On that Money For Nothing Ban


It’s probably worth getting a discussion started here about the original version of “Money for Nothing” being banished from Canadian airwaves, because of the following lyric:

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

Alan Cross has a good post on his blog about this, which he’s been updating. But I’m a bit surprised by this part at the end:

I can’t say that I disagree entirely [with the CBSC decision] either. Back in ’85, “faggot” was an epithet thrown around by almost everyone.  It wasn’t much of an issue–just like the days when the use of the n-word was frighteningly common.  Over the years, I found myself noticing that lyric more often and growing more uncomfortable each time.  It somehow just wasnt…right.   But that was the extent of my reaction.  The song was, at most, a period piece when it came to a certain colloquialism. Today, any use of the word “faggot” is just not acceptable to many people.

But there’s one point about that lyric that I haven’t seen added to the discussion, and it is this: In the song, Knopfler is singing in the voice of an appliance store salesman.  He made that clear in dozens of interviews he did when the album was released. The story he told is that he was in a shop looking for a fridge or something, and some rock videos were playing on an in-store television. And the salesman started complaing about rock stars and their cushy lives (i.e. money for nothing and chicks for free). Knopfler said that he pulled out a pen and just started writing down what the guy was saying, and used his comments as lyrics in the song.

The point being, the song does not use “faggot” casually. If anything, it is a song about the casual use of the word by uneducated and embittered bigots.

Surely that makes all difference in the world. How can art make any critical statement on the world, if it is not allowed to quote or mention that which it is criticizing? Are artists not allowed to take on another persona, or to speak in the voice of another in order to sharpen the criticism?


On that Money For Nothing Ban

  1. Well, for one thing, the song in its original form isn't "banned," stations are simply recommended by the CBSC to censor it. It seems a bit silly to censor it, and I say that as a gay man. This is one of those things where those with their hearts in the right place, wishing to censor, know that Knopfler wasn't intending to be homophobic, while those who don't get it/don't understand the context, would likely use the F-word with intent to insult anyway. The former trying to curb the latter is a touch too thought-police-esque. It's funny, hearing that song doesn't really offend me, but being called that insult by dumb kids on the street certainly does.

    • Agreed. The song isn't offensive. But, and I'm putting myself in the shoes of the CBSC, I assume that if we allow the public broadcasting of the song, we've decided as a society that the word is OK. Whilst, it's only OK within certain contexts (like in this song). The problem lies in many people possibly not understanding the song's context.

      I know we shouldn't regulate things in a manner that assumes the citizenry is dumb… which is why I'm sort of conflicted on this ruling.

      • I we've decided as a society that we shouldn't allow government or government-like authorities to pre-determine what is OK or not OK on our behalf.

        • So what about public nudity? What about porn shops having explicit material shown on storefronts? What about a piece of art that has the most derogatory comments being displayed on a building facade? Umm, government has been determining what is OK or not OK on our behalf for as long as government has been around. I can't think of one government that doesn't. It sort of comes with the idea of government… And that's all besides the CBSC not being government (which I'll say I'm not sure is better or worse)

          • I'm just responding to your comment that "we've decided as a society that the word is OK" if "we" allow the public broadcasting of the song. I just don't think you can draw that conclusion. Especially since, unlike with an elected government, "we" don't have any say into what the CBSC decides.

          • Sorry, the "f" missing after the "I" in what was meant to be "If" makes a large difference in your above post. :P

    • There's panic on the switchboard, tongue is in knots
      Some come out in sympathy, some come out in spots
      Some blame the management, some the employees
      Everybody knows it's the industrial disease

  2. I guess I see a difference between what can be broadcasted publicly and what can be enjoyed privately. In this case, I don't see what the big hoopla is. Many, many songs are censored when played on the radio or over the TV but that doesn't mean people can't buy the CD, watch a youtube clip or download the tune and hear the original version. There's a lot of art that I've seen in museums that could NEVER be put in the middle of a public square out in public and in this case, it's the same idea.

  3. The point is even more clear if you watch the video.

    Also of interest – I tried last night for almost an hour to find a live youtube clip of the song where the band DOESN'T change the word to something else. Knopfler might even agree.

  4. People mean well with things like this, but as always, go overboard.

    The result is a combination of the Bare Naked Ladies once being banned somewhere because it was thought to be a strip show….and what the Americans like to call the 'N Word' being banned in Huckleberry Finn.

    • I think there's an inherent difference in banning a word in a book that is read in a personal-private context and banning a word in a song that is broadcast publicly.

      • The book is taught in schools. That's why it's become an issue.

