By now it’s old news, so let’s skip past the boring part and get right to the bit where we start talking about the word “faggot”, that loathsome term that lands at the back of the throat, right between a fuck-you and a glottal stop, somewhere behind the uvula where the brains of bigotry commonly reside.
That was the starting point for the entire debate (and my lede, that I’ve successfully and quite consciously buried here in this paragraph) surrounding last week’s decision by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to ban a version of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” after a listener filed a complaint. The version in question, a 1985 track from the album Brothers In Arms, uses the word “faggot” three times as it famously riffs away into the annals of dad rock.
Not that the debate focused on the word or why it was offensive, in the end. Nor did it focus on somewhat older, familiar complaints about censorship, like the message of the art in question or the parameters of the ban itself. Instead, we just made the song into an abstraction.
In response to the ban, redundant Halifax classic rock station Q104, played “Money for Nothing” for an hour straight. The Q104 program manager told the Toronto Star that his station’s argument for putting the song on repeat was “completely contextual,” noting that the lyrics were all from the point of view of the character in the song.
That argument would have been a fine one to make had the song been simply kept in the rotation. That would have been contextual: a 25-year old song left entirely as it was intended, in its original form, as a regular part of a station’s larger collection. Playing it for an hour straight changed that, obviously, and instead made it something else entirely: a gimmick conjured up for a fleet of ageing consumers who felt they’d somehow been wronged by it all, sailing along at a hundred kilometers an hour on some highway, isolated and angry, in an equally bloated and tired car on and on towards a now postponed retirement, wishing to God they could stoke out from the depths of their expanded prostates some faint reminder of contrived rebelliousness.
In other words, we unexpectedly arrived at a point where artistic intent met a regulatory framework and quickly sat down to shit out a marketing campaign about re-directed victimization.
In his book, The Consumer Society, Jean Baudrillard explored the bond that the consumer citizen has to enjoyment — that the consumer regards it as an obligation, that they are an “enjoyment and satisfaction business.” The consumer, he wrote, “must constantly see to it that all his potentialities, all his consumer capacities are mobilized.” That is, that we’re in a state of universal curiosity, and “haunted by the fear of ‘missing’ something, some form of enjoyment or other.”
The questions of morality that a censorship debate normally brings up like freedom of speech were left unanswered in the Dire Straits scenario. Instead, issues about the freedom of consumption replaced them. The righteous indignation about the decision wasn’t prompted so much by any discussion of the word “faggot”, as by the threat that something we no longer bothered to regularly consume might not actually be available anymore.
So we did the only thing that could make the entire debate manageable. We turned it into a cliché, and deftly, cowardly, sidestepped the issue that brought on the ban in the first place. In the process, we learned something about our breathless defense of consumerism. What did we learn about the word “faggot”? Nothing.
Photo by victorschiferli.