On Thursday, January 13, 2011, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (also known as the CBSC) declared that the song "Money for Nothing", recorded and sung by the group "Dire Straits" should be banned from Canadian airwaves. Their ruling stated that the song contravenes the human rights clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code. This ruling was brought down in response to a complaint brought forward by a listener to radio station CHOZ-FM in St. John's. His complaint was that the song includes the word “faggot” in its lyrics, a term that is discriminatory to gays. For those of you who might not remember, Money for Nothing was a huge hit when it came out some 26 years ago. As a result, they're in trouble and so, apparently, am I.
I work at and and try very hard to be the most fair-minded, ethical, and open-minded person I know how to be. I stand up for, and take a lot of shit for defending what I believe is right, even when it isn't popular at the time (often, that's all the time). Consequently, I seem to be in trouble with one person or another about what I say on a fairly regular basis. When I 'took sides' and defended gay rights nearly 30 years ago, it wasn't a particularly popular thing to do, but I still did it. There was nothing wrong with being homosexual then and there isn't anything wrong with it today. When the CBSC banned "Money for Nothing", I dared suggest that it was wrong and just short of insane, to have banned the song. Somehow, with that suggestion, I offended people I care about deeply and found myself being accused of insensitivity (and possibly hostility) toward the gay community.
A little time has passed and I've mended my bridges, but I still feel the need to get this off my chest publicly, especially since my initial pronouncement was also public.
If we agree that it's right to ban 'Money for Nothing', why aren't we all up in arms asking to ban the Bible (or your favorite holy book). God, according to the Bible, hates gays, non-Jews, women on their periods (well, women in general), and so on. Sure, I'm an atheist and yet I would fight to protect and preserve the Bible because it is important in its historical and social context. The Bible, the Qu'ran, the Talmud, etc, are all extremely important in understanding who, what, where, and why we are in the 21st century. It's not just important to be here; it's also important to understand how we got here or we will never learn a thing, doomed forever to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Context, by the way, is exactly why "Money for Nothing" isn't derogatory. It's about a couple of apes doing deliveries for a furniture store; oh no, I just called the movers in the song "apes". They rail against faggots, chicks, musicians who get everything for nothing (incidentaly, most musicians I know work their asses off), guys 'playing the bongos like a chimpanzee' . . .
The words in the song, the rest of the words as opposed to just the word 'faggot', are meant to show what asses the guys in the story are. If the song said, "faggots are scum and we should all hate them", then I'd understand the point. However, the song doesn't do that . . . it says, "guys like this are jerks."
Words are not offensive in and of themselves, nor should they ever be. Everything is context and since the meaning of words changes over time, all words, including those that offend, must be taken in historical context. Banning books, music, et al, does nothing to help the cause that wants them banned in the first place. If anything, it draws attention to the people asking for the thing to be banned and makes them look like whiners. Banning works is also the thin edge of a very dangerous slope, a slope that really a giant sword.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are responsible for the publicly accepted assassination of a politician who fought against those oppressive laws and the death sentence of a Christian woman who was accused, presumably of being blasphemous, whatever that might mean. Blasphemy, my friends, is one of those victimless crimes no one should ever have to pay for. Now I am not saying that banning 'Money for Nothing' is equivalent to what's happening in Pakistan, but it does show how far something like this can go if we allow it and why, at its core, demanding that we ban fictional or artistic works is dangerous and wrong.
Should we start looking for and banning all books, music, works of art, that have any kind of derogatory term in them? If we do, we will be a much poorer society. I could list dozens (hundreds) of popular songs right off the top that use derogatory terms when referring to women. Where's your outrage at every use of the term 'chick' or 'bitch'? The first word is derogatory and the second offensive. Why stop at women? What about other races or other cultures? Should we ban every work that offends a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew or a Buddhist? There won't be anything left to read, view, or listen to.
I'll start. Let me add another song to report to the CBSC, The Pogues' Christmas classic "Fairytale of New York".
Give me time and I'll come up with countless examples. Perhaps you'd like to help out. What are your suggestions for songs we should ban?