    • BNL were taken off the bill of a show to be played at Nathan Phillips Square because the mayor at the time thought the name was simply in bad taste and objectified women, not because she thought they were doing a strip show.

      • Ahhhh, couldn't remember the details, just that it caused laughter at the time. Thanks.

      • Which, of course, is an even DUMBER reason to take them off the bill.

        Also, it wasn't actually the mayor who made the call, it was one of her staffers. I don't believe the mayor was directly involved in the initial decision.

  5. " Are artists not allowed to take on another persona, or to speak in the voice of another in order to sharpen the criticism?"

    Agreed. But we ought to be careful about defending artistic and expressive freedoms on the basis of our general agreement with their intent. Let's pretend the song actually was a bigoted statement against homosexuality – both in intent and common interpretation. Would we then shrug and not worry about it? What if we couldn't easily discern the intent or obvious interpretation?

    Censorship is an offensive practice, full stop. Let the artists, writers, etc., produce whatever the heck they want. And let the public decide whether to consume it, or not.

  6. Weird analysis. After all, the "n word" is frighteningly common in music these days. And the way that other word is used in the Dire Straits song is actually still totally intelligible today. It's used to denote a certain style. Some people might not like that usage, but it's still fairly common.

    • After all, the "n word" is frighteningly common in music these days


      Not in venues the CBSC is monitoring, like radio.

    • After all, the "n word" is frighteningly common in music these days


      Maybe in music, but generally not on the radio.

  7. Most importantly, before we all go crazy about "state censorship', let us remember that we would not even be having this discussion had someone not taken great trouble to complain about a song.

    I mean, really…who complained about an old dire straits song?

    • Early reports suggest the individual is little, with an earring and make-up. More details to follow…

    • It isn't even "state" censorship since the CBSC is an industry board for self-censorship.

      • very good point

      • But they have a fairly pivotal voice in license renewal decisions rendered by the CRTC, so ultimately they are something of a state instrument.

        • It's damn near impossible to not get a radio license renewed, let alone for content. I think in the last decade there was one station whose license was delayed after countless racists comments on its talk radio station.

        • If you look at the membership list on the CBSC website, you might notice that it does not include every private broadcaster in Canada. There are a few private broadcasters that have chosen not to join and, as such, are not required to follow the standards it sets. These private broadcasters have not had their licenses revoked.

          I'm usually pretty fanatical about free speech and censorship, but in this particular case it isn't censorship. This is a private organization enforcing the rules that its members have all voluntarily agreed to abide by. If CHOZ-FM does not agree with this decision they are perfectly free to lobby the organization to amend its code of conduct, or to resign from the organization.

          As far as I'm concerned, this is a case of the private sector doing a pretty decent job of finding a workable compromise, where a government agency would use the full force of law do an unreasonable degree. Just look at how the FCC handles these sorts of situations. The CBSC is a paragon of liberty by comparison.

          • If I could give you more than 1 thumbs up I would!!

      • Canadian Board of Self-Censorship?

  8. But they're cool with this?

    "Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
    Sold in a market down in New Orleans
    Scarred old slaver knows he's doing alright
    Hear him with the women just around midnight "

    Brown Sugar, The Rolling Stones

    • We'll never know until you get all hot and bothered and file a complaint. So, you know, don't.

      • Not to worry. But now that I know any idiot can get any song banned for the flimsiest of reasons, I'm drafting up a complaint on the Counting Crows version of Big Yellow Taxi, and quite possibly the entire catalogue of Hootie and the Blowfish.

        • What I said earlier…never mind.

  9. Extraordinary that one person writes in that they were offended by a song that they obviously didn't understand and a watchdog recommends that it be removed from playlists.
    Freedom is the only thing you don't appreciate until its gone. All artists should remember that lest they do something to offend the "one".

    • No one recommended that it be removed from play-lists, just that the F-word in question be edited out so as to have it not be broadcast over the public airways (and I don't believe they're actually saying DON'T broadcast it, they're just RECOMMENDING that it not be broadcast).

      If you've ever heard the Cee-Lo song "Forget You" on the radio, or the Black-Eyed Peas "Let's Get it Started" (neither of which is actually the title/lyrics of the original song) you'll know that artists produce "radio friendly" versions of songs that can't be broadcast over the public airwaves in the original form ALL THE TIME. In fact, it's awfully hard to find a version of "Money for Nothing" with the original lyrics because DIRE STRAIGHTS released an edited version. I'd bet that the majority of people didn't even know that verse was part of the song before, because they'd never heard it before.

