By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
After years of searching for contentment, Morrissey found it in the Mexican republic of Moz Angeles.
"Morrissey found us, and we bumped into him, and we fell in love with him," Ben says. "And he loved us back."
TURNING MANLINESS ON ITS CABESA
Despite such a devoted fan base, media treatment of the Latino Morrissey phenomenon is universally condescending, if not outright racist. Typical is the following passage from Big Brother magazine on one reporter's attempt to try to crack the Latino Morrissey obsession at a Morrissey/Smiths convention:
As much as I enjoyed hanging out with Edwin and his friends, I have to admit I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to exhibit their acceptance of me, as a gringo who's down with the southerners, to gain admittance into some of the other, more thuggier Mexican cliques that were scattered throughout the convention. I was fascinated with the monsters that filled their ranks, and I wanted to photograph them without arousing anyone's suspicion that I was just another white man exploiting the beaners for his own gain . . . which, in a way, I was kind of doing.
Other articles on the Morrissey Latino phenomenon have called Latino Morrissey fans "an audience of East LA homeboys" (Spin) or "tattooed Hispanic LA gangs" (Select). They describe those fans as possessing "perfect Mayan features" and wearing "the standard barrio uniform of shaved head, baggy jeans and short-sleeved plaid shirt" (LA Weekly). They describe Morrissey's divine powers to save Latinos from gangs (the British TV show Passengers). Or they'll sum it up easily by saying that Morrissey's Latino fans are "warm brown" (Los Angeles Times Magazine).
"It's hard to tell if the [press is] more upset with Morrissey for not knowing when he was finished," writes academic Colin Snowsell, "or with the audience for not respecting—or being unfashionably oblivious, too—the tacit understanding that Morrissey was taboo."
Snowsell, a doctoral candidate at Montreal, Quebec's McGill University, has made a study not merely of the connection between Morrissey and his fans, but also of the media's perspective of both. He has presented his observations in major academic symposiums and in his master's thesis, soon to be a dissertation, "'My Only Mistake Is I'm Hoping': Monty, Morrissey, and the Importance of Being Mediatized."
Ben:"He loved us back."
Photo by James Bunoan
A lifelong Morrissey fan, the Canadian discovered the Latino Morrissey phenomenon through occasional articles in the press and his interest in Latin America popular culture. "I was interested first in the fan base itself, but after reading a lot of articles on the subject, I became fascinated with how it was reported," Snowsell says. "The media seemed to delight in pointing out this phenomenon so they could mock him and Latinos. They're reporting it as a circus side story: the faded star appealing to non-mainstream audiences. But I say it makes perfectly good sense. I think Latinos have better taste than everyone else."
Snowsell theorizes that Morrissey's appeal to Latinos lies in the fact that he represents for them the same hope that he offers to all: an opportunity to transcend your lot in life. "Morrissey was, in short, providing to lower- and middle-class Mexican-Americans the same dual utopian message that he had once provided a decade earlier to predominately Anglo fans in the United Kingdom," he writes. And what did he offer Anglos? "Escape from the injustices of a social order that confines them to the margin, but escape also from the limited identity options entrenched in peripheral, working- and middle-class culture."
"There's something to the fact that the audiences that have liked him weren't rich," he says. "His original British fans were poor and lower class. With Latinos, they're certainly considered peripheral in their country. When they see someone who had a comparable experience, those themes of alienation and disenfranchisement come through. And Latinos pick up on those things and are drawn to him."
More intriguing for Snowsell, though, is Morrissey's subversion of gender and sexual roles and what that means for Latinos in a culture where everything begins and ends with machismo.
"Morrissey's macho, but in a different way," Snowsell says. "When you think of the archetypal North American male sex symbol, you think of rockabilly icons like Elvis Presley and James Dean. But he's taken this most masculine of identities and remade it as a fey, wimpy, cardigan-wearing, gladiola-loving singer. When you present that to Latinos, whose culture offers very rigid gender models, it appeals to them because he uses this to show through actions that there are other identity options available. There's no right or wrong way, and people can choose for themselves. They can be tough and sensitive at the same time."
DESCENT INTO MORRISSEY
My cousins and many of my Latino friends are Morrissey freaks, but they never introduced me to him. It's as if people must discover Morrissey on their own terms.
I saw the light recently. With Ben as my Virgil, I descended into Morrissey as we drove through the Imperial Valley to his Yuma show. The plan was to listen to every Smiths album during the four-hour journey out and to Morrissey's solo work on the way back.