I read the news today, oh boy. Those words uttered nearly 50 years ago by a man who imagined for a living seem to summarize the collective feelings of modern Western civilization. Though the context has changed, the song remains the change. Widespread gun violence, Middle Eastern extremists, and body snatchers campaigning for “Lunatic in Chief” dominate the 24/7 news cycle. The fear and vitriol spewed from print, television, and the World Wide Web hold hostage many of those who just want to get by during their day to day lives. If you think too much about it, it can be incredibly daunting and exhausting.
However, worry not! There is a man who has the answer; a helpful guide to living a life of happiness and independence. A mystic born out of the gloomy grey storybook setting of Manchester with a brazen spirit as old as time itself. Behold! Lend your ears as the one and only Wizard of Moz declares “world peace is none your business.”
Take it in for a moment. See? Isn’t that better?
No? Well, maybe you’re just not being cynical enough.
Morrissey, the leader singer of the Smiths, has a reputation that precedes him as a solo artist. Simply put in Morrissey’s homeland nomenclature, he can be quite a wanker. With musings that border on self-righteous and a face that exudes indignation, Morrissey carries himself above the rest of us. And why shouldn’t he when you have that much confidence in yourself?
Despite coming off as a cartoon character at times, Morrissey can be quite clever in his prose more often than not. Released last year as the lead single to the album of the same, “World Peace Is None of Your Business” is one of the finest pieces of satire found in Morrissey’s later entries in his discography. The songwriting is coy and supremely subversive in its message and delivery.
Morrissey is slyly telling the listener that their role is to just lay dormant. There is no need to be riled up by injustice and violence because you are powerless. Since you lack the money, power, and influence to enact any real change, the listener must observe on the sidelines and hope they are not caught in the crossfire next. Police and their stun guns. Government profiting on the wealth disparity of others. Protestors silenced. These are all standard because, as Morrissey sees it, that is what government is for.
Morrissey belts out the words like a civics professor, but wavy and lilting in the style he perfected and maintained for over 30 years. One cannot help but feel like they are being spoken down to, and not just because of the authoritarian lyrics. Morrissey repeats that every time you vote, you support the process. The Pope of Mope is sitting you down like a misbehaved school boy and is making sure you retain every bit of the state-sanctioned rhetoric he suffered through as a child.
Despite the heavy themes present in the song, Morrissey is having fun with the irony inherent in his message. He has seen it all and did everything his way. He’s made a career of going against the grain of society and continues to live on the fringes of popular music. He’s done more than you ever will, so what makes you think you can enact any kind of real change? His musically stylized form of negative reinforcement is so thick and sappy that he may have well written the song with a fountain pen dipped in blood and molasses.
I find this song refreshing in some ways. In recent months, social media has been inundated with slacktivists; people who, at the moment the tragedy of the day drops, arm themselves at their keyboards and play lounge chair politics. There are a lot of people out there who are doing amazing work and I find them to be completely admirable. I think we should all look up to them. However, there are swarms of people who take credit for movements and actions because they wrote some tweets about it. I understand that it is okay sometimes to share in a victory because its effects are so far-reaching, but victories like that don’t come often. Whenever I see a new mass shooting, I’m no longer surprised. The same thing happens every time: a shooting takes place and people go online to share footage of the carnage and type that something has to be done about it. Someone somewhere has to do something about it. So, Morrissey’s branded cynicism allows me to divulge in some dark humor. In these cases, he’s telling these slacktivists to keep their noses out of the work being done by people who actually make things happen. While I hardly ever find myself aligning with Morrissey’s personal politics, I adore his unabashed and unapologetic approach to world crises in this song.