Once again the thought police have sprung into action. The Canadian Broadcasts Standards Council has banned the original version of Dire Straits “Money for Nothing”.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council is a “self-governing regulatory body for Canada’s private broadcasters”. What does that mean? That means it can’t arrest you. It is reminiscent of the Hays code, Hollywood’s attempt to clean itself up before Congress did it legislatively. It is the CRTC, thank god, that has the real power, but I assume that the CBSC has some sway.
And how do you get the CBSC to ban a song you don’t like? Hey, it’s a free-for-all! Just contact them and announce that humble little you, just one out of 30 million citizens, has decided that you must step in and decide which songs should be played on the radio no matter how many people like it.
I am curious now: what if I filed a complaint. What if I alleged that the censorship of “Money for Nothing” is deeply offensive to my delicate little sensibilities about truth and integrity and honesty and historical accuracy? I am veritably traumatized by the idea that my precious memories of dramatic depictions of real personalities and social values are being erased by repressed puritanical little zealots with a political agenda. Does my objection count?
Yes, I am enraged. I feel threatened by a world that is sliding towards banality and antiseptic homogeneity. Hey, can I file a complaint about vocalists using Autotune? If ever there was a legitimate complaint to be made to a “broadcast standards” council that would be it.
Not only do they want to correct your current misshapen and erroneous ideas and feelings; they want to go back in time and correct your past iniquities. Do you remember “Money for Nothing”? It was a snippet of a certain attitude at a certain time and place.
Let’s get one thing absolutely clear and straight right off the bat: “Money for Nothing” is not a dramatization of Mark Knopfler’s thoughts and feelings about MTV or gay people or microwave ovens. It is a clever, insightful, reasonably accurate depiction of the attitudes of a working class schlub working at an appliance store watching MTV and thinking, geez, I could do that. Are we clear? Do you understand the difference between and artist and the subject? Do you understand what drama is? Do you get that when a writer tells you that a character committed a murder that the artist himself is not committing murder?
Here are the “offensive” lyrics:
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
I knew people who thought like that. I don’t need any one to tell me to not remember him or his attitudes. I don’t need anyone to try to erase the record of that person from public discourse.
Is the next step to go through Shakespeare and Dante and Dostoevsky and remove all the violence and murders and even the insults from their works? Why not? We no longer think people should be murdered. It distresses people to see murder depicted in a play or movie. Let’s remove it. Let’s remove the rape scene from “Streetcar Named Desire”. We don’t approve of rape any more.
And how does “Walk on the Wild Side” (Lou Reed) and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” get away with it? How about this, from the innocuous Elton John and Bernie Taupin (“All the Girls Love Alice”):
And who could you call your friends down in Soho?
One or two middle-aged dykes in a Go-Go
And what do you expect from a sixteen year old yo-yo
And hey, hey, hey (hey, hey, hey) oh don’t you know?
And please, please, please: “All the Girls Love Alice” is not “by” Elton John. The salient component here is the lyrics which are by Bernie Taupin. Would the internet please grow up and get this straight? Most of the songs it says are “by” an artist are actually merely recorded by that artist. They do not deserve the holiest credit of all, the act of creation, which most of them don’t deserve even in respect of their vocals.
You think, well, we can’t gut one of America’s greatest works of drama, can we? “Streetcar Named Desire” is a classic. It is untouchable. But how does that make a difference when public morals are at stake? And what is the difference between the character saying “faggot” in “Money for Nothing” and the character raping Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire”? They are both dramas of believable human behavior. They both tell us, this is something someone would do (and has done, in real life), in the setting and circumstance depicted. What is the problem?
There is no real problem. What there is is a bunch of pious, self-righteous individuals trying to assert their own virtue by punishing a perceived miscreant. Burn the witch.
If I was a gay man of any prominence I would have issued a statement– like the self-righteous guardians of public morality do– and insisted that Dire Straits keep the fucking lyrics exactly the way they are, just as “Huckleberry Finn” should retain the word “nigger” used in reference Jim, the escaped slave, just as Stanley should continue to rape Blanche in stage productions of “Streetcar Named Desire”, just as Ophelia should continue to commit suicide in any staging of “Hamlet” (spoiler alert).
And Leonard Cohen should never have excised “give me crack and anal sex” from his searing original version of “The Future”. (Here, in a supreme act of gutlessness, Cohen jumps the shark and changes it to “careless sex”; am I harsh? Yes, I admit it. When you were influenced by an artist to embrace the authentic, the true, the audacious, and then he starts embracing compromise– yes, I’m harsh. The odd thing is that as I am getting older, unlike Cohen, I feel less and less inclined to cater to the more delicate sensibilities around me. Maybe it’s just a phase. And here, expanding his audience for the sanitized version, he appears on– god help us– Letterman (!), changing “crack” to “speed” and interjecting the awful “careless sex”.) He didn’t have to castrate anything here: he’s on the Ralph Benmurgui show. And if you’re curious, here’s the original lyrics attached to inane video effects. Finally, thank you, thank you, thank you Erlend Ropstad & the Salmon Smokers for this!
Finally, let me note the hypocrisy. Here are the lines no one seems to object to:
It’s lonely here
There’s no one left to torture….
There’ll be fires there’ll be phantoms on the road
And the white man dancing…
Destroy another fetus now
Lie beside me baby, that’s an order
“Nigger” is what white people called black people at that time in history. If I was teaching a college class on racism, I would discuss how the word “nigger” was used in America for years as a label of contempt and expression of white superiority. “Faggot” is what straight working class white men called gay men at the time Mark Knopfler wrote that song. “Dyke” is what they called women who were either gay or had turned down their advances.
We have reached a new pinnacle of stupid when a writer has to explain to the audience that this song or story is about someone who really existed and really thought that way. Listen. Consider it. Be glad that we have made some progress (never enough, but some). Tell your children that that’s the way working class white men used to talk about gay people. Tell your children we now know better.
Tell your children is wrong to try to rewrite history into something false in order to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of the weakest among us.