A nostalgia for misery, a relocation of poverty to aesthetics
April 1, 2020 5:15 AM   Subscribe

Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before: A Study in the Politics and Aesthetics of English Misery, an essay by Owen Hatherley examining the journey of northern-English voters from anti-Thatcherite Labour collectivism to a spitefully reactionary nostalgic nationalism, as seen through the writings and public statements of sensitive miserablist turned fascist sympathiser Steven Morrissey.
posted by acb (16 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
That was a useful analysis, thank you for bringing it here.
posted by PMdixon at 5:27 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think that an occupational hazard for architecture critics is that they hardly ever get to review stuff that is an unadulterated success, simply because of the way big construction projects work. Their default state is disappointment.
Which is to say that Hatherley writing about Morrissey seems entirely appropriate.
(gentle reminder: Smiths Good, Morrissey Bad)
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:11 AM on April 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

(gentle reminder: Smiths Good, Morrissey Bad)

I once bought a T-shirt reading “Love The Smiths, Hate Morrissey”. I realised that that is problematic, because by wearing it, I, a privileged white man, am declaring what is and isn't contaminated by Morrissey's racism, so I don't wear it.
posted by acb at 6:21 AM on April 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

An excellent piece. Having been a huge Smiths fan back in the day, I could never understand how what I understood to be such an exquisitely sensitive soul could harbor such hatred. It turns out his whole creative output was an exercise in solipsism, a singular milestone in self-pity. Guess that's why there was always a kernel of guilt in my enjoyment. Still love the songs, though.
posted by sensate at 9:27 AM on April 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

Every time Moz comes up, I mostly find myself feeling for Johnny Marr. What a bummer of a way for your legacy to go, through no fault of your own.
posted by Beardman at 11:54 AM on April 1, 2020 [11 favorites]

Good essay.

In related, there's the 2017 pre-Smiths-era kitchen-sink young Moz bio-pic, 'England Is Mine'. Not for everyone, but worth a look if you're into this kinda thing.
posted by ovvl at 12:04 PM on April 1, 2020

I feel like what happened to Morrissey is just another example of what happens to any young rebel type who fails to adjust his perceptions and his rhetoric as his position relative to the system changes. It's not just the 'live long enough to die a villain' trope; it's specific mindsets that are understandable amongst downtrodden people that are poisonous amongst the successful. The tendency to perceive oneself as a victim and the system as against you is of course merely a bias in favor of reality for some people--but once you've become a wealthy old goof oppressed on no real axes, it's positively malignant.
posted by praemunire at 1:02 PM on April 1, 2020 [8 favorites]

“If you say that others should suffer because you had to suffer and you turned out alright, then you didn't turn out alright.”
posted by acb at 1:16 PM on April 1, 2020 [15 favorites]

The way Thatcher broke the unions was nefarious but remember that Scargill’s central demand was that no pit with coal left in it should ever be shut down even if it operated at a loss. His stupid adherence to the belief that miners* were entitled by birth to certain jobs at a certain wage in a particular industry in perpetuity was the direct cause of Thatcher winning and breaking the unions. As an outsider I honestly see no difference between that kind of birthright argument and people voting for Brexit at all. Maybe England will go back to hereditary, life long secure jobs with a benevolent guv'nor taking care of the whole village and nice pension like all the Brexiteers think but really that's just a different kind of trap, isn't it?

*defined as locally born straight males from mining families willing to leave school at 16 and marry a local girl who would do loads of unpaid community work. No outsiders got jobs in those mines, or women or anyone not from a mining family.
posted by fshgrl at 1:25 PM on April 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

People like Morissey are expert fart-huffers, really. They can sniff out a fart at 10 paces and from the odor determine precisely the contributions of shitty sausage, baked beans, and warm beer that wafted it. Curry farts they don't like so much, also because the spices cause them to erupt with a bad case of bowel distress. They like Proper Old English Farts, that do most remind them of home, and of themselves. That it's all shite? They don't mind that so much. After all they're fart-huffers. It's what they do.
posted by dmh at 2:09 PM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

to add to my earlier content in a way that might make more sense: from my outsiders perspective it is no surprise that enemies of Thatcher-ism support Brexit. Thatcher was targeting the miners and the unions because she was New Right and wanted to eliminate the One Nation policies that had been prevalent in the Tory party for a century. One Nation Tories are who brought you the belief in a stable, stratified society, the NHS and also Brexit, Theresa whatsherface specifically referenced being One Nation in speeches as I recall. I'm not sure these voters made a journey as much as the world has just circled around a position they've always held.

(And to clarify my earlier comment- the miner's themselves just wanted to be treated fairly and with respect and therefore had widespread support. Their leadership failed them really.)
posted by fshgrl at 4:41 PM on April 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

This reminds me a lot of how regressive a lot of emo / pop-punk / hardcore music is in terms of sexuality and gender - especially with regards to "nice guy" tropes. Awesome essay.
posted by codacorolla at 9:27 PM on April 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Cultural nostalgia is now king? Seems like Williams is the one who's been living in a cupboard these past couple decades, or hasn't she noticed any of the mass pop culture during that time?
posted by gusottertrout at 6:29 AM on April 6, 2020

Is it actually nostalgia if everyone agrees that what is being looked back on is rubbish?
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:35 AM on April 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sorta, I suspect, since what's being lamented is as much the loss of mass culture, in the old sense, with a lot of it as we continue to move through an age where selecting and reporting on culture is ever diversifying and harder to grasp hold of. Technology, an aging population that is feeling stressed by change, and the desire to return to some "better", "more innocent" time fuels both the media industry and many of its consumers.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:57 AM on April 6, 2020

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