Wilde's Side: Morrissey and the Culture of Queer Distinction

Document Type : Original Article


426 Northgate Dr


This article examines the queer legacy of Oscar Wilde as deployed by British popstar Morrissey, and as a model of transforming sexual ambiguity into symbolic capital. This practice of “queer distinction,” the article ventures, introduces into the historical, hegemonic binary of queer vs. straight a sociological politics of taste, sophistication, and individual autonomy. In short, Wilde’s marriage of literary sophistication and sexual deviance are mapped onto the mainstream/alternative split within popular music: against “mainstream” emphases on community, assimilation, and coming out are the quiet operatives of insider knowledge, ambiguity, and subculture; against efforts to unravel static, gendered categories altogether is the nostalgic perseveration of masculine identity and struggle for the authority to define it. Ultimately—certainly in Morrissey’s case—social rejection is transformed into artistic credibility. After examining Morrissey’s lyrical and performative evocations of Wilde, this article 1) revisits the dynamic of the Wilde trials as a clash of competing eccentricities, each invested in the patriarchal ownership of culture and homosocial hierarchies; and 2) looks specifically at A Picture of Dorian Gray in relation to Morrissey’s own homosocial fixations, deployment of the pederastic educational model, and effort to preserve, even as he alters the proofs for, the autonomous male artist.