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Dire Straits' 'Money for Nothing' is not homophobic

Dire Straits' 'Money for Nothing' is not homophobic

The Canadian blogosphere lit up Jan 14 over news that an Atlantic radio station had been censured for airing the 1985 Dire Straits' song "Money for Nothing," which uses the word "faggot" three times. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), the broadcast industry's own watchdog, took action after receiving a complaint from a single listener.

Just when it seemed jaws could drop no further, Egale Canada's Helen Kennedy chimed in to not only support the decision, but to imply — with a healthy dose of tortured logic — that the use of "faggot" in lyrics, even those of 25-year-old songs, contributes to homophobic bullying and teen suicides. 

Let's just get this out of the way immediately: the use of the word "faggot" in "Money for Nothing" isn't offensive. The song is written from the point of view of a working person complaining about the easy life of rock stars:
Now look at them yo-yos
That’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’

After lamenting the obligations of his own job ("We got to install microwave ovens/We got to move these refrigerators/We got to move these colour TVs"), the narrator launches into a homophobic attack directed at the wealthy MTV pop stars he envies: "The little faggot with the earring and the makeup/Yeah, buddy, that’s his own hair/That little faggot’s got his own jet airplane/That little faggot, he’s a millionaire."

It's sung from the perspective of a homophobic dick, but it certainly doesn't glorify him or his detestable opinions. Rather, it ridicules his viewpoint.

So why did the CBSC decide to censure Newfoundland's OZ FM (CHOZ-FM) for airing the song on Feb 1, 2010, at 9:15pm?

A reading of the entire decision reveals two reasons.

First, the Atlantic adjudicating panel of the council mistakenly concluded that the application of a "legitimate artistic usage" doesn't apply to this song, despite CBSC guidelines that say: 

Individuals who are themselves bigoted or intolerant may be part of a fictional or non-fictional program, provided that the program is not itself abusive or unduly discriminatory.

"Money for Nothing" is about a sad character who uses homophobia to soothe his own bitterness and envy.  

Second, the substance of the complainant's grievance was ignored in the station's response. Before proceeding with any review, the CBSC moderates dialogue between a complainant and the broadcaster. This offers the broadcaster an opportunity to defend its material or provide context, but if the complainant finds the response unsatisfactory the CBSC will launch a review.

The "Money for Nothing" complainant not only objects to the airing of a song with the word "faggot," but further asks why the station played it when versions of the song exist with the word removed.

Glow-in-the-dark sweat bands. Gay.

The response, from OZ FM's senior vice-president, not only ignores the substance of the question — arguing that the station doesn't air songs edited "for length" — but makes no effort to explain the context of the word in the song.

So, while the panel members themselves are responsible for their misreading of the song, it should be noted that the station's own VP felt no need to explain the context to someone who identified themselves as an "extremely" offended "member of the LGBT community."

Whatever your feelings about this decision, if a broadcaster is airing a song with "faggot" in the lyrics in 2010, it's not unreasonable to expect them to justify the context. Had OZ FM's senior VP endeavoured to defend the use of the word in his initial response to the complainant, might the issue have been dropped? Possibly, but that still left the question about why the station played the "faggot" version.

In a response to the VP, the complainant says the VP's reply is unsatisfactory and cites a specific example where the station did play an edited version of a song: Kanye West's "Gold Digger": 

This song contains another discriminatory slur, not directed towards sexual orientation, but towards race. When played on OZ FM, this slur is censored despite the song’s achievements.  I fail to see a difference between the two situations.

So, because the VP failed to address this question adequately, or to take the offence felt by the LGBT complainant seriously ("[We] do apologize for any undue stress caused to you"), the complaint advanced to the investigation phase, which led to the panel's verdict.

Is the song banned?

CBSC decisions apply only to its members, as it is a non-governmental organization, so non-members like the CBC can continue to play the song. Arguably, so can CBSC members, since the decision applies specifically to a complaint made about the airing of the song on Feb 1, 2010, at 9:15pm. And given that the decision suffers from poor logic and the song itself suffered from the pathetic advocacy of OZ FM's senior vice-president, another airing of the song could have the "legitimate artistic usage" applied.

Isn't this censorship?

The CBSC exists so that private broadcasters can operate "without the heavy club or formalities of government sanctions." The list of membership benefits touted by the council include "benefiting from decreased direct regulatory control by the CRTC" and "maintaining a 'clean' public file at the CRTC through the forwarding of complaints to the CBSC."

If you believe that self-regulation — that is, a system of rules and processes written, enforced and regulated by the broadcasters themselves — is the same as censorship, please leave a comment below explaining the model you'd prefer.

If our government were to have a hand in regulating broadcasters, how do you think our current federal government would respond to a complaint about a show about anal sex?

In 2001, the CBSC received a complaint about an episode of The Sex Files entitled "The Rear End":

"The program contained interviews and discussions with various sex experts about the physiology of human buttocks and their role in sexual activity. The episode also included scenes of couples (discreetly) engaged in anal sex."

The complaint:

It showed graphic anal sex throughout its airing. I am deeply disturbed that this kind of television is seen acceptable for public viewing. I do not wish my children to [be] assaulted with material that clearly is not appropriate for their age. Our children should be able to watch television without fear of having their innocence violated.