      That said, I hope all of this angst leads to this sort of radio edit going away, 'cause I for one CAN'T WAIT for Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name" to be broadcast over the public airwaves from coast to coast one Saturday afternoon.

      Also, I want porn on the CBC at any hour of the day. Let the market decide. END CENSORSHIP NOW!!!

      • Let the market decide? About the C-B-friggin-C? Dude! The market has decided. It's a taxpayer-bailed-out make-work project a cherished organization telling Canadians each other's stories.

        Letting the market decide would lead to the elimination of the CBC right after this Saturday's HNIC broadcast. Unless, perhaps, the last gasp promo clips as a soon-to-be-private broadcaster promised your favoured genre wall-to-wall in the programming schedule. Hmm. I wonder if "Wall to Wall" is a title in that genre…

        (runs off to "specialty" video store…)

        • Yeah, I was being cheeky there.

          Also though, I do think if the CBC was allowed to broadcast porn 24/7, the market might well decide differently about it!


          • I was being cheeky there

            That might be another title…

    • Yes, let's remember that it was ONE person from NFLD. If it had been a dozen church people from Ontario … nothing would have been done. Canadians bow to the minority everywhere you look – and they are completely against art forms of any kind (just look at our pitiful grade "education" system – , if you can call it that!!). Budget cuts always the arts.

      Knopfler is a talent … leave the lyrics as they are. The next thing will be to remove the history of the Holocaust from our schools because it may offend someone (wait … they're trying to do that in the UK).

      When will us "normal" canadians speak up for common sense??

      • Knopfler is a talent … leave the lyrics as they are.

        What about the fact that Knopfler himself released an edited version of the song without that verse? Is Knopfler himself allowed to edit the lyrics if he sees fit?

  10. "How can art make any critical statement on the world, if it is not allowed to quote or mention that which it is criticizing? Are artists not allowed to take on another persona, or to speak in the voice of another in order to sharpen the criticism?"

    Given that Knopfler penned the lyric after a hearing a salesman spitting the insult at a pop star on TV, and that Knopfler himself was a pop star, this ruling effectively states: One cannot broadcast the offending word used in art even in a case where the offending epithet was directed at the artist himself or his kind.

    Such a precedent will prove impossible to sustain as it means individuals who have written songs about being ridiculed, insulted or abused based on their race or gender or sexuality (vast swathes of music) will be excluded from the airwaves if they dared repeat what was said of them.

    • I daresay these vast swaths of songs were not quoting exact terminology to begin with, if they were being played on the radio.

  11. Oh nice, my post was automatically deleted because I used the actual lyrics to the Stones song "Some Girls".

    "White girls they're pretty funny, sometimes they drive me mad
    Black girls just wanna get CENSORED all night, I just don't have that much jam "

    As a black woman should I go to the authorities? What's next? Law suits?. Give me a friggin break

    • Brilliant!

  12. I don't know what angers me the most, the idiot (and I will not apologize for using that epithet) who got offended and wants to impose on the rest of the Canadian public his/her views of what can and cannot be said in a song, or the Board for its spineless reaction.
    What a bunch of pussies (and I will not apologize for using this word either) we're becoming!

    • It was a self-identified lesbian female. I don't understand how she could claim to be offended, and how her complaint was given merit.

  13. The idiocy of this ruling is that it come 25 years after the song was released so over the past 25 years nobody complained and now you find something offensive to b!tch about! It historical revisionism and it stupid. Seriously maybe the cbsc should have a rule not to bother with songs that are 5 years or older. You know so that they don't have to waste time checking all the old songs I suggest we all submit in the next few days at complaints@cbsc.ca you know just to mess with these idiots!

    • Done! Just sent a complaint at complaints@cbsc.ca, inserting your idea of not bothering with songs that are 5 years or older:


      Just to tell you that I am very angered by your decision to ban from the airwaves the original version of "Money For Nothing" by The Dire Straits. What, one person, ONE, complains and the whole of Canadian broadcasting is penalized? 25 years after the fact? Give me a break! It makes no sense at all.
      Here's a thought: why don't you set a limit on the retroactivity, let's say, we don't touch anything that's 5 years or older?
      Better yet: why don't you tell the complainer to just stuff it? Turn off the radio or switch channel. Who does this person think he/she is to impose his/her views to the rest of the population on what can and cannot be said in a song?
      And you, members of the Council, get a spine!

      Sincerely yours,

      Jean Chicoine"

    • Remember to note the station you were listening to and time of day you heard the song, for the station to check against its playlogs.

