Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Spark of Wisdom: "Money For Nothing" Teaches The Cost of Hate Speech

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.


Ok, in Canada it seems that playing the unedited version of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing"that has the anti-gay slur "f@ggot" used repeatedly in the song is now a no-no.

And, in general I'm quite happy about that. I don't like the casual use of slurs, I don't like to cringe and wince, I don't like to have this stuff ambush me.

It does matter. I hate turning on the television or radio and cringing. I've just had another cheesey evening watching cheesey crime dramas (while eating cheese no less) go haywire because we were treated to:

Lesbian couple seduces and manipulates men into giving them money before murdering them

Gay man with homophobic parent hates himself so he attacks women and tries to have sex with them but can't (and his lover goes to prison to protect him).Lots of slurs abound.

At which point I turned off the television and opened a bottle, a large one. Because bombardment like this is like a cheese-grater rubbed across my mind, rubbing over all the raw and damaged spots I have. And I don't need that adding to by turning on the radio and having a lot of slurs leap out at me.

And even aside from my raw spots being sporked, I hate to hear casually used slurs. From us deciding they make fun lyrics, to the daily use of "gay" to mean bad - this constant societal reinforcement of the idea that we are lesser - and that referring to us as lesser or with hatred is ok, is frightening. Frightening for what it does to us, to hear what society thinks of us (and what we, as part of society, think of ourselves) and frightening to hear the hatred and the prejudice reinforced, echoed, encouraged at every time. And that's the very same hatred that results in blood being spilled.


I've heard many excuses for why this slur absolutely must be broadcast repeatedly over the airwaves but so far not one that has convinced me - or, for that matter, done anything but make me more afraid and worried and concerned.

I've heard people say it's not a slur in that context. Yeah, I'm not even going to dignify that with a response.

I've had people inform me that this is actual first person commentary the writer overheard and was meant to be a comment about prejudice and intolerance and attitudes etc etc. Great, are you going to include a commentary explaining that every time it's played? Nooo? Well then, it becomes less comment about prejudice and intolerance and more adding to it.

I've had people point to books containing slurs, ignoring how different having something broadcast across the airwaves is so different from having it in a book (and I don't find it remotely comparable to the Huckleberry Finn fiasco - between the difference of reading and broadcasting, the historical context, the use of a learning tool in schools vs brushing over it and the number of people who wanted to change it because it made poor white folks uncomfortable vs the number of people wanting to keep this slur because not being able to say f@ggot is so totally oppressive! Makes it oh-so-very different)

And, of course, I've heard all kinds of people yelling oppression, sharia law (yeah, my mind doesn't grasp that one either), gay mafia etc. And I just have to sigh. Sorry if you need to use that slur soooo badly that a song having to replace another word when broadcast on the radio is actually oppressive to you. I'm sorry if trying to reduce the normalisation and saturation of anti-gay hatred out there costs you 3 words in a song you reaaally like. I'm sorry if you find this so much worse than the editing out of drug words and swear-words that is so commonplace on the radio anyway.

But, y'know what? I can't dredge up that much sympathy after tip-toeing through the daily mine-field of slurs, sporks and triggers, to pick up my teeny-ting-itty-bitty violin to play you a little ditty for not being able to hear the bad words any more.


Do you know what I'm always left feeling after stuff like this? I'm left feeling afraid. Afraid because there are so many people who are desperate - desperate - to use anti-gay slurs that they are horrified at the idea of something stopping them. Afraid because having this word played on the radio is THAT important to them

Because editing words for the radio? Not uncommon - not even remotely. That song has actually had edited versions omitting the slur for years now, along with the Pogues "Fairy Tale of New York" (and I love that song - one of the few Christmas songs I like - but it's the edited version I listen to because slurs ruin my Christmas spirit). Gods there's a song on the radio that edited "grass" (referring to cannabis) because it could hurt the poor poor young 'uns and people didn't even bat an eyelid. Have you heard Lilly Allen's "Fuck you" when it goes past radio censors? James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" Do you prefer "Purple Hills" to "Purple Pills"? Bowling for Soup's "1985" went from prozac to work outs and shook a good deal less ass as well. Akon was singing about wanting to fuck you but that went all mushy and "I wanna love you" and Nas was gonna get himselfr a gun, but that ended up "Got Ur Self a..." echo apparently. Red Hot Chilli Pepper's don't think life can be a little shitty - apparently life is a little kitty. That doesn't even make sense any more! When Afroman sang "Because I got High" it was decided to remove the word "paraplegic". Hey, here's a prize - Britney' Speares "If you Seek Amy" was censored to "If you See Amy" in the US because if you sing it fast it sounds like it spells "F-U-C-K me". Censored for not even using profanity - just implying it. Electric Six's truly dreadful "Gay Bar" had the word "war" censored. War? Seriously war? Happy to fight them but not sing about them?

What, your freedom of speech and artistic integrity doesn't care if fuck, ass, war, shit, hit, suck (I kid you not), goddamn, shoot, gun (what, Americans can carry guns but not sing about them?) and any reference to pills, including prescription meds, are censored but gods forbid you don't get to say f@ggot! Then the sky is falling and those Cannucks are destroying music, freedom and likely apple pies as well. Damn, now I want pie.

But, looking at that, pie aside, it does frighten me. The need to use this slur, that need, that priority, that sudden outrage for this word after so much indifference - that frightens me.