Thursday, January 13, 2011

“See the little faggot..." lyrics get 'Money for Nothing' banned from Cdn radio

I hated and resented the Dire Straits’ song ‘Money For Nothing’ when it was released in 1985 and I still do. Mind you, I had little time for that kind of rock music back then. Today, I’ve grown to slowly admire the genre. But not this song. Why? Because it blatantly and without apology used a vicious slur against gay men, and did so in a way that was as mainstream as you could get in 1985. It even won Dire Straits some awards for their work.

I'm not knocking Dire Straits' talent. There's some great guitar music in 'Money for Nothing' for sure.

To all those folks up in arms over today’s ruling by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, I say: “Let it go! There’s plenty of great classic rock out there without hateful lyrics. Listen to something else on the radio!”

And if you simply can't go without hearing the lovely lyrics, "See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup. Yeah buddy that's his own hair. That little faggot got his own jet airplane. That little faggot he's a millionaire," then play it on your iPod to your crass heart's content.

‘Faggot’ is a heinous slur against all gay men that should never be used, except in appropriate contexts. It’s the gay equivalent of the word, ‘n*gger’.

The Dire Straits song was reportedly written in the first person by songwriter Mark Knopfler from the mindset of some regular working class dudes he once saw working in a retail store selling refrigerators, TVs, etc. In the song, one such guy watches MTV on one of the TVs in the store and starts making observations of the people they’re seeing on the music network: "See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup. Yeah buddy that's his own hair. That little faggot got his own jet airplane. That little faggot he's a millionaire."

Sure it's supposed to be a characterization and not a literal attack by the song's writer on gay men (or effeminate, successful male musicians appearing in videos in the 1980s). There's little doubt in my mind the irony the songwriter claims to have meant with the lyrics was lost on most fans. Even if we accept the fact that the lyrics are unintentionally hateful (which I don't), it doesn't take away the fact that many straight guys I knew who loved this song were quite happy to sing along to it, often putting particular emphasis on the term ‘little faggot’. The song gave them even more permission than they already had to hate 'faggots.'

I doubt that Mark Knopfler was innocent here. Even he seems to have acknowledged it was an unacceptable slur as he's frequently sung the song in concert since, replacing 'faggot' with 'queenie' or some more innocuous word. 'Queenie' is still pretty homophobic.

The 1980s (and all periods before it) were virulently homophobic times. Gays were not even offered basic protections from discrimination in housing or employment in most parts of Canada at the time. Being gay meant inevitably facing frequent attacks, mostly verbal and sometimes violent. (In most parts of the world, this is still the case.) On top of that, we had Mark Knopfler adding his little phrase: “See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup...” to mainstream dialogue.

This is a song I’d like to forget. I’m all for playing censored versions of it that replace the word ‘faggot’ with something preferably non-homophobic on Canadian radio. And of course, I don’t care what people play in the privacy of their own homes or in clubs, etc.

How many movies have you watched on television which were edited to remove the profanity? Not every word is appropriate to be broadcast on the air waves.

32 comments:

Skinny Dipper said...

Even "The Jetsons" received an anti-sexist conversion in the editing department when George Jetson and his family boarded a flight to the moon, the sexy female flight-attendant's voice got replaced by a more serious male voice.

Skinny Dipper said...

I know it's not the same analogy as Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing." I always did like the Clash's "#uck the Casbah" until I found out that the group actually sang "Rock the Casbah."

kirbycairo said...

I always read it as ironic. . . and of course the problem is that irony is always subject to multiple interpretations. But even if it were meant to be ironic I can see that it could be offensive.

Simon said...

hi Matt...Good post. I can't remember the song, but if I had heard it, I would have hated it too.
What really offends me though is how this story has been blown up in the MSM and the blogosphere without a thought about the wider social context.
It's a feeding frenzy out there and its really disgusting...

Matt Guerin said...

Hi Simon - You don't remember it because you're too young...lol I was 13 or 14 when it first came out, was closeted and didn't appreciate the MSM handing the homophobes in my school (100% of students at the time) another chance to say "faggots" in a derogatory way.

