Radio 1 vs Fairytale of New York

Last night I went to Birchington to have a few drinks with Abi who was down from London, and as I was drinking I got a taxi home. The taxi driver was racist, sexist, homophobic, and in general an idiot and not the person I would ever want to have a conversation with, but I found myself having to spend ten minutes with him on my journey back.

Out came a ?joke? about ?Paki?s?, and then he started talking about his wife?s phone he had borrowed, and because he couldn?t get to grips with it he kept referring to it as ?gay?. These were just a couple of highlights of my journey, although him having a conversation on his phone, one hand on the wheel, and driving at 50mph in the dark on country roads was also exhilirating to say the least.

I thought I?d post about this as yesterday Radio One caused a bit of debate by deciding to edit the words ?faggot? and ?slut? from the Pogues? Fairytale of New York, a song that has been played unedited for the past twenty years. The BBC had said that an edited version would be played because ?some members of the audience might find it offensive?, although they?ve now reversed this decision after public outcry and will continue playing the original.

So when is it acceptable to use somewhat derogitary language, and where does political correctness come in? I guess it all has to do with perspective and situation, although even then I don?t think there?s a definitive answer.

I believe the taxi driver was completely in the wrong, letting me into his small-minded world by engaging me in that conversation. These words were his own, and although he may have thought he was being light-hearted, they were still words that cause offence and had no place in the conversation. They could?ve been replaced with a multitude of other words, but instead he chose to use ?gay? as meaning the phone was rubbish, instead of just calling it ?rubbish?. I wonder if he realised that he was being offensive? Yes he could be ?edited? to remove those words from his vocabulary but it woudl be better for him to be educated to understand, but I doubt that will happen.

Now let?s get back to Fairytale of New York:

You?re a bum, you?re a punk, you?re an old slut on junk,
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed.
You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot,
Happy christmas your arse, I pray God it?s our last

?Faggot? and ?slut? are definitely used in a derogitary manner, although these words are not derogitary to me but I can see how they can cause offence to others, and so maybe there is a case for their removal? I believe they are used for effect and I think the song should be viewed as a whole, realising that the lyrics sung by Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan are the words of the characters in the song and not their own personal thoughts.

For that reason, the song should remain as it is. On film, offensive words are used all the time, and it would be terrible if everyone was to be edited to a more politically correct version. There may be an argument that the song shouldn?t be played to impressionable people who may not understand the true meaning of ?faggot? or how ?slut? can offend, and may be tempted to repeat, but where do we draw the line then?

There are songs such as Elephant Man?s ?We Nuh Like Gay? in which the focus is entirely on inciting and promoting homophobia: “Queers must be killed! Take them by surprise”, and there is no way that you could dismiss the lyrics in the song as anything else. ?Fairytale of New York? is a great song with a couple of questionable lyrics, where as ?We Nuh Like Gay? is a whole song which is truely abhorrent.

No doubt I will enjoy singing along to ?Fairytale of New York? this Christmas and I hope I don?t offend, but I certainly won?t be teaching the lyrics to any youngsters.

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12 Responses to Radio 1 vs Fairytale of New York

  1. Nils says:

    Great post. I actually referred to that song only a minute ago. It?s one of my favourites for the season and a wry, romantic masterpiece.

    I suppose that?s what this is about. FToNY is art, poetry, drama. Like you say, it?s the words of these characters. To the cabby, the terms are instrumental: they really signify his views, thoughts and opinions ? even if he doesn?t fully realize it.

    Glad you survived that hairy ride, though, you son of a bitch ;-)

  2. I was outraged that they had edited these words from the song because it?s a piece of evocative dramatic irony. It?s similar to Randy Newman?s Short People being banned way back when because people took it at face value and thought it was ?shortist?.

    Do Radio 1 have no sense of context? I notice Radio 2 refused to edit it, so perhaps they have more sense of history and irony.

    It?s interesting to me as a ?fictional? blogger, since ECR often says things that are heavily loaded, and quite often mean the exact opposite of what the simple reader might take at face value.

