Song Censorship

Recently in Canada, a non-governmental organization called the CBSC (Canadian Broadcast Standards Commission) received a complaint from a person in Eastern Canada about the 1985 Dire Straits hit “Money For Nothing”.  The complaint was in regards to the use of the word faggot which appears three times in the lyric:

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

Of course, if you had never heard the song or read the lyrics before, taking the lyric out of context like that might lead you to agree with the complaint.  In my opinion, the listener had absolutely no understanding of the song’s story or meaning and simply heard that word repeated, and so decided to drag the whole song through the mud, and the CBSC through months of unnecessary committee meetings.  How silly.

Dire Straits performing in Drammenshallen, Nor...
Image via Wikipedia

This reminds me somewhat of the decision made by Clear Channel in the aftermath of 9/11 to ban a list of songs from its stations, including the John Lennon song “Imagine” apparently because of this line in the lyric:  “Imagine no religion”.  Absolute silliness.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of songs I’d like to see banned from the radio.  How about this lyric by Ice Cube from the song “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It“:

Ain’t nothing like man on that you knew on the corner
See ’em come up and fuck up the owner
See ’em throw up Westside California
Nigga I’m hot as Phoenix Arizona

I’m Utah I got multiple bitches
It’s a new law keep a hold of yo riches
Dumb nigga don’t spend it as soon as you get it
And recognize I’m a captain and you a lieutenant

…as far as Gangsta Rap is concerned, there are many, many offensive lyrics.  And how about some of those blatantly sexual music videos where scantily clad girls are basically mimicking sexual acts for all the little kids to see?  Yep, there are plenty of things out there I don’t want to hear or see.

But that is the whole point; I have a choice.  I certainly don’t want small children to be exposed to that garbage, but I am an adult and I can choose what I do or don’t listen to or watch.  I don’t want someone else making that decision for me and that’s why I don’t like censorship of any kind.

The CBSC has its purpose.  It was created by Canada’s private broadcasters to administer standards that were also created by those broadcasters.   I think it’s important to have oversight and to have a body to complain to when it comes to what is being broadcast.  For example, radio and television stations have to be careful about their graphic content.  If, for instance, a television station is airing news footage of a particularly violent crime scene, they have to be careful about what they show the general public, and it’s important to have standards in place to know where to draw the line.

Censorship has always been a contentious issue, and popular music has had its fair share of arguments.  When Elvis Presley made his third appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in January of 1957 (if you don’t know about the Ed Sullivan Show, you are much younger than me 🙂 ), he was shot only from the waist up because of complaints in earlier appearances where he “suggestively” gyrated his hips while singing.

On the same show and ten years later, Rolling StonesMick Jagger was forced to change his lyrics from Let’s Spend the Night Together to “let’s spend some time together.”  Jagger rolled his eyes as he sang the newly censored lyrics and everyone had a good laugh.  And we laugh now at the idea that lyrics suggesting spending the night together would somehow induce some kind of wild teenage behaviour, but popular music continues to push the boundaries when it comes to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

In the end, it is to an artist’s and record label’s financial delight when a song creates controversy because it only draws more attention to it.  However, in this case, because “Money For Nothing” has been on the radio airwaves for 25 years, the CBSC has only made itself out to be foolish.  And whimpish.  All because one person didn’t really understand the lyrics.


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