The F-Word

No, not that one… I am referring to the word “faggot” that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has, through some misguided sense of political correctness, elevated to a similar status of public reprehensibility as the “n-word” with its recent edict concerning the Dire Straights’ signature tune Money for Nothing.

I couldn’t agree more with Scott Thompson about this, who was quoted yesterday in the Toronto Sun saying that “When you ban a word, you make the word more powerful. All this banning that’s going on just makes (the hate) go deeper and deeper into the soul, where it festers.” In the same article, playwright Daniel MacIvor also put it well, stating that like Americans, Canadians are “starting to be infected with a fever that blocks irony.”

Funnily enough, this asinine decision by the CBSC comes just a few weeks after the flap south of the border about the clumsy (and likewise well-intentioned) bowdlerization of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for not dissimilar reasons of shielding young readers from the painful or offensive experience of being exposed to the word “nigger” in a classroom setting (and also providing cover for gutless and/or inept teachers).

Of course, Twain used the epithet frequently in the book quite deliberately, not only to unsettle his readers at the time, but to show how the use of such derogatory words to describe another person diminishes their intrinsic humanity. Knopfler was apparently using the f-word in a similar way, quoting derisive (and sometimes homophobic) remarks overheard while working in the moving trade.

Hapless attempts at censorship like the two described here, however well-intentioned they purport to be, are fundamentally misguided in that they avoid rather than directly confront the reality of bigotry and prejudice in society by simply hiding their more obvious aspects from view and then pretending that they no longer exist. As far as I’m concerned, the condescending presumptions of would-be censors are every bit as offensive and insulting as the words they seek to eradicate.

Update: the issue of censorship is discussed at length on The Agenda.



Filed under Media

22 responses to “The F-Word

  1. Curtis

    ” … quoting derisive (and sometimes homophobic) remarks overheard while working in the moving trade.”

    The common story has it that Knoppfler was in an electronics store and overheard the comments of a customer or employee while he watched a music video on a wall of televisions.

    As for the decision to edit the song, I’m opposed to it and agree with your general assessment. It’s not an appropriate word and was meant to indicate the offensiveness of the speaker in the store rather than a derisive term regarding gays.

    Perhaps our collective skin is getting increasingly thin. Maybe that’s from singing in the acid rain, or climate change is peeling off a layer or two during our bitter winter cold. 😉

  2. MoS

    Keith Richards has plenty of recollections of being called a fag or a queer during the Stones’ early tours of the US. Knopfler’s parody of that is hardly offensive except to the ultra-thin skinned.

  3. MoS

    According to the always reliable NatPo, the band’s keyboardist is saying they’ll now substitute “fudger” for “faggot.” Fudger as in fudge packer as in sodomite. Now that sounds far more offensive.

  4. Paul Raposo

    I am referring to the word “faggot” that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has, through some misguided sense of political correctness, elevated to a similar status of public reprehensibility as the “n-word”

    Red, why exactly is the anti-gay slur faggot any less offensive than the racist slur nigger? For someone eschewing political correctness, your decision to write out “n-word” shows you have no issue with censorship, especially surprising, since it’s self-censorship.

  5. Yeah, I heard about Knophler’s proposed substitution (for Canada!) and thought it was quite sly of him to insert a word that will be perfectly acceptable to the broadcasting standards folks, but arguably far more smutty and offensive.

  6. billg

    I wonder if some people know how very unprogressive it is to ban words, or art, or theatre or songs, or, how unprogressive it is to hire or not hire people based on gender or race. On this subject the left and the right share pretty much the same stupidity, unless of course the word stupidity has been banned because it offends really really stupid people.

  7. CWTF

    As far as I’m concerned, the condescending presumptions of would-be censors are every bit as offensive and insulting as the words they seek to eradicate.

    Queer Liberal is in full relativeness glory over at his site….

  8. I agree ….. the only problem I have with some words is the ” hate” they sometimes evoke….. I am not white…. I’ll always be on the receiving end of racists.

  9. CWTF

    Then, of course you have those co-opting the word for their own agendas such as “White Niggers of America”…

  10. Paul: I take your point, but you’ll see that I use the word “nigger” in addition “n-word” so it’s not entirely clear to me how you feel that I “have no issue with censorship.” I think it was made quite plain that I do. That isn’t, of course, to say that I like either of the words in question or would use them myself other than in the context of this kind of discussion.

    While recognizing that a contradiction is involved, I believe there is a significant difference between self-censorship on an individual basis and the kind of censorship that is imposed by those in positions of authority to effectively regulate or prohibit the speech of others.

  11. Jay-TO

    I’m gay and love this song. No one I know (all gay) cares about the use of the word in said song because of the context.

    Now if ever someone dare speak it directly to my face there would be an issue. I’d likely punch their face in. That’s the price you’d have to pay for that “freedom of speech”.

    Glad to see you back Red.

  12. I never gave it a thought up to now, but be perfectly honest, I don’t pay that much close attention to lyrics any more so than to the libretto of an opera. At some point, they’re just musical sounds.

