Censorship stupidity

by Tom Ingram

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, in their lofty wisdom, has decided that three words in a song that runs eight and a half minutes disqualify it from airplay in Canada. That’s right, “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits is beyond the pale, though apparently it took the CBSC twenty-five years to notice. I’m glad there are people like them out there to protect us. Deary me, I don’t know what I’d do without them.

The original complaint deals with the use of the word “faggot” in the song:

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

I could go on about context, and how the lyrics are sung from the point of view of a character, and how this is all being used very intelligently to make a point about society, but frankly, I don’t care. Why should I? The CBSC certainly didn’t. They don’t bother with any of that fancy talk of point of view, authorial intent, and moving colour TVs. The only interesting parts of “Money for Nothing” are the faggot bits.

Do those lines make you uncomfortable? If so, why? Is it the obvious bigotry of the narrator? Is it a fear, deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, that he might be right? What is the character saying? What is Knopfler saying? Do you agree or disagree, and why?

These are all questions the CBSC would rather you didn’t ask. If they had their way, we’d stop after the first one. If it makes you uncomfortable, they say, it’s probably depraved and almost certainly not worth listening to. In other words, don’t think too hard about this. Your gut reactions are always right. Some would-be censors have a name for this: they say “Intent is irrelevant”.

This is one case that intent really is irrelevant. The CBSC is encouraging you to be stupid and complacent, and they’ve taken a great song off the radio in doing so. No amount of good intention can make up for that. This is why censorship is always wrong, no matter what. There’s no solid line dividing legitimate art, sophomoric trash, and hate speech. There is a fuzzy grey area, and under no circumstances should anyone who wants to be a professional censor be trusted with guarding it. Better to let everyone say what they will, and let the public as a whole decide what we think of it. As the saying goes, without free speech, how will we know who the assholes are?

We could argue all day about the acceptability of censoring hate speech, but the fact is that “Money for Nothing” is a legitimate piece of art. The CBSC, in banning it, has shown that they are not only corrupt, but also less mature than most high school classrooms. And that ain’t workin’.

(What’s especially funny about this is that Knopfler is such a nice guy that he can’t even bring himself to sing the word “faggot” in concert.)