  14. Of course all of this publicity has pretty much insured that the song once more realizes it's popularity of yesteryear… it's a hit on Youtube, it's on the National News, it's all over the social networks. It's once more being listened to by the masses.
    It seems that if you want something to be popular or to be noticed by the greater population, then the trick is to ban it. Everyone will then be singing it, reading it, watching it, saying it and talking about it.
    Dire Straits will no doubt sell a whack of Cd's before the week is through… maybe not such a bad thing in a slow economy.

  15. Can I write in to Newfoundland and complain to get this woman banned from Canada?

  16. I guess Pink Floyd's classic IN THE FLESH is next. Personal choice is essential to what we are all about in Canada and the US but so is freedom of speech, assuming one is not promoting hatred.

  17. The root of the issue is the process during which a word goes from being acceptable to being widely regarded as offensive. Who exactly decides that and based on what? Was there at some point a poll conducted among the gay people in which they decided that the F-word started offending them? Like always, it is the media that tells us the latest dictate on what is good and bad, and we automatically assume that majority of gay people are offended by a 25 year old song. I'll bet you most of them don't even care. Yeah, nobody can call them F's, but it's OK to put their resumes at the bottom of the pile… Yeah, don't anybody dare call them N's, but it's OK to keep the drugs flowing into their neighbourhoods and keep the education inaccessible so they can never be equal… It's obvious even to the blind and deaf that this excess of political correctness is nothing but purposeful avoidance of the real issues concerning these groups of people, and is more about self-righteusness and moral pretentiousness of the elite who, through the media, are basically telling us – all you have to do is stop calling them F's and N's and they (gays and blacks) will be happy. I somehow have a feeling the names they are being called are the least of their problems…

  18. My comment was deleted by the administrator because I wrote the name of the stitch I am using these days to knit a sweater while I watch old episodes of MI5, as the UK show is called here to spare the sensitivies of North Americans.

    Will the f stitch be banned from knitting sites too?

  19. lets try again, my comment was deleted because i guess i used an f word, but either the crtc has been asleep at the switch for the last 25 years, or the guys who censored the tune are f idiots…take yr pick… nothing wrong with the lyrics as written, and in their context

  20. I find the word highly offensive. Sting and Mark Knopfler should be ashamed of themselves for promoting it.

    To those who cry censorship, would you be OK with a song that used the "c" word to describe women? Would you? Would you like to hear it being played on the airwaves?

    While I can understand the distress of some rock music homophobes, keep in mind that the decision by the broadcasting authority does not prevent you from playing the song uncensored in the privacy of your living room or car.

    • have you listened to radio lately?!!!! complain about that before complaining about Sting or Knopfler. move along…

  21. Rock music is very homophobic towards men. An artist cannot be openly gay before they become successful. The only time they can come out is after they have made all their money (Elton John, for instance).

    Women, however, are given a lot more freedom sexually. A woman can say she's bisexual and she's still able to have hits. It's seems like a major double standard in music. Remember when Katy Perry had a number 1 with I Kissed A Girl? How come a guy couldn't sing I Kissed A Boy and have a number 1?

    In the last 30 years or so there has developed a double standard which glamorizes bisexual women but not bisexual men. I think porn has a lot to do with it. Almost all porn that contains both genders allows the women to interact with women but not the men with men. It's an ugly double standard, and I think the GLBT community is now starting to react against it.

  22. When are they going to get around to Supergrass' "Alright" for its reference to smoking a fag? Sure, it may be a cigarette to you, but think of the children! Won't someone please think of the children?!

  23. Seriously, whatever happened to turning off the radio when you don't like what you hear? Or plain old switching stations? Ugh, this is getting old.

  24. Are the CBSC trying to create problems? From reading various comments it has become obvious that the majority of the gay, lesbian community have no problems with this song.
    It has taken years to build up a tolerance for gay people. For many it is still just a tolerance, not an acceptance. The ruling on this very popular song is likely to cause a reverse knee jerk reaction. I have heard quite a number of anti homosexual comments in the last few days as a result of this poorly considered ruling.

  25. There is a huge gap between the Canada we all live in day to day, and the Canada our media (CanWest and Rogers) wants the world to see. This is the stereotypical "Canadian" thing to do, fret and worry about hypothetical situations in which people may or may not be offended. We should be happy that someone was able to have their opinion heard though, it's a rereshing change, what with the prime minister pro-roguing government, the BC government opting for HST despite hundreds of thousands of signatures in opposition. Glad someone was able to get a reaction. Honestly they play that song 14 times a day on classic rock stations would we really be that bad off without it?