what’s going on,” Morrissey reportedly said. “And they play along. Afterwards, they feel embarrassed or disliked. And then they turn it around and say: ‘I was attacked, I was surprised.’ But if everything went well, and if it had given them a great career, they would not talk about it.”
“I hate rape. I hate attacks. I hate sexual situations that are forced on someone. But in many cases one looks at the circumstances and thinks that the person who is considered a victim is merely disappointed.”
Fans and peers reacted with disgust and outrage at Morrissey’s comments. “Morrissey has lost the fucking plot,” tweeted Garbage singer Shirley Manson. “Weinstein + Spacey unfairly attacked? For rape, sexual abuse+coercion etc. Fuck U Morrissey! Fuck YOU.” Director Judd Apatow was more succinct: “Fuck Morrissey.”
For a generation of music fans, Morrissey came to the fore as an anti-establishment figure alongside The Smiths. The band symbolized the kind of thoughtful outsider that had been disregarded in the days of Margaret Thatcher and economic strife, but Morrissey has always allowed hubris and egotism to run wild. And worse, he has a pattern of romanticizing the despicable. In the 1990s, he was constantly accused of racism based on lyrics, antics and statements.
“Bengali, Bengali / Oh, shelve your Western plans / And understand / Life is hard enough when you belong here,” Morrissey sang on 1988’s “Bengali in Platforms,” sparking accusations of racism and xenophobia. In 1992, he performed at Finsbury Park draped in the union flag, a symbol of the British extreme right, while performing “National Front Disco,” a song that suggested empathy for the skinheads of the National Front. Famously vegan, in 2010 Morrissey dismissed the Chinese as “a subspecies” for their treatment of animals.
There are fans who have defended Morrissey for decades as merely a satirist when his lyrics insinuate bigotry, his controversial statements tend to spark controversy only to subside as he’s lauded for his prowess as a songwriter and an icon of British music, and his musings on British identity are exclamations of national pride as opposed to simmering xenophobia. But Morrissey has spent years showing us exactly who he is. And in dismissing alleged victims of rape and molestation, he’s yet another individual with a platform who has decided that power grants a certain kind of immunity; that scrutiny should be aimed at victims, as opposed to those with the power to abuse.
And sadly, he’s not alone.
The same day that Morrissey’s comments made him a trending topic on Twitter, Girls creator Lena Dunham found herself in the middle of a firestorm after she and former Girls showrunner Jenni Konner defended Murray Miller, a former writer on her show currently accused of rape by actress Aurora Perrineau. Dunham tweeted back in August, “Things women do lie about: what they ate for lunch. Things women don’t lie about: rape,” and she has championed herself as a feminist for years. But when someone close to her was accused of rape, her first public reaction was to insinuate that the woman, who is black, is a liar.
“While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year,” read the statement from Dunham and Konner. “It is a true shame to add to that number, as outside of Hollywood women still struggle to be believed. We stand by Murray and this is all we’ll be saying about this issue.”
After days of criticism, Dunham apologized for what she described as a poorly-timed statement.
“As feminists, we live and die by our politics, and believing women is the first choice we make every single day when we wake up,” she said via statement. “Therefore I never thought I would issue a statement publically (sic) supporting someone accused of sexual assault, but I naively believed it was important to share my perspective on my friend’s situation as it has transpired behind the scenes over the last few months. I now understand that it was absolutely the wrong time to come forward with such a statement and I am so sorry. We have been given the gift of powerful voices and by speaking out we were putting our thumb on the scale and it was wrong. We regret this decision with every fiber of our being.”
Morrissey, like Lena Dunham, exhibits a specific kind of conditional compassion that’s born of narcissism. In his days with The Smiths, Moz’s lyrics seemed to resonate with those on the fringes of Thatcherism and who had been ignored by Reagan-era conservative rhetoric; but it was never from the position of truly empathizing with those most vulnerable to oppression and abuse. They are both artists who came to the fore via “outsider” personas, who supposedly represented a voiceless segment of the population, and whose work indicated a shift in popular culture of the times. But almost immediately after they became household names, these celebs consistently exhibited that they aren’t really advocates for those who are voiceless. They are self-absorbed with a worldview steeped in white supremacy, and any compassion for victims has been purely performative.
These aren’t your heroes. They are who we thought they were. They always have been. They always told us. Fans chose not to listen. Maybe after the events of this week, more of us will believe them.