“. . . Only if you're Really Interested”: Celebrity, Gender, Desire and the World of Morrissey

Nicholas Greco
Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
May, 2007
 

Abstract


Steven Patrick Morrissey was the lead singer of the 1980s British band The Smiths. Since the band’s demise in 1987, Morrissey has had a successful career as a solo performer. Morrissey is a rich case study for the analysis of mediated celebrities. This dissertation examines the ways in which Morrissey’s public persona has shifted throughout his career. These changes have to do with the nature of popular cultural mediation, the status of celebrity, and Morrissey’s engagement with issues of gender and desire.


Morrissey’s celebrity persona, or star image, takes shape within the ongoing production of what Roland Barthes refers to as enigma, and its incompleteness is thus one of its consistent features. This star image is constructed from—and within—“streams” of information which are produced and circulate over time. The unending character of this “stream” is such that Morrissey’s star image is perpetually produced and continues to evolve. The sense of the celebrity’s image as incomplete leads, in turn, to an ongoing impulse, on the part of fans and observers, to find resolution. Throughout his career, Morrissey has maintained mystery around key aspects of his identity, in particular his sexuality, his feelings about England, and his relationship to pop stardom. This dissertation explores the various elements which contribute to Morrissey’s enigmatic star image: critical press; music videos; live performance; musical syntax; and interviews. This dissertation explores the interaction of these various elements, and how they have given rise to ongoing speculation within fan and critical discourse, and it explores the particular kinds of mystery and gender roles which arise to accompany these sorts of enigmas.


As a celebrity, Morrissey is subject to the gaze of an audience in a way that has historically been construed as objectifying, and theorized within important works as feminizing. Morrissey’s principle response to this objectification has been the maintenance of a constant sense of enigma. While other performers might seek clarification of their images as a means of controlling them, Morrissey’s response to ongoing objectification is the ongoing production of enigma. His active control of his image is manifest through his constant transformation of that image.
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