TORONTO — A gay rights organization is applauding the decision that deemed Dire Straits’ 1985 hit “Money for Nothing” unacceptable for Canadian radio.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council decided on Wednesday that the song violates part of the broadcast industry’s code of ethics because the lyrics include the word “faggot” three times.
Egale Canada executive director Helen Kennedy says it’s the right decision, given the recent high-profile suicides of teenagers who were the subject of homophobic and transphobic bullying.
“I think it’s extremely important to take these words out of lyrics in popular culture,” Kennedy said in a telephone interview Thursday. “It perpetuates the stereotype, it’s negative and it’s offensive. If you look to the origin of the word, it’s disgusting.
“And you know, I really do think that it should not be part of anybody’s lyrics or playbook.”
The scrutiny of the Dire Straits song was prompted by a listener of radio station CHOZ-FM in St. John’s, N.L., who complained last year about the lyric.
The panel noted that “Money for Nothing” would be acceptable for broadcast if suitably edited.
The decision comes as controversy is still swirling over a Montgomery, Ala., publisher that has issued a censored version of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that replaces the word “nigger” with “slave.”
Kennedy said that listeners should simply enjoy the edited version of “Money for Nothing.”
“It’s not as if the song is being taken off the air, there is an edited version out there because people realized that it was offensive,” she said.
“So I definitely think that it sends a positive message: ’This word is not acceptable. Don’t use it.”’
Brad Muir, director of operations for classic rock stations C103 in Moncton and FRED FM in Fredericton, says he wasn’t “all that surprised” by the ruling.
His stations actually decided to edit “Money for Nothing” about two years ago.
“I had one phone call about the song a couple years ago,” he said in a telephone interview. “The person wasn’t necessarily overly angry, it wasn’t like a massive complaint, I didn’t get into a big fight with them at all, they just said they found it kind of offensive. They didn’t ask us to stop playing the song. They just said: ’Is there anything you can do?’
“Because whether the intent of the word is meant to be offensive or not, it doesn’t really matter. It’s how kids hear it nowadays. So it wasn’t that big of a deal for me. I just went and edited it and I’ve never heard anybody complain about it being edited either.”
The controversy over “Money for Nothing” actually isn’t new.
Even back in ’85 when the song hit No. 1 on the charts in Canada and the U.S., songwriter Mark Knopfler responded to accusations of homophobia by pointing out that the lyric was meant to be ironic and written from the viewpoint of a “stupid” character, as the singer explained to Rolling Stone.
The song, co-written by Sting, was a massive hit when it was released, winning a Grammy and spawning a massively popular music video that featured crude computer animation and became interwoven with the popularity of the then-fledgling music network MTV.
Muir said it’s still an essential for radio playlists.
“That song is a staple in classic rock formats, absolutely,” he said. “That’s one of the top testing songs, that’s one of the primary songs that all classic-rock stations play, all the time. And there aren’t many like that.
“There’s probably only 10 or 20. That’s up there with ’Sweet Home Alabama’ and ’You Shook Me All Night Long’ and ’Stairway to Heaven’ and all of those classic-rock staple songs that every station plays.”