I love/hate now how they're saying the song is misunderstood and he was clearly impersonating some kind of "bigot" character and making fun of it in the first person. Yeah, like that line attacking "faggots" on TV really is a criticism of the guy saying it. It's revisionism designed to make them feel less bad about loving something in their youth that is clearly despicable and hateful.

Rene Gauthier said...

The way I saw it was the message "you can make fun all you want about that weird looking guy, but he's still richer than you!"

Loraine Lamontagne said...

I am knitting a white sweater these days with ribbing in faggot stitch. When I showed the pattern to my knitting group, of women my age (i.e., grammas), we all agreed that we feel a little funny using the word even if it describes a stich that has been used for hundreds of years by knitters when stitching lacy knits. We've been whispering around the shhh fagott stitch, and giggling a bit at the silliness of it all.

It's the context and usage, not the word. The same goes for ejaculation! Few people think of prayer when they hear the word ejaculation.

Should knitters rename the faggot stitch?

gingercat said...

Matt, I'm pretty much the same age as you and can attest to the term "faggot" as being derogatory. But I do have a different view then you.

I feel we need these terms to demonstrate why it is wrong to use them. We shouldn't rewrite history simply because it offends some people. We need history to show why that type of persecution is wrong.

What's next, Nazi and Jew? If we took those words out, is anyone going to remember WW2 and why we fought a war?

If they weren't there what would spur you to take action to prevent that kind of persecution?

Matt Guerin said...

Loraine, yes using 'faggot' in the context of attacking gay men is wrong. With stitching it's okay, but I understand that you might feel awkward saying it. Same way I take a double take when I hear a 90-year-old obviously straight man say he's feeling "Really gay today."

Ginger, I'm not advocating we censor the word from the song. Nor that we never use such words in art. In the right drama, such usage can be authentic and appropriate and an audience can decide for itself. I argue that in this song, the irony/characterization wasn't overly clear to many listeners for the longest time. I never bothered to research what Knopfler meant to portray. I only heard his slur and it stung.

But this is about what words can be used on public radio or TV. Are you saying that ANY WORD or image can be used on our airwaves at any time? How about full frontal male nudity appearing all over the TV airwaves at 7 pm? How about that? Who cares what certain parents may think? Free expression is supreme and no one can challenge my right to say or put any image on TV or radio I want at any time?

Free speech purists always ignore the consequences of their ideology run amok. They tolerate the use of faggot in a song. How about we do away with any public standards about profanity on the airwaves? Why should granny be spared hearing "Faggot nigger cunt kike" during her favourite radio broadcast. How about we let Nazis broadcast their racist message on the CBC for 2 hours each day? What a beautiful country we'd be!

Cherniak_WTF said...

So when some object to G&L parades Matt, you'll be the first to ask that they be stopped?
Are you somehow saying that Conservatives were right in wanting to curtail those activities because they were offended?

You might as well go after the name of the band "Queen" because it propagates a gay stereotype...or is that somehow different?

Slippery slope... and you are giving "reason" to those that you'd like to remove "offensive" gay portrayals.

Just because you were uninformed about the song's meaning does it mean that we have to be responsible for your lack of insight?

Maybe you'd like to ban "Glad to be Gay" by Tom Robinson because "gay" is now a taboo word...

Cherniak_WTF said...

Hey Matt, I'm not that big....


So, do you think a pro-gay song such as "Glad to be Gay" should be removed from the airwaves because of the word "gay"?

Maybe we should also ask all to stop using the word "Fag" or boycott the "Miss Fag Hag Pageant". Because, to be honest, it's impossible to know if a straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual is uttering it. Or is it permissible depending on your orientation?


Maybe you should complain about "Oliver's Army" by Elvis Costello, "Hurricane" by Bob Dylan - all use the word nigger...

How about the Pogues "Fairytale of New York" that states "You cheap lousy faggot"?