  13. Good post Red – I think you hit the nail on the head. I was recently listneing to Patrice Oneal on XM talking about racism, and he also alluded the reality that often censorship just makes it more difficult to have an honest discussion – because it creates the patina of racial acceptance, while allowing racism to flourish under cover. He would prefer someone to be honest about their feelings, including racist feelings, to allow for a discussion, than for a racist to, in response to political pressure, refer to the “n-word” and therefore prevent real discussion.

    Ironically, I was just reading “The Sound and Fury” by Faulkner, and the word “nigger” is used throughout – and I would challenge anyone to suggest that we start editing Faulkner in the guise of being politically correct. Each word is brilliant and to start substituting words from his novels would be like removing penises from priceless sculptures (been to the Vatican lately?)

  14. You get into very tricky ground when exercising censorship. I would rather just deal with the material on its own merits “as is” without the meddlesome interference of others determining what may or may not be imagined as being offensive to the delicate sensibilities of certain people.

    I suppose if The Sound and The Fury was taught in schools it too may well be subject to the same treatment as Twain, but it’s not, and given that the vast majority of adults don’t read books at all, let alone American classics, I think we can presume it to be safe from being ‘sanitized for our protection’ by those who police such things.

  15. I think the more effective response is to condition us to understand the not-so-subtle distinction between the use of offensive language to describe a condition or situation, which may well include explaining why the language is offensive – and to respond accordingly when faced with use which IS offensive.

    ie) the cold blank stare, followed by “Why would you think that is amusing?”

    Probably more effective than censoring Tom Sawyer.

  16. Yep. That’s my approach. On more than a few occasions I’ve asked someone who said something offensive, “Did you really just say that?” and when they get quizzical and taken aback at why I would ask, told them that I disapprove of the word because it’s hateful and demeaning. Not sure if that works, but I haven’t gotten punched yet. 😉

  17. censors’re fags.


  18. toujoursdan

    I’m not sure this is really censorship. This isn’t an action by the CTRC, but the CBSC. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council is a private and voluntary organization (something not mentioned in the Sun article or your post.) They are not a government body and cannot issue fines or any other sanction. If radio stations want to ignore the ban, they may. The worst that can happen is that they may get kicked out of the club. Big whoop. You can still go to You Tube and watch videos of “Money for Nothing”. You can still download it from iTunes, emusic or other sites. You can still listen to it on internet-only radio stations, foreign radio stations and non-CBSC member stations. They just issued a standard, like the ban on certain profane words. But in this case, the standard isn’t legally binding like the standards regarding the f-bomb are. This isn’t really censorship.

    As far as the Huck Finn controversy goes, I think you have this backward as well. Huck Finn is the most banned book U.S. school districts, because of the word. Because of all these bans, kids weren’t weren’t being exposed to the greater anti-racist message found in the book. The bowdlerization of the book was an attempt to get around the censorship imposed by hundreds of school districts so that kids would be exposed to the book. The fault doesn’t lie with the professor that proposed the word change, but with all the school districts that banned it in the first place.

    BTW, glad to see you back to posting.

  19. Dan: Hiya! Nice to hear from you again. Hope all is well, etc.

    The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council is a private and voluntary organization (something not mentioned in the Sun article or your post.)

    It’s mentioned in the video – in fact, by PM Harper. I didn’t think that needed repeating, especially as I didn’t see it as being overly relevant. It may not be a government entity, but it still exercises a lot of influence over its members. That said, you have a valid point about the limitations of its edicts in terms of them only being recommended “standards” that aren’t backed by the force of law.

    As far as the Huck Finn controversy, I fully understand the reason for the bowdlerization and the intent of the professor behind it, which is why I said that it was “well-intentioned.” However, I don’t think that I’m the one who has it backwards. The problem is with the schools and with gutless/inept teachers and lickspittle bureaucrats that don’t have the fortitude or competence to do the right thing and instead fold like a cheap suit whenever forced to take a stand against ridiculous attempts to ban books, or teach “controversial” subjects like, um, evolution.

  20. toujoursdan

    Well, it looks like the CRTC is reviewing the decision with a move toward overturning it: Toronto Star: CRTC wants Dire Straits decision reviewed

    I don’t care one way or another, though I think that once one accepts the idea that watchdog bodies may restrict the utterance of certain words in the broadcast media (and I have George Carlin’s 7 dirty words in mind) than I don’t think people can scream “censorship” as the English language evolves and words are added or removed from the list. I’m not accusing you of doing that, but some of the fauxrage is hypocritical here.

  21. I’m not outraged by the decision at all. I understand the motives but just happen to think they’re misguided. I don’t see that the FCC’s ban on Carlin’s 7 dirty words has done anything whatsoever to eradicate their use.

    Kind of a funny development you cited there about the CRTC possibly intervening in the matter to trump the Broadcast Standards Council… That is venturing in the absurd.

  22. .Nigga is a term used in that began as an form of the word a word originated as a term used in a neutral context to refer to as a variation of the noun a descendant of the adjective meaning the colour . Lewis Smith author of Bury that Sucka A Scandalous Affair with the N-word believes that replacing the er with an a changes nothing other than the pronunciation and the notes Brother Brotha and Sister Sistah or Sista are terms of endearment.

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