    The taxi driver, on the other hand, sounds genuinely offensive. I know that ?gay? is often used these days to mean ?rubbish? or ?crap?, and as such he was probably using the term without thinking. It?s been hijacked by the masses, so there?s probably nothing that can be done about it now. But Paki jokes are beyond the pale, and I would have told him to shove his phone and taxi up his a*se and walked. Easier to say than do, though, especially when it?s late at night and all you want to do is get home.

  3. Aravis says:

    I think it?s great that the radio station was forced to play it properly again.

    As for the slang term ?gay? for ?rubbish,? that?s been around since the early 80?s at least. It was common when I was in school, used thoughtlessly by most. I wouldn?t say it now, though.

  4. Adem says:

    The throwaway use of ?gay? always gets me as about 5 or 6 years back I used to use it and didn?t really think much about it until I started working with someone who was gay. It was then I realised what I was actually saying. Lesson learnt, although I hear it all the time, and do usually try to point that out to people, but the taxi driver was an exception as I doubt it would?ve penetrated his little head.

  5. jonny says:

    I agree about the casual racism but to be honest mate if you have a problem with people using gay for something that is rubbish and as an insult then you need to get a whole new bunch of friends. You big gaylord.

  6. Adem says:

    I guess that it?s a little funny in our circle of friends as none of us is gay (not that I know of), and so these little things slip by. It?s an odd one this, because I?m sure that if this changed then we?d soon find outselves watching what we say.

    So just because there is no one to offend does it mean it?s fine to say it behind closed doors? Tricky situation as I don?t want to be a hyprocrite but we do have jokes about being gay in our group and it seems fine because everyone else is laughing, but maybe it shouldn?t be.

    I suppose it also depends on how a person can take a joke. We all take the piss out of each other for being either fat, foreign, epileptic, nerdy, etc and I think we know where to draw the line, so I suppose if everyone is being insulted then it?s fine! ;)

  7. Michael says:

    The entire point behind language and offense is somehow based on the users intention. I?ll use the ?gay? part as an example.

    If I were to make a remark about someone or something and used the word ?gay? to someone who doesn?t know me, or anything about me, might think I?m a homophobe.

    Anyone who does know me would laugh it off as those close to me know that I have no problems hanging out at gay bars with my brother and his boyfriend.

    Then again, one also has to know their audience well enough to speak in a certain manner. It appears neither the cab driver, nor Radio One, really knew theirs.

  8. Booster1 says:

    This blog is well gay. I like it. Call me on 2 tiger for dirty thumbs. Mwa!

  9. j. says:

    I find myself using ?gay? to mean ?rubbish? accidentally now and then, most likely to to its prevalence during my youth. I don?t like it though.

    I?ve never heard this song, so I don?t have strong feelings one way or the other.

    On an unrelated note, I heard a nasty rumor today that pubs in the UK close at 11pm???!? Why!?!!?

  10. John Pynchon says:

    Happy Christmas, Adem.

  11. Cheezy says:

    Great post. Personally, I could write a book entitled ?Racist Taxi Drivers I Have Met?? both in England and in New Zealand? There are that many of them about?

    As I?m a bit of a ?skinhead? these days, most of these people seem to assume that I?d be a willing audience to their racist diatribes/jokes?

    These days though, i?m often replying with something like: ?I?m sorry mate, but you appear to have mistaken me for a redneck!?.

  12. tony flaig says:

    Seems sad that anyone should actually change the way they feel just as a result of PC bullies, the reference to faggot or even slut to me had no other intent other than being casual insults that may well occur in real life.

    I think we are gradually having our thoughts emasculated, by self important crazies. Sexual preference is a natural thing as is language, so when people try to restrict my choice of words, that are acceptable (particularly using american slang definiitions) it frankly gets right on my tits (in a non-sexest, non derogatory way)

    I suggest that you read George Orwells 1984 and understand how language can be hijacked. Bad becomes ungood, I?m not sure what complete bollix is in New speak.

    Prior to this, bull coming out of Radio 1 few would have had any awareness of the negative homosexual reference, why would they most people are not that obsessive.


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