Truly disappointed: when our musical idols betray our ideals
As lead singer of influential 1980s indie band The Smiths, and continuing into his solo career, Morrissey garnered a diverse and loyal fanbase. These dedicated followers have been drawn to his self-deprecating wit and themes of social alienation, coupled with his outspokenness on a number of progressive issues including the working class, animal rights, masculinity, and his barbed criticism of Conservatism and the Royal Family. Morrissey has frequently attracted controversy for his treatment of race and immigration, conveyed through his lyrics, interviews, and public appearances, culminating in support for far-right political party For Britain in 2018. This research revisits the Morrissey fan communities previously studied by Giles (2013) and Snowsell (2011), to test their findings in light of Morrissey’s first explicit endorsement of a far-right political party. This thesis explores the claim that Morrissey fans were left feeling “betrayed” (Jonze, 2019) by this endorsement. Through an analysis of online Morrissey fan discussion boards, the thesis identifies the emergent approaches by fans to explain their ongoing participation in the wake of this endorsement. The research shows that the nature of the fan relationship to fan object is more complex than the taxonomic spectrum previously suggested by Snowsell (2011) which ranges from casual fan to fanatic. Despite the additional inclusion of the critical fan identified by Giles (2013), this taxonomic construct remains overly reductive in the context of a complex fan object such as Morrissey. In so doing, the research revisits Giles’ and Snowsell’s classifications of Morrissey fans as either critics or fanatics, highlighting the limited application of these terms when a fan community reflects the complexity and ambiguity of the fan object. It challenges the previously established collective identity of Morrissey fans as largely progressive by highlighting a previously overlooked contingent of long-term Morrissey fans who have never identified with those ideals. Furthermore, this research suggests that the progressive collective identity that once encapsulated the majority of Morrissey fandom has been superseded by this previously overlooked group of Morrissey fans, broadly characterised as nationalistic, anti-immigration, and often explicitly racist. By introducing different fan strategies, this thesis highlights a range of other factors that may be involved in the relation between fan and fan object besides fanaticism to explain their ongoing participation in the fan community.