Canadian Broadcast Standards Council
5 min

Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing’ is not homophobic

The Canadian blogosphere lit up Jan 14 over news that an Atlantic radio station had been censured for airing the 1985 Dire Straits’ song “Money for Nothing,” which uses the word “faggot” three times. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), the broadcast industry’s own watchdog, took action after receiving a complaint from a single listener.

Just when it seemed jaws could drop no further, Egale Canada’s Helen Kennedy chimed in to not only support the decision, but to imply — with a healthy dose of tortured logic — that the use of “faggot” in lyrics, even those of 25-year-old songs, contributes to homophobic bullying and teen suicides. 

Let’s just get this out of the way immediately: the use of the word “faggot” in “Money for Nothing” isn’t offensive. The song is written from the point of view of a working person complaining about the easy life of rock stars:

Now look at them yo-yos
That’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’

After lamenting the obligations of his own job ("We got to install microwave ovens/We got to move these refrigerators/We got to move these colour TVs"), the narrator launches into a homophobic attack directed at the wealthy MTV pop stars he envies: “The little faggot with the earring and the makeup/Yeah, buddy, that’s his own hair/That little faggot’s got his own jet airplane/That little faggot, he’s a millionaire."

It’s sung from the perspective of a homophobic dick, but it certainly doesn’t glorify him or his detestable opinions. Rather, it ridicules his viewpoint.

So why did the CBSC decide to censure Newfoundland’s OZ FM (CHOZ-FM) for airing the song on Feb 1, 2010, at 9:15pm?

A reading of the entire decision reveals two reasons.

First, the Atlantic adjudicating panel of the council mistakenly concluded that the application of a “legitimate artistic usage” doesn’t apply to this song, despite CBSC guidelines that say: 

Individuals who are themselves bigoted or intolerant may be part of a fictional or non-fictional program, provided that the program is not itself abusive or unduly discriminatory.

"Money for Nothing” is about a sad character who uses homophobia to soothe his own bitterness and envy.  

Second, the substance of the complainant’s grievance was ignored in the station’s response. Before proceeding with any review, the CBSC moderates dialogue between a complainant and the broadcaster. This offers the broadcaster an opportunity to defend its material or provide context, but if the complainant finds the response unsatisfactory the CBSC will launch a review.

The “Money for Nothing” complainant not only objects to the airing of a song with the word “faggot,” but further asks why the station played it when versions of the song exist with the word removed.

Glow-in-the-dark sweat bands. Gay.

The response, from OZ FM’s senior vice-president, not only ignores the substance of the question — arguing that the station doesn’t air songs edited “for length” — but makes no effort to explain the context of the word in the song.

So, while the panel members themselves are responsible for their misreading of the song, it should be noted that the station’s own VP felt no need to explain the context to someone who identified themselves as an “extremely” offended “member of the LGBT community."

Whatever your feelings about this decision, if a broadcaster is airing a song with “faggot” in the lyrics in 2010, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to justify the context. Had OZ FM’s senior VP endeavoured to defend the use of the word in his initial response to the complainant, might the issue have been dropped? Possibly, but that still left the question about why the station played the “faggot” version.

In a response to the VP, the complainant says the VP’s reply is unsatisfactory and cites a specific example where the station did play an edited version of a song: Kanye West’s “Gold Digger": 

This song contains another discriminatory slur, not directed towards sexual orientation, but towards race. When played on OZ FM, this slur is censored despite the song’s achievements.  I fail to see a difference between the two situations.

So, because the VP failed to address this question adequately, or to take the offence felt by the LGBT complainant seriously ("[We] do apologize for any undue stress caused to you"), the complaint advanced to the investigation phase, which led to the panel’s verdict.

Is the song banned?

CBSC decisions apply only to its members, as it is a non-governmental organization, so non-members like the CBC can continue to play the song. Arguably, so can CBSC members, since the decision applies specifically to a complaint made about the airing of the song on Feb 1, 2010, at 9:15pm. And given that the decision suffers from poor logic and the song itself suffered from the pathetic advocacy of OZ FM’s senior vice-president, another airing of the song could have the “legitimate artistic usage” applied.

Isn’t this censorship?

The CBSC exists so that private broadcasters can operate “without the heavy club or formalities of government sanctions.” The list of membership benefits touted by the council include “benefiting from decreased direct regulatory control by the CRTC” and “maintaining a ‘clean’ public file at the CRTC through the forwarding of complaints to the CBSC."

If you believe that self-regulation — that is, a system of rules and processes written, enforced and regulated by the broadcasters themselves — is the same as censorship, please leave a comment below explaining the model you’d prefer.

If our government were to have a hand in regulating broadcasters, how do you think our current federal government would respond to a complaint about a show about anal sex?

In 2001, the CBSC received a complaint about an episode of The Sex Files entitled “The Rear End":

"The program contained interviews and discussions with various sex experts about the physiology of human buttocks and their role in sexual activity. The episode also included scenes of couples (discreetly) engaged in anal sex."

The complaint:

It showed graphic anal sex throughout its airing. I am deeply disturbed that this kind of television is seen acceptable for public viewing. I do not wish my children to [be] assaulted with material that clearly is not appropriate for their age. Our children should be able to watch television without fear of having their innocence violated.

Though the broadcaster was censured for not airing a viewer advisory at the beginning of the episode (it aired one following each commercial break), the content was deemed “informative and enlightening.” The punishment at that time was the same as it is today: announce the decision on air and provide proof that the announcement was aired to the complainant and to the CBSC.

As for Kennedy’s comments, I think Rick Mercer’s words, citing Xtra’s coverage of the Halton GSA ban, is all that need be said:

“Issues like this crowd out real issues of intolerance. In Ontario, the
Halton Catholic school board banned the formation of gay-straight
alliances in high schools. The chair of the board compared them to Nazi
. That’s something worth talking about. I’m more concerned with
helping kids at risk than offending the sensibilities of older people
who listen to classic rock stations at work.” 

If that’s not enough, here’s a performance of “Money for Nothing” featuring that wonderfully talented faggot, Elton John, on piano.

UPDATE: This clip from The Kids in the Hall with Scott Thomson is too good not to include. The show aired in Canada on the CBC from 1988 to 1994.


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