Matt Guerin said...

Answer my questions about free speech purists first, and then I'll answer yours, Jason.

Full frontal male nudity on any TV stations at 6 pm for all children to see? Nazis broadcasting their messages on the CBC for 2 hours every day? If you disagree with this, then you have nothing to say about this issue, as far as I'm concerned.

Tolerance for free speech should know no limits, right? Anything any artist can think of DESERVES to be broadcast to us all at all times of the day? Is that what you believe?

gingercat said...

Matt, I'm not a free speacher. I simply have a problem with editing history just because it's offensive.

Matt Guerin said...

Nobody's editing history or the song, gingercat. This is about whether we can use a slur on public airwaves and whether or not we ought to have any standards for public airwaves.

If you think there ought not to be any standards for our public airwaves then you should support my call to have full male nudity on CBC TV every morning at 10 am for all children to see. I'll be waiting for your response. Penises are a natural part of the human body. Are you editing out parts of the human body because some might find it offensive or inappropriate?

Cherniak_WTF said...

Matt you seem to have mistaken me for Jason Cherniak...
But I will answer your questions.

I have absolutely no qualms with full frontal nudity on TV. In fact, I remember the TV show OZ showing that (and also depiction of love between two men).
It is the parent's responsibility to overview what their children view.
Yep, I believe in personal responsibilities....
If I find a show such as "Queer eye for the straight guy", my solution is simple - I simply turn it off.

Should there be standards? Of course but you may find them based on cultural norms. Watch French Canadian TV and you'll see what is considered more permissive...

I belong to a ski club were many members are European and the sauna is shared by both sexes of all ages... No one raises a stink about it.

There are clear limits to what I will accept - any sexual act between an adult and a child. But I also find the sexualization of children offensive (the stupid pageant where adults seem to be living vicariously via their children creeps me out).

The CBC is a publicly funded organization and as such should have a different mandate. It should strive to be neutral while showing diversity. Does it mean that is should broadcast Neo-Nazi messages? Of course not. Nor should it broadcast message that a SSM is immoral as many Conservative would like it to do...

How about we do away with any public standards about profanity on the airwaves?
Why not? It seems that we already allow more "risqué" talk at certain hours...

Cherniak_WTF said...

Shorter Matt: A song about a bigot using the word "faggot" is not fine but it would have been if uttered by an homosexual...

----

Given that you stated you only focused on the word and not the context of the Dire Straight song, that puts you in the neatly in the hypocrite category...

Matt Guerin said...

I certainly didn't notice the satire at age 13 when it first came out - nor did I notice the satire when my male school colleagues at the time took great delight in singing along and repeating the lyrics 'See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup,' with special, hateful emphasis on 'little faggot' over and over again.

You wrote, 'Should there be standards? Of course but you may find them based on cultural norms.' Well, our cultural norms in Canada have determined using the slur 'faggot' is unacceptable for our airwaves.

Cherniak_WTF said...

Matt. oddly you have decided to remove your post "context is everything".

Editing after what you have written/posted is disingenuous...


I find it amusing that the lampooning those that use the word "faggot" in a song is now perceived as an attack on homosexuals.


And please, don't go with the "cultural" norm - many in this country find SSM offensive, or that we should be more "godly"... Not sure I'd want no SSM and more "god"...


One of the reasons that I find "Queer Eye" offensive is that somehow it seems to legitimize the slur "queer"... Why aren't you up in arms about that? Call it a double standard...

Matt Guerin said...

Wow so I can't change my mind or edit my words either. Geesh!

Who are you, Cherniak WTF? You've misrepresented yourself too. Are you related to Jason Cherniak. Why does your blog link to a blogger profile page that is blank and your web page is 'www.liberalsonline.ca'?

Mmmmmm....

By the way, your questions in your last comment are too ridiculous for me to respond.

Cherniak_WTF said...

Matt, I've used the moniker CWTF for many years now...

