Do you hear what I hear? That’s right, it’s time for the annual Christmas music onslaught. Which means it’s also time for people to clutch their pearls and get offended once again by Baby, It’s Cold Outside. But that’s not all — I just saw a news story about how some people want the word faggot removed from The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York. Sigh. I’d like to say I’m surprised by this, but I’m way too old. In fact, it reminds me of a column I wrote in 2011, when Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing was censored for several months because one person complained about the same word. Here’s my piece from back then (with some minor editing). Seems like I could have written it today.
It’s been a long time since I wanted my MTV. But right now, I’ll take that over the CBSC any day.
In one of the most headslappingly moronic moves in recent history, the national embarrassment that is the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled that Dire Straits’ 1985 song Money for Nothing can no longer be played in its original form in Canada — because one person in Newfoundland was offended over its use of a word that starts with F, rhymes with maggot and refers to gay men. (Note: The council eventually reversed its decision.)
Never mind that the song is more than 25 years old and has already been played countless times. Never mind that the supposedly offensive word is as old as the hills, and used regularly on TV, in books and movies, and by pretty much every kid on the planet. And never mind that even the most cursory examination of the lyrics — a jab at the vapidity of music videos, as seen through the eyes of a joe-sixpack character — makes it obvious to anyone without a head injury that Mark Knopfler is using the term in question ironically. Money for Nothing is no more homophobic than Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn — which routinely faces the same sort of narrow-minded censorship over the N-word — is a KKK manifesto.
But sadly, the subtleties of context, satire and irony no longer apply in our idiocracy. Hell, thanks in no small part to Alanis Morissette, most people don’t even know what irony is. And they don’t want to know. They’re too busy being mad. Fair enough. There’s plenty to be mad about these days: Lying leaders drunk with power. Blatant, rampant corporate thievery destroying our economy. Constant stress ruining our personal lives. Actual hate speech from politicians and pundits hiding behind the flag and the Bible. The general hell-in-a-handbasket direction our whole world seems to be heading.
The average person can’t do much about those big problems. But he or she has to blame somebody for all of it. Or something. Entertainment is always an easy target. And rubberstamping bureaucrats are apparently only too glad to shoot that fish in the barrel to make it look like they’re actually accomplishing something other than wasting our tax dollars.
Following the logic (such as it is) of this decision, we can conceivably conclude that one person being offended by something — no matter how ridiculous the circumstances — is now enough to have that thing deemed universally offensive and censored. So where do we go from here? Taken out of context, anything can be an insult. And turned into a weapon in the wrong hands. How long until some faux-offended redneck or attention-seeking twerp demands that Elton John’s Honky Cat be retitled Caucasian Cat? Or that Gil Scott-Heron’s Whitey On The Moon be banned?
Once I used the word wigga while reviewing a disc by a white rap-metal act and some little jerkwad threatened to launch a social media campaign against me unless I retracted it and apologized. Both my editor and I told him to shove it. After all, if anybody can use the W-word, it’s a white suburban rap fan like me. Plus, enough is just enough already.
Does all culture have to be dumbed-down for numbskulls and sanitized for the humourless? Does every song ever written have to be scrutinized by a committee that tries to guess what might offend someone now or in the future? And should that be a committee whose name includes the word broad?
Instead, I humbly suggest that there’s a far better solution. If you find yourself offended by a word you hear in a song, remember: It’s only a freaking song. Unless it’s being sung by a hate group during a march, it’s not threatening you. Or intentionally hurting anyone. So just turn it off and go listen to something you like. Better still: Go do something good for the world and for yourself. Donate blood. Raise funds for charity. Campaign for a candidate you believe in. Volunteer at a food bank. Pick up trash in your neighbourhood. Play with your kids.
Or hey, try watching MTV instead. A few minutes of that crap and Mark Knopfler won’t seem so bad.