Though the broadcaster was censured for not airing a viewer advisory at the beginning of the episode (it aired one following each commercial break), the content was deemed "informative and enlightening." The punishment at that time was the same as it is today: announce the decision on air and provide proof that the announcement was aired to the complainant and to the CBSC.

As for Kennedy's comments, I think Rick Mercer's words, citing Xtra's coverage of the Halton GSA ban, is all that need be said:

“Issues like this crowd out real issues of intolerance. In Ontario, the Halton Catholic school board banned the formation of gay-straight alliances in high schools. The chair of the board compared them to Nazi groups. That’s something worth talking about. I’m more concerned with helping kids at risk than offending the sensibilities of older people who listen to classic rock stations at work.” 

If that's not enough, here's a performance of "Money for Nothing" featuring that wonderfully talented faggot, Elton John, on piano.

UPDATE: This clip from The Kids in the Hall with Scott Thomson is too good not to include. The show aired in Canada on the CBC from 1988 to 1994.


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And how about those of us
And how about those of us that potentially might be offended by the word "chicks"?! Especially "chicks for free" could be considered defamination by some. Context, context, folks!
I think this whole thing is
I think this whole thing is nothing more than a tempest in a teacup. The song is 25 years old, and I've never been offended by its lyrics, which only serve to show how stupid homophobic people are. I'm sorry, but I don't think the song should be banned for the sake of one little word. HOWEVER, there's a lot of Jamaican Black music out there that should be banned: it's anti-white, anti-gay, anti-police and anti-christian. 'Nuff said!
There are, apparently, still
There are, apparently, still a few Canadians who think that the censorship of derogatory words can produce a more tolerant and respectful society. I think the notion is misguided, however, because I can't think of an example in history when censorship ever produced that result.
Edit: comic, not comment
Edit: comic, not comment
Alright everyone. Calm down.
Alright everyone. Calm down. I realize we're all in a rush to get offended, and no one seemed to have a problem until this went public, but maybe it's time we relax, and concentrate on people assaulting gays instead of people parodying themselves in song lyrics. If a gay comment made faggot jokes no one would blink an eye, I don't see why someone calling himself one has any more influence on gay bashing. Seems to be the old double standard. I don't think the guys who have "assaulted you" were rocking out to dire straits and decided to go beat people up. Its an assumption, but I would hazard a guess it's a safe one. Stop looking for reasons to be offended, we've got bigger problems to deal with
In 1980, Dire Straits
In 1980, Dire Straits released an album called Making Movies. This album included a song called Les Boys. Anyone on the planet that thinks Mark Knofler and Dire Straits is homophobic, had better take a listen to Les Boys. You'll find out very quickly that in fact there's everything except homophobia in connection to Knofler and his old band Dire Straits. One note about the comments made about Elton John; for almost 2 decades now, he has donated millions of dollars towards AIDS research, education of AIDS and the hospice care of people living with AIDS. Elton John's coming out of the closet in the early 1980's has done much for younger people around the world comforting them that if a famous person in Rock 'n Roll can openly say they are gay, then maybe they can find the strength to be themselves too. Shame on the people that have decided to take shots at this man.
The original complainant
The original complainant should move into the Village here in the West End of Vancouver. He or she will get their fill of Drama walking from one end of Davie street to the other. They'll hear it at least a dozen times by any member of the gay community looking for the cheap laugh.

I don't use the word or have use for it since I'm not empowered by insulting someones sexual orientation. I'll also step in between anyone who's threatening violence on another because of who they wish to be.

I don't know anyone gay or straight who's agreed with this ruling and most acknowledge the word is a part Gay culture.

You can't parody a redneck or homophobe without saying something completely tasteless and ignorant.
The author is full of it.
The author is full of it. Nobody teenage boy sang ( then or now) along to this song thinking, "oh the lyrics are written from the point of view of a disgruntled working class guy who directs his angst again artist in general- musicians particular."

They heard faggot. Faggot was legitimized as a useful derogatory term against gays. Homophobia was sanctioned- through pop music.

And the points about N*$$er being heard in music. It's always from a black artists' work. You'd never, NEVER hear a song on the radio with a white guy singing it. A white artist would never do it first of all, and if they did the song would never make it to public radio.

Yes this is censorship. But when are people going to wake up to the reality that hate laws in Canada are essentially censorship laws. Why do we have them- to protect marginalized people.
Justin Stayshyn'a article is
Justin Stayshyn'a article is intelligent and well thought out. The station's VP should have aresearched the issues and answered the complaintmore carefully. I like the original version of the recording and do not take offense to it. I would object to a disparaging remark directly aimed at a person or group, be it based on race, gender, age, sexual orientationor any other ground.I do not see the need to write prejudice out of our history. We'd have no history left. We need to know what happened, understand why it happened, and critique it for sure. I do not support book burning or record burning.
“Pessimists, we’re told, look
“Pessimists, we’re told, look at a glass containing 50% air and 50% water and see it as half empty. Optimists, in contrast, see it as half full. Engineers, of course, understand the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.”


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