Banning 25-year-old rock songs is a breakthrough in 2,000-year-old thinking

There’s a very old, entirely lame joke about the broadcast industry that begins with the question, “Which week did ‘Money For Nothing’ by Dire Straits reach number one on the Canadian hit parade?”

The punch-line is no knee-slapper: “I don’t know, except that it would have been six weeks after whenever it was ‘Money For Nothing’ was number one on the New York City radio stations.”

You might receive this gag as it’s intended, as a comment on the fundamental conservatism and trailing-edge tastes of the Canadian people and their culture. Funny? Not really. But, if it’s laughs you’re after, you ought to try reading a newspaper.

The Dire Straits song Money For Nothing […] has been ruled as too offensive for [Canadian] airways, two and a half decades after its original release. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that the word ‘faggot’ in the lyrics breaches the council’s code of ethics. The decision is in response to a complaint against radio station OZ FM in Newfoundland for broadcasting the song last February. The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Jan. 12, 2011

Okay, now that’s funny — but the facts behind this anecdote are even more hilarious. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (or Conseil canadien des normes de la radiotélévision, or CBSC) has been around for 21 years. It is a kind of self-policing regulatory body for broadcasters that exists for no apparent reason, other than to duplicate the effort of the government regulatory authority, known as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (or the Conseil de la radiodiffusion et des télécommunications canadiennes, or CRTC.)

Double layers of insulation, involving both self-declared and patronage-appointed arbitrars, are pretty much the norm throughout the land. There’s a whole lot of regulating goin’ on, especially considering that the entire concept of determining what is appropriate content for the delicate sensibilities of the man-on-the-street was rendered pointless on that memorable day when Mr. Wizard invented the Internet.

However, as our first-paragraph jocularity illustrates, we can be a little s-l-o-w on the uptake, up here in the North Country. So it was that one day in February of 2010, it dawned on a fellow in St. John’s, Newfoundland (a wonderful city with a reputation for being unhurried, even by Canadian standards) that this song he’d been hearing on the radio each day for the past 25 years contained an inflammatory word.

What did this offended listener do? Change the station from OZ FM to VOCM? Hobble down to the corner store to buy a lottery ticket and annoy the shopkeeper with tales of how the radio hurt his feelings? Shoo the tabby off his lap, and spark up another doob? No, he went ahead and filed a complaint with the CBSB, which sounds like a big deal, but is as painless a process as clicking on this link and typing in as much misspelled gibberish as your stunted attention span will permit.

From there, it was a short leap for CBSB committee members G. Phelan (Chair), B. A. Jones (Vice-Chair), K. Hicks, B. MacEachern,  R. McKeen, and R. Morrison — whoever they may pretend to be when they line up at Tim Horton’s in the morning — to issue CBSC Decision 09/10-0818, which finds: “The song contained a word that referred to sexual orientation in a derogatory way, contrary to Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Clauses 2, 7 and 9 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.”

If you’re keeping score, that’s four clauses: practically one clause for every minute of the song (not the extended-mix version)! Thus, ‘Money For Nothing’, along with its hurtful bi-syllable phrase, will never again be heard in Canada. Unless it’s played on some insensitive person’s iPod. Or on satellite radio. Or on a radio signal from across the border. Or streamed over the Internet. Or spun on a CD, or blasted out at a sporting event. Or experienced on the MTV — which was, of course, the very medium Dire Straits songwriter Mark Knopfler was scheming to ridicule, through his satiric lyric. (Rolling Stone magazine reports that the always-adaptable Knopfler has taken note of the CBSC edict, and “has now substituted the word faggot for ‘fudger’… for Canada.”)

Be that as it may, the die is cast — and the iron fist of Messrs. Phelan, Jones, et al is sure to be felt again and again. Just wait until they finally catch up with the derogatory language in “South Park,” an offensive cartoon series that has only been spreading abusive phraseology since… 1997.

In fact, I’m tempted right now, through a spirit of public service, to wise up the CBSB, and file several complaints over the 1973 FM-radio hit by Richard ‘Kinky’ Friedman, “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore.” The only thing holding me back is that I would not wish to assume responsibility for any committee member enduring a spontaneous cerebral or myocardial infarction, which would seem inevitable.

For, if these language-nannies, a delicate group, couldn’t abide a single objectionable word on this past occasion, what in the blessed name of Jack Layton would they make of the following stanza?

“I ain’t a racist, but Aristitle [sic] Onassis/ is one Greek we don’t need;/ And them niggers, Jews and Sigma Nus,/ all they ever do is breed. /And wops ‘n micks ‘n slopes ‘n spics/’n spooks are on my list./And there’s one little hebe from the heart of Texas/— is there anyone I missed ?”

The Kinkstah: Not what the Canadians want to hear — or see

When you get down to it, it might just be worth lodging a complaint, simply to lure Kinky before the committee to explain himself. I don’t think he’s been up here since his last El Mocambo gig, whenever that might have been. It might only take one brief sighting of the Kinkstah, approaching the bench with stogie-in-hand and Stetson-clamped-over-brow, to settle everything down at the CBSB, for once and  permanently. A single, potent visual cue could be all it would take to save the committee’s fragile ears from the prospect of ever again encountering a discouraging word.


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