Thursday, 20 January 2011
News from the Witchfinders General (a kind of homicide)
So keen are the new Puritans to stop our ears with their horny fingers that often they don’t bother to listen in the first place to the material they’re rushing to place under interdict.
A song is the latest victim of their asphyxiation: Money for Nothing by Dire Straits. According to The Guardian (January 17):
“Although it has become a rock'n'roll anthem, Money for Nothing contains three instances of the anti-gay slur 'faggot'. Last week, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) reviewed the song after receiving a complaint from a listener in Newfoundland. Its lyrics were found to be 'unacceptable', contravening the human rights clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' code of ethics. It has been banned from radio stations nationwide.”
“But it is a homophobic song,” said my son. “No it’s not,” I replied. You see, in our contemporary world of accelerated judgment and instant opinion, the CBSC has typically failed before condemnation to allow its victim any kind of close defence, close cross-examination, close reading.
Money for Nothing is a story. Its principal voice belongs to a rancid working class man, red-necked, blue-collared, who’s doomed to spend his days shipping electrical and white goods in and out of a megastore:
We got to install microwave ovens, custom kitchen delivery; we got to move these refrigerators, we got to move these colours TV’s...
MTV is playing in the store – playing, as the story unfolds, the same driving rock anthem we’re listening to. The anti-hero looks, listens and recriminates, reflecting on his own life of hard labour and meagre wages:
That ain’t working, that’s the way you do it – you play the guitar on the MTV. That ain’t working, that’s the way you do it – money for nothing and your chicks for free...
Then he turns bitter, and we hear the familiar equations our parents snarled at us in the sixties: long hair=ambiguous sexuality; rock music=primitive, animal rhythms (there’s an intimation of racism here as well, which the CBSC seems to have missed):
The little faggot with the earring and the make-up – yea buddy, that’s his own hair – that little faggot got his own jet airplane, that little faggot, he’s a millionaire...
What’s that? Hawaiian noises? He’s banging on those bongos like a chimpanzee... That ain’t working, that’s the way you do it &c...
Observe briefly the confusion in the anti-hero’s mind (what pleasures, exactly, can the “little faggot” realise with his free chicks?) and then ask yourself, Q: who is actually singing the song? A: Mark Knopfler. Q: and the character whose complaints, regrets and prejudices Mark Knopfler articulates? who is this character attacking? A: why, the singer-guitarist on the MTV: Mark Knopfler.
It’s a superlative piece of rock music. And it’s a satire, although not without compassion. But homophobic? Should we ban the plays of Athol Fugard because, in denouncing apartheid, he introduces into his drama players who espouse apartheid’s philosophies?
By the way, whose voice do you think it is in Money for Nothing that chants the ethereal refrain – “I want my, I want my MTV”? I’ve always believed that it is the stifled soul of the redneck himself, the vestige of his infant lyricism, which the capitalist system, in preparing him for his treadmill, willfully left unkindled; for a true lyric, as Shelley shows us, is often sung to a lyre draped in a red flag.
As another revolutionary wrote:
“Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. .. We should be wary, therefore, what persecution we raise against the living labours of public men, how we spill that seasoned life of man preserved and stored up in books; since we see a kind of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdom; and if it extend to the whole impression, a kind of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at that ethereal and fifth essence, the breath of reason itself; slays an immortality rather than a life.”