We’ve all seen the headlines: another big star canceled in another big scandal. From Lizzo to Kanye to Bill Cosby, many of the most spectacular figures in American popular culture have had even more spectacular downfalls. I won’t bore you by regurgitating details of what these stars did, no matter how gruesome or immoral; you’ve heard them before time and time again and they are frankly not the point of this article. Shocking revelations about everyone’s favorite movie stars can also be painful to accept, as many of us see these stars as role models, family members, even close friends. Cosby, for example, was known as “America’s Dad” for decades before his actions rotted his reputation.
But should we still enjoy watching The Cosby Show? Should we still listen to the music of Kanye West or Lizzo? Should we continue consuming great art even though it comes from the minds of morally abhorrent figures?
Let me introduce you to Stephen Patrick Morrissey, a British singer-songwriter and the frontman of quintessential indie rock band The Smiths. Morrissey, as he is often mononymously known, is an immensely talented artist. With a broad vocal range and witty, often sorrowful vocals, his music touches on a variety of topics important to British life and was responsible for igniting a rebellious generation of teens against the societal establishment of the late 1980’s.
Morrissey is unsurprisingly infamous for his big mouth, saying almost whatever he feels like for the public to hear without a care for who he offends. He has repeatedly supported far-right, xenophobia-laden political movements in Britain, in addition to being accused of racism for decades. Morrissey’s loud-mouthed views are, in many ways, forever connected to his work. Many of his songs, including the aptly named Bigmouth Strikes Again, showcase Morrissey’s steadfast belief in his views even if it rockets him toward infamy rather than fame.
All of this said, I cannot help but adore Morrissey’s music. His lyrics are clever, forlorn, and brilliant, while the instrumentals backing his vocals turn his music into a forbidden chalice from which I can’t help but indulge.
Now I won’t say that listening to Morrissey’s music is a completely guilt-free endeavor for me. In fact, in researching this article I was disgusted by several controversial remarks made by the fallen rockstar of which I was previously unaware. But the music of Morrissey the musician continues to keep me listening, despite the misdeeds of Morrissey the man.
People have an uncanny ability to ignore what they don’t like about people and focus only on what they like. I admit that when I indulge into listening to The Smiths I sometimes fall victim to this habit. I am well aware that, as I have previously described in painful detail, Morrissey is a downright terrible person. But I am also well aware that he is a brilliant musician whose lyrics deeply resonate with me. This delicate balance causes me to drift toward a disappointing, but nonetheless correct answer to the above question.
So, should we, the intelligent students of Perkiomen Valley, separate the art from the artist? Well, yes and no. If, much like my relationship with the music of The Smiths, you find yourself drawn toward art from an immoral source, you should absolutely enjoy it. However, that does not mean that you should idolize the artist and ignore their wrongdoings. Instead, you should responsibly enjoy their art, all the while recognizing their controversies or moral flaws as parts of their lives that may never truly be separate. By far the most important thing is that we stand together as a community to stop hate or bigotry of any sort, but that does not mean we should deprive ourselves of great art as a consequence. What’s more, everyone’s individual tastes are unique and should be respected, and we can’t waste time judging each other. After all, as Morrissey himself said, “Nothing is important, so people, realising that, should get on with their lives, go mad, take their clothes off, jump in the canal, jump into one of those supermarket trolleys, race around the supermarket and steal Mars bars and kiss kittens.”