Why Canada’s Banning of Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing is Bad Policy

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) issued a ruling today which censored Dire Straits’ mega-hit song from over 25 years ago, Money for Nothing. The CBSC said the song should either be banned, or suitably edited, for its use of the homophobic word “faggot”, three times. (CBC, Jan 13 2011; CSBC Decision)

(I’d have embedded the actual music video but those *^&*@$ at YouTube have all these copyrights rules now that don’t let them be seen in Canada and other countries).

I understand the principle to censor the song, but completely disagree with the psychology of the action. For the sake of an ideal, the fight against homophobia just took a step backward rather than a step forward.

There are so many things wrong with this policy it’s hard to know where to begin. I think it essentially comes down to taking something popular that was effectively meaningless, and making it taboo, though not taboo enough that people will be flaunting to do it all the time. Suddenly, the song and term has a revived meaning, and those suffering from consequences of homophobia don’t need one more thing by which people can dislike them.

Neither the term “faggot” nor the state of homophobia got to where it is today because of this song. This song made MTV, not homophobia. In fact, I would argue this song has had next to no effect on either being what they are. That is, if someone wrote a history of the development of either word “faggot” or of homophobia to this point, do you think they’d even mention this song? Well, they might now, but only because of this decision.

I doubt very many people ever called in to request this song because the word “faggot” is in it, nor DJs playing it because of the same reason. Given there is an edited version that will end up getting played, violating the free speech ideal, they now have reason to play the original version and declaring it, too! Do you know the mentality of classic rock listeners? They will be demanding the playing of the original version by their stations or else listen to a rival station that would. They might even be willing to pay for it every now and then, as in pool money to pay the fine. Just the ad money a station could bring in disobeying the ban, for the extra audience, could make the fines “spare change”. Classic rock stations and listeners are not wussies, and they care a hell of a lot more about freedom of speech than homophobia, even as I’m sure they care about the latter a lot. Thing is, those people generally don’t, and won’t, connect this song to homophobia because they generally never have.

Jan 14 update: A day after I wrote this, Q104, a Halifax station (where I’m from) and Edmonton station have pledged to play the original Money for Nothing song on repeat for 1 hour. Told you it was bad psychology!

And whatever they substitute “faggot” with in the edited version of the song, it might just become the new “in” derogatory term to call gays. Mark Knopfler, one of the song’s writers, has said he will use “fudger” instead of “faggot”. Oh boy, here we go…

That’s if there’s not going to be resurgence in popularity of the term “faggot”.

Somebody might just write a song using the word “faggot” twice, to see if it’s OK by the CBSC. It’d be a “great” way to get attention for a song that might otherwise be completely valueless.

All and all, people intending to be discriminatory will find ways to do it. If you ban something and do it effectively, they will find something else. If you do it poorly, like this example of censoring Money for Nothing, they suddenly just have motivation to ramp up their antics. This is a good example of “dying for your principles”, even if “dying” is an exaggeration.

Good intent. Bad psychology. Maybe that’s why they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council definitely put the BS in CBSC in this one!

What do you think on this issue? It’ll be interesting to see where it goes a year from now. I’m stamping it as bad (as in ineffective, if not harmful) policy for now.

2 thoughts on “Why Canada’s Banning of Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing is Bad Policy

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