If you really want to get in touch with me all you have to do is ask.
I don't have a blog and since I since I find that Liberalsonline.ca represent Liberal bloggers better than Liblogs that is the link that I've posted.


And I'm quite sure that if I called you "such a queer drama queen" you'd (rightfully) find it offensive.

Matt Guerin said...

No I wouldn't actually. I can be a drama queen. I'm passionate. And I don't have a problem with 'queer' hence the name of this blog.

Cherniak_WTF said...

Matt, if I used it as slur, it would be offensive...

While you don't have a problem with "queer", I do, I find it demeaning to homosexuals. Just as I don't find the term "fag-hag" endearing either. Yet, both are commonly used. While it irritates me, I'm not about to launch a campaign to have them eradicated.


Overall, I find ridiculous all the energy against the word "faggot" instead of fighting against homophobia and prejudice.

gingercat said...

Matt, I am going to stick to my point about editing history. In the article it fully states that the edited version can be played but not the original.I'm going to ask you to re-read my first post and second. I'm purely looking at in a long time scenario.

How much different is something on the public airways from something that is taught in our public schools? How long until someone edits the words Nazi and Jew from texts? Do you understand why I have a problem with it? Try looking at history when the relevent albeit derogatory terms are removed. Does it have the same impact if it was edited?

We are definitly looking at this from completely different perspectives. The scenarios you listed will never happen as long as people continue to letter write to corporations demanding that their commercials should not be aired on staions showing that shit. Money talks and always will.

Matt Guerin said...

Gingercat, I understand and agree with your concerns about sanitizing history. Playing a song on some radio show is different from whether or not a book or subject is on the curriculum of a school. We are talking about slurs or profanity and how appropriate it is to put such stuff on the public airwaves for all to see or hear. There is no two-way discussion with a radio program normally - they just play the song and you listen. In a classroom, it's a different story with dialogue and discussion tackling these tough issues. You can explore wars, violenced, hatred, etc. in history without having to use derogatory language.

There is no way I'd support taking away the words Nazi or Jew from a classroom discussion or textbook or history book. Furthermore, I have no idea why anyone could propose such a thing. The word Jew is not negative, it is not derogatory. Nazis are a fact of history, and while many people object to being called a Nazi, how could anyone deny their evil place in history or think they can't be discussed in history. They are a warning to us all in ways still incredibly disturbing and relevant to our lives. Nazi Germany wasn't all that long ago, and in the greater scheme of history, it was practically yesterday. How could we have fallen into such depravity so willingly. We must continue to explore and study WWII and other wars and guard against similar impulses today - sadly we see the same kind of irrational hatred and genocide in other parts of the world all the time.

You have a right to worry such things could be sanitized out of the classroom. But there is virtually no one pushing for such a thing. Certainly not typical educators, not the government, not the Jewish community, not the German community, not anyone with any credibility. You can have fears and act on them. But also remember not every worst case scenario is within the realm of possibility, at least at the moment. If that were to change somehow, I'd be beside fighting to keep history from being sanitized. This doesn't mean that we have to use derogatory language to discuss these things.

It's a tricky issue. I don't like the idea of banning anything, especially a work of art. Those protesting the ban of Money For Nothing have a point in that it is supposed to be satire. It may be, but I don't agree that satire is overly clear to everyone. Again, in 1985, we had no internet, no easy access to information. If Knopfler said he wrote it in the character of some loser dude he was trying to make fun of, that's fine. However, that doesn't necessarily come through if you don't know the band well and only listen to the lyrics at face value. That's what I did as a kid and it hurt very badly. Giving young guys who loved the song a chance to practise their homophobia disturbed me greatly and I'll likely never recover from it.

As for what's appropriate for TV and radio, I do agree there needs to be some standards with regard to how we use the powerful tool of broadcasting. We can't let just anything be broadcast out there. It's reasonable to limit the amount of profanity we hear in music on radio or on TV at certain times of the day. With this in mind, I think banning the version of the song with 'Faggot' in it is reasonable.

Cherniak_WTF said...

