Alex Blaze

Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing"'s Faggots Censored in Canada

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 13, 2011 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Canada, censorship, dire straits, faggot, homophobic behavior, LGBT, money, rock music

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has upheld a complaint against the Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" without censoring the three faggots in the song.

The song was a hit, one of the Dire Straits' most popular songs, and won the Grammy in 1985 for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with a Vocal. It's been played with the three faggots in it since then. But someone complained to the private board in Canada that's charged with keeping the airways clean, and now it won't be played anymore.

Here's the song, in case you don't know it (although you'll probably recognize it). I have some thoughts on the censorship after the jump.

The song's about a guy who complains that rock stars have life too easy, and that being a real worker is where the suffering is. The second verse is:

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

That's basically what Michael Mark Knopfler, the Dire Straits frontman who co-wrote the song with Sting, had to say about the song's meaning:

The layers of irony in "Money for Nothing" have certainly confused people.

I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London - he actually said it was "below the belt." Apart from the fact that there are stupid gay people as well as stupid other people, it suggests that maybe you can't let it have so many meanings - you have to be direct.

In fact, I'm still in two minds as to whether it's a good idea to write songs that aren't in the first person, to take on other characters. The singer in "Money for Nothing" is a real ignoramus, hard hat mentality - somebody who sees everything in financial terms. I mean, this guy has a grudging respect for rock stars. He sees it in terms of, well, that's not working and yet the guys rich: that's a good scam. He isn't sneering.

I don't have any particular love for classic rock generally or the Dire Straits particularly, but their use of the word "faggot" there seems a lot more like Green Day's use here:

Well maybe I'm the faggot America.
I'm not a part of a redneck agenda.
Now everybody do the propaganda.
And sing along to the age of paranoia.

It's not a particularly offensive use of the term, but who am I to judge as an American writing on an American website. One thing that makes Alberto laugh about American TV is the way the swear words get bleeped out, as if hearing the word "fuck" is going to warp someone's mind. French TV just broadcasts those words because it's not like people haven't heard them before.

Taken in that context, it's not so bad. I don't mind people seeing "faggot" on the same level as the word "fuck." While there is a major question of artistic integrity here, with "faggot" being used as much more than just a random insult or a directly homophobic slur, it's a major question that's been posed a thousand times and this is the answer that at least the US and Canada seem to have settled on - when they're being broadcast on the public's airwaves, specific words should be blocked out. People can still buy the record or watch it on YouTube.

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"a real ignoramus, hard hat mentality" - he doesn't seem to have much respect for people that work hard for a living either.

There's a book on my reading list that I'm getting to about just that, about how in the 70's there started to be a lot of art produced about leaving the working class for the city to be an artist, pursue one's dreams, etc., which replaced an earlier sort of heroism about improving the lot of the people in small towns with just leaving small towns.

So, yeah.

I think you might be missing something here, Robguy.

The singer is not ridiculing the "hard hat" man because he does blue-collar, physical-type work for a living. He is ridiculing that subset of such workers who cling to prejudicial attitudes even though, especially in today's electronic world, they are adequately exposed to other viewpoints that clearly are more charitable and conducive to human harmony.

The "hard hat" man is calling the small-built rock star a "little faggot" probably not because he thinks the guy sucks cock, but because he doesn't meet Mr. Hard Hat's notion of what a man should be. He knows (correctly) that the rock star could never stand in a foot of mud in an underground sewer tunnel and lift a section of 12-inch water main into place, then hold it steady while the welder does his part of the job. Some workers actually do such things, and you have to be an idiot to not give them credit for what they go through to get a halfway decent paycheck.

Personally, I think this is exactly the type of ironic usage that this superficial form of censorship endangers. My favorite example is how Randy Newman used the n-word in his song Rednecks, and Dire Straits attempts exactly the same type of ironic usage, but it is unfortunate that they are met with less understanding by the listeners.

Lots of rock stars have come up through the ranks, doing multiple jobs to survive, as have many film stars - not everyone is born into a rock star/film star family. And even if they are, it still takes work to prove you're actually any good (the erstwhile careers of Kelly Osborne and her brother, whose name I can't even remember, prove my point).

Making music - or any other creative work - *is* hard work. It may not be physical work, but that's not the only kind of hard work/labour that exists.

I see Michael Knopfler's point. The ability to read irony or character, in a world suffused with the literalness of blogging and fake "journalism," seems to be dying out or at least in danger of dying out. You can no longer have a character mouth "offensive" statements, it seems, without all kinds of literal and metaphorical quotation marks around it - which undercuts the whole purpose of creative work.

Yeah, the internet doesn't support written fiction the way it does nonfiction. That's really too bad.

FYI, Mark Knopfler, not Michael!

The song wasn't co-written with Sting, but the "I want my MTV" hook was quoting a melodic idea from The Police's "Don't Stand So Close To Me."