Columnists desperate for something to whine about this week were given a big gift by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which ruled that the Dire Straits song Money for Nothing was unfit for air because it contained the word “faggot”.
I won’t begin to try to put together an exhaustive list of everything that’s been said. But to give you an idea, there’s a column by Mark Lepage in The Gazette. Matt Gurney in the National Post tries to prove a point suggesting other songs that must be banned. Kelly McParland adds it to a couple of other unrelated stories to advance the hypothesis that Canada is an easily offended country. CTV and CBC in Calgary interviewed former CHOM personality Terry DiMonte, who said the CBSC took the song out of context. Current CHOM personality Rob Kemp wrote about it in a Facebook post, questioning how such a decision could be made based on a single complaint, and saying that “CHOM’s position is, rather than have a butchered version of the song on the air…we’re just not going to play it.” Sharon Hyland also wrote about it on her CHOM blog.
The news reached across the border, with a piece in the Washington Times, which notes the decision is unappealable.
Even (part of) the band itself reacted. Guitarist Guy Fletcher called the decision “unbelievable,” but said the word would be substituted.
The news has spread so much that the album the song is on has climbed the iTunes charts in Canada.
I understand, but…
I’m not here to defend the CBSC’s decision. I don’t particularly agree with their reasoning, and the decision itself is a bit unclear, as you can tell from the following excerpt:
… the Panel acknowledges that the word “faggot”, although lightly sarcastic in its application in the song, was not used in a “sneering, derisive, nasty tone”, as the Comedy Now decision anticipated in its evaluation of “fag”.
Still, the Panel concludes that, like other racially driven words in the English language, “faggot” is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so.
In other words, the panel doesn’t think the word was used in a bad way, but it thinks the word shouldn’t be used at all.
My issue is with the response to this, which has been one-sided and very repetitive. People complaining on one hand that the decision came out of a single complaint for a song that was released decades ago and has been popular for a long time, as if either of those things should automatically disquality something from being judged as obscene or discriminatory.
And then there are the outraged classic rock radio DJs who stand up on principle and declare that the artistic integrity of classic songs cannot be violated. Two stations even decided to protest the decision by airing the song over and over for an hour.
Forgive me for raising an eyebrow, but it’s hard for me to feel moved by outrage from radio stations that air the radio edit of Brown Eyed Girl, and cut Layla in two to save time. It’s hard for me to feel moved by the need for keeping songs untouched after seeing Cee-Lo Green appear on Saturday Night Live and have to change the lyrics (and title) of his first song.
And then there’s Money for Nothing itself. As the decision notes, the song is regularly played in an abridged version, mainly for length
, that doesn’t include the offending lyrics (actually, the more popular abridged versions do include those lyrics). And the “F” word is often changed when the song is performed live, as you can see in the above video.
I understand the need for debate about censorship of music (and censorship for broadcast in general), and I think it should continue (particularly at the political level, because it’s the federal government that ultimately sets the rules). But let’s not pretend that this form of government censorship is new, or that radio stations playing popular music really care that much about artistic integrity.
UPDATE (Jan. 19): CHOM has decided to defy the council’s ruling and play the song with the offending lyrics included (I’d say they’re playing the original song, but they don’t care about artistic integrity that much – half the time they’re playing a shorter version). Astral Radio, which owns CHOM, tells the Journal de Montréal it doesn’t agree with the decision.
Meanwhile, Marc Weisblott looks at how this controversy has affected iTunes sales of the song and album.
UPDATE (Jan. 21): The CRTC has asked the CSBC to review the decision in light of the controversy.