Matt, you are basically being disingenuous and using relativeness to decide what is and what is not acceptable...
Don't ban art but ban this song? C'mon. Are you somehow saying that "Money for Nothing" is not art?

Worse, you are setting yourself to be judge and jury. And, at what I can see, you are basing it because the word "faggot" hurt you when you were younger....No other reason.


As I stated abuse, it seems that you are trying to avoid the real issue of "homophobia" by banning a song. Now what do you think will have a real effect?

Matt Guerin said...

I've had some more intelligent discussions of this topic with others elsewhere as well. I now think that a total ban of the explicit version of the song on all radio seems a bit much. I do think that many TV stations are within their right to censor profanity, violence or nudity from certain movies in order to play them in prime time. That's the price you pay for having your art broadcast to millions on TV.

Perhaps the Broadcast Council needs a greater degree of latitude when dealing with songs like this. Instead of outright banning the version from all airwaves, why not recommend to radio stations they only play the censored version during daylight hours, I don't know. On radio, all stations in your area are equal (except for those accessing radio over the internet, etc.) so it's hard to say some radio stations can play a song while others can't, or at only certain times of day.

I think most people hate the word "faggot" as a negative, hateful slur and don't want to hear it on air, much like they don't want to hear 'nigger' or 'kike' or 'cunt'. This isn't just about homophobia. It's also about how to handle offensive profanity on the airwaves. This is how the council seems to be operating - they don't care about context, satire or irony. If it's a profane slur, they don't want it played (provided somebody complains about it only, of course.)

CAN OF WORMS!

meatspin said...

The way I see it using the word faggot in that context is anything but homophobic. You don't have to be a genius to get what the song is about. As you stated correctly it's sung in the first person view of a someone who isn't Mark Knopfler. And nowhere in the song does he in any way make out that what this person is saying is good. In fact I find the opposite to be true. It's critisising the point of view of this man and the use of the word faggot and the line "Bangin' on the bongos like a chimpanzee" are quite necessary to show how hateful this person's views are. If you take that away you are totally changing the character of the person the song is about..

wrlord said...

This post is idiotic. The lyrics make entirely clear that the first person narrator is criticizing ROCK STARS as being "faggots". Now, obviously, the man who wrote the song does not feel any animus for rock stars, so it is clearly an assumed voice.
It's exactly this sort of nonsense that has full-grown adults, newscasters and judges, saying things like "the n-word", as if anyone would actually think they were using the term "nigger" in a derogatory way when reading the news or ruling on a case.
Stop fearing magic words. You should be much more concerned about people who don't like "faggots" -- the very people he was mocking in his song - than an artist trying to make THE VERY POINT YOU THINK YOU ARE MAKING.

Burningbush8 said...

Gay used to mean happy. Faggot used to mean a bundle of sticks. What words will offend us next week? You may call me what you like,
I'm older than a 6 year old...

Lord Foul said...

Grow up OP, I want to point out that YOU see a diffrence between faggot and N I G G E R seeing as you won't even fully spell it out. On a side note I am willing to bet I have sucked more dick than you, I am a US Marine and I sing that little faggot with all the gusto I can muster

darnell pistachio said...

See the little faggot with queer liberal blog
Yeah buddy, these are his words
The little faggots got his own opinion,
The little faggot sayin "ouch words hurt"



Truth here is this and this alone:

If you dont like it, dont listen.

Your attempt to censor what others say, what i choose to hear/believe is completely embarrassing to a citizen of a free country....nevermind its completely anti-liberal.

Matt Guerin said...

You're a little late to this discussion, darnell. I can barely remember what I wrote here. But I still say this uncensored song shouldn't be played where kids can hear it easily as they don't get the satire. And it's abusive for queer youth who don't get the satire either.

You're free to disagree and use the word faggot as a pejorative to attack me like you did. That's your privilege you are abusing. You've taken the bigoted word from the song and used it to attack me and try to put me down. Just like other straight bigots did - this song gives you permission to do this? I think you just proved my point.