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That ain’t workin

January 20, 2011
Dire Straits performing in Drammenshallen, Nor...

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Last week I listened to CBC Montreal’s drive-home show to check on traffic and was treated to 10 minutes of listener feedback celebrating the use of the word faggot.The host had played Dire Straits’ 1985 hit Money for Nothing and then invited people to call in with reactions, most of which were euphoric.

A little background: The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which enforces ethical guidelines for private broadcasters, had just ruled that the original version of this song  is inappropriate for play on private radio stations:

“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.  The Panel finds that it has fallen into the category of unacceptable designations on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.”

This should be a fascinating and complex debate, especially when hosted by our public broadcaster. The lyrics are written from the point of view of an ignoramus and his use of the word reflects at least as badly on him as the “little faggot” in the song. In this context, I was not offended when I first heard it (as a terrified closeted lesbian high school student). It seemed then to be a wink and a nod in our direction, as it does now. I might feel differently if I were a gay man, but I am not more offended by it today.

But I can see the other side too. Context is hard to establish in a short form like a rock song and it’s hard to argue that the general impact of this ironic moment is positive. I think it helps to use the n-word test in a situation like this– would we be defending the use of the n-word in a 1985 rock song where a racist blue collar worker was talking about a group of African American musicians? We might, but I think we would be a hell of a lot more tentative. The same station that contested the complaint routinely bleeps the n-word from songs by artists like Kanye West who, as a member of an oppressed group reclaiming a slur, has an undisputed right to use it. Hypocrisy at its best.

Like I said, this is a complex debate and I can see myself agreeing with both sides. (Feel free to weigh in with your comments.) In the end, I think what pisses me off most is the tone of the listener feedback from my fellow Canadians. The whole discussion was reduced to “Yay! Now we can say faggot again! Faggot, faggot, faggot!”

And that ain’t workin for Humanity.

The Apocalypse: 24.5

Humanity: 19.5

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3 Comments
  1. I find that the general public’s reaction to just about anything these days pisses me off. But maybe I’m just cranky.

    It’s definitely a complex issue. I like how you framed it terms of the n-word test. Where is the line to be drawn? Is it ok if the LGB community uses “faggot”, but no one else? When does the right to free speech encroach upon what’s socially acceptable as “polite” language? Is any type of censorship to be celebrated? I certainly don’t have the answers, but you’ve got me thinking.

  2. I don’t know how I feel about any of that. Like you said, it’s a pretty complex issue. It’d be great if we could all just be nice to each other, but, you know. I’ll tell you what I do know–I love reading intelligent writing. And this certainly qualifies. Thank you for not being a douche.

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