An interesting coincidence occurred last Wednesday. The day marked the 40th anniversary of the airing of the first episode of All in the Family, a show that broke new ground in its depiction of racism, feminism, the Vietnam War and other touchy topics, including homosexuality. Last Wednesday was also the day that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) decided that the 26-year-old song Money for Nothing by Dire Straights was not suitable for radio play in Canada, at least not until the song was edited to remove three references to the homophobic term “faggot.”
The reaction of the CBSC (overreaction if you ask many) was in response to a single complaint from a radio listener in Newfoundland who said the word was offensive to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered. Of course it is. And so should it be, just like the many other slurs hurled at people over the years for their race, religion or sexual orientation.
But there is a caveat to that and it is that one should take offense if the offensive word is intended to demean.
Lead singer Mark Knopfler, who was undoubtedly already a “millionaire with his own jet airplane” when the song was popular, was doing in the 1980s what Carroll O’Connor did in the 1970s – using the brutal language of the bigot to point out bigotry.
Knopfler, like O’Connor, was playing a role – albeit a musical one – representing the blue collar worker of the era who would never have a life beyond the loading dock, men who were envious of the musicians on MTV who seemed to have the life of Riley. Oddly enough, both Archie Bunker and Knopfler’s protagonist in Money for Nothing are narrow-minded warehouse employees.
Taken in their proper context, neither the now criticized Dire Straights song nor the most bigoted episode of All in the Family are an endorsement of homophobic or racist behaviour, but are satirical criticisms of the bigotry and stupidity prevalent in the era in which they were created.
But in the quick dash to sweep the table clear of any offense, the CBSC joins the politically correct in eradicating the world of anything that might be deemed offensive.
It is the same mindset that prompted an Auburn University professor to edit Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, removing the word that got Seinfeld’s Michael Richards in trouble a few years ago with the word slave, forever changing Twain’s intent and removing important layers of meaning from the classic story.
Sadly, some university professors and broadcast councils feel that society is too thick to understand context, be it historical, satirical or otherwise. Perhaps we are or are dangerously close to becoming a society of – to use Archie Bunker’s favourite term – meatheads. Perhaps a couple of decades of changing our language to linguistically match the egg shell-like sensitivities of modern life have also removed our ability to think critically, realistically or even reasonably.
Fortunately there are those among us who can comprehend that the BS in CBSC may stand for something other than Broadcast Standards and that the council themselves may in fact be getting a little Money for Nothing.
Editor’s Note: Those interested in reading the entire CBSC decision on the complaint can view the document online.