Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dire Straits 'Money for Nothing' is Back on the Air in Canada

 The Atlantic regional panel of the The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) found on January 12, 2011, that the use of the word "faggot" three times in the Dire Straits song Money for Nothing was in violation of Human Rights and other clauses of the CAB Code of Ethics and the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.  When this ruling was released to the public, I had a rare moment of national pride. There is no doubt in my mind that the particular slur in question is hate speech.



Lyrics 

I want my, I want my M.T.V.

Now look at them yo-yo's, that's the way you do it
You play the guitar on the M.T.V.
That ain't working, that's the way you do it
Money for nothing and your chicks for free

Now that ain't working, that's the way you do it
Let me tell you them guys ain't dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb

We got to install microwave ovens
Custom kitchen deliveries
We got to move these refrigerators
We got to move these colour T.V.'s

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

We got to install microwave ovens
Custom kitchen deliveries
We got to move these refrigerators
We got to move these colour T.V.'s

We got to install microwave ovens
Custom kitchen deliveries
We got to move these refrigerators
We got to move these colour T.V.'s

Look at that, look at that
I should have learned to play the guitar
I should have learned to play them drums
Look at that mama, she got it sticking in the camera
Man we can have some
And he's up there, what's that? Hawaiian noises?
Banging on the bongos like a chimpanzee
Oh, that ain't working, that's the way you do it
Get your money for nothing get your chicks for free

We got to install microwave ovens
Custom kitchen deliveries
We got to move these refrigerators
We got to move these colour T.V.'s

Listen here
Now that ain't working, that's the way you do it
You play the guitar on the M.T.V.
That ain't working, that's the way you do it
Money for nothing and your chicks for free
Money for nothing and chicks for free

Get your money for nothing, get your chicks for free
Money for nothing, chicks for free
Look at that, look at that
Get your money for nothing, get your chicks for free (I
want my, I want my, I want my M.T.V.)
Money for nothing and chicks for free
Easy, easy

That ain't working
Unfortunately, the national panel has overturned the decision of the Atlantic panel. 
On the basis of newly-submitted information that could originally have been supplied to the Atlantic Panel, but was not, the National Panel does part company with that Panel’s conclusion regarding the context of the otherwise inappropriate word.  It does conclude that, based to a considerable extent on the story told in the song, which was strongly supported by information found in interviews given by the composer soon after the time of its release, the usage of the other f-word was contextually justified in “Money for Nothing”.  The word was satirically and supportively used.  The National Panel wishes to make perfectly clear to those persons who have commended the CBSC for its “brave” position regarding the disapproval of the hateful and painful term that it is not abandoning that position or the CBSC’s sensitivity to their concern.  It is only saying that there may be circumstances in which even words designating unacceptably negative portrayal may be acceptable because of their contextual usage.  The ad hoc National Panel finds this one such occasion.

Finally, the Panel wishes to reaffirm the existence of numerous versions of “Money for Nothing”, created and performed by Dire Straits themselves and Mark Knopfler on a solo basis, used by them or him in most of the live concerts and in their albums, as well as on iTunes.  They are available for broadcast and, to the extent that broadcasters wish to respect that sensitivity of members of their audience, they have the option to make that airplay choice without any editing of the song on their part.  While, for the reasons given in this decision, the ad hoc National Panel concludes that the original version does not breach the private broadcasters’ codified standards, it would encourage broadcasters to make the airplay choice appropriate to their market.
It stinks of privilege to me.  Straight people deciding that they can just over look a slur and claim that context makes it acceptable, is just downright homophobic.  There are several versions of the song without the offensive lyric, created by the band in 1985 - hence almost as old as the original and therefore there is no need to play the version with the homophobic slur. The band was not pressured to create the alternative versions, and this tells me that even they were aware that the choice of language was problematic all those years ago.

Both versions of the song are available for sale in Canada, which means that should someone choose at anytime, they can hear the original version. This is the case with many current songs.  When the original Dire Straits song appears on the radio, there is no warning that a person is going to be assaulted with hate speech, and this must absolutely be terrible to someone who has had that word hurled at them to devalue their very existence, or even as they have been beaten.  In fact, the CBSC received just such commentary, and still chose to allow radio play for Money for Nothing. If that were not enough, the decision also included the following:
The National Panel finds no reason to interfere with the conclusion of the Atlantic Regional Panel with respect to the word “faggot”.  It would, however, add to that anodyne conclusion the fact that the word is not merely discriminatory and insulting, but it is also aggressive, hurtful and painful.  Even if there was a time when the word had a more benign connotation, or, even if it did not, was less socially unacceptable, that time is past.  While it is obvious that broadcasters, and society as a whole, have considerable occasion to refer to identifiable groups, the way in which they do so is important.  After all, the power of the broadcast microphone is undeniable.  Broadcasters must take particular care to use language which is neither abusive nor unduly discriminatory and which will not have the effect of desensitizing audiences by spreading the use of hurtful and painful terminology.
So, they are absolutely aware that the word in contention is without doubt a slur.  To me a slur means that no matter how the word is used, in every context it is offensive and meant to demean the group at which the slur is aimed.  The CBSC however chose to justify their decision with the following:
The National Panel does consider it extremely material that the composer’s language appears not to have had an iota of malevolent or insulting intention.  The words were, as he has consistently explained publicly since 1986, written, indeed virtually recorded verbatim, by him as he observed a guy working in an appliance store in New York City.  As Knopfler said, that “bonehead who worked for the store, a great big macho guy with a, you know with a checked shirt on and a cap and a pair of work boots” was looking up at MTV and bemoaning his fate relative to the musical performer on the television screen.  The composer, apparently captivated by the rather coarse, but very real, language of the labourer, explained that he “borrowed a bit of paper and started to write the song down in the store.  I wanted to use a lot of the language that the real guy actually used when I heard him, because it was more real.  It just went better with the song, it was more muscular.”  It was, in that sense, more a commentary on the worker than the MTV performer.  If anything, it reflected jealousy on the part of the former at the achievements of the latter.
Uh huh, so despite complaints by gays and lesbians that the song is indeed offensive in its original version, because they believe that Knopfler didn't mean to be offensive and was in fact quoting someone else that no harm is done.  Intent does not magically erase harm.  Anyone can offend at anytime, without intending to do so, but that does negate the fact that others were indeed harmed.  The decision is a complete erasure of how harmful this slur is, and is an absolute governmental silencing of the GLBT community of Canada.

I agree that revisionist history is a problem.  We should always acknowledge that there was a time when it was acceptable to refer to certain marginalized groups through the usage of slurs.  The problem with this case, is that playing a song on the radio does not foster conversation socially, nor does it imply directly to the listener that the language in and of itself is problematic.  If this were in a class room setting, where someone familiar with the material in question were leading a discussion, and there was room to discuss the institutionalization of homophobia, then and only then could one reasonably argue that it served a historical purpose. 

I am truly disappointed with this decision and hope that radio stations will avoid playing the original song, but somehow I doubt that this will be the case.  When dominant bodies have the chance to flaunt their privilege to marginalized bodies, more often than not they jump on this opportunity.