Top Menu

Gringo! Faggot! Is there still a place for context in radio?

There are two controversies raging in radioland right now over the appropriateness of words broadcast across the airwaves. One of them is playing itself out in Canada; the other in the United States. The Canadian debate involves the word “faggot”; the US involves the articulation of the word “gringo.”

Following these discussions, I’m wondering if there’s any tolerance for context anymore in either country.

The Canadian brouhaha comes in the wake the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council’s decision to declare Dire Straits song ‘Money for Nothing’ “unacceptable for broadcast” over the 760 private radio and TV stations that it represents. The CBSC made this call when somebody complained about a stanza in the tune after hearing it streamed on an FM station in Newfoundland:

“The little faggot with the earring and the make-up / Yeah, buddy, that’s his own hair / That little faggot’s got his own jet airplane / That little faggot, he’s a millionaire”

Invoking its Code of Ethics the CBSC’s Atlantic Panel determined that “[L]ike other racially driven words in the English language, ‘faggot’ is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so.” Thus the song had fallen “into the category of unacceptable designations on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.”

But critics of this decision noted that the song doesn’t endorse the epithet. Rather, it is sung from the perspective of a bitter kitchen appliance mover bitter and jealous at the easy lives of rock stars.

The Gay/Lesbian news site Xtra concedes that ‘Money for Nothing’ is offered from “the perspective of a homophobic dick,” but argues that it “certainly doesn’t glorify him or his detestable opinions. Rather, it ridicules his viewpoint.”

Now Canada’s main broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission, has received so many complaints about the CBSC decision, that it has asked the Council to reconsider.

I’m arguing with myself over this controversy. One side of my brain acknowledges that the word in question is an incitement to violence. But the other side thinks that media associations and regulators have to pay at least some attention to the context in which words are said before they effectively ban them from their respective realms.

The same goes for the food fight over the use of the word “gringo” on National Public Radio this month. Everybody got all bent out of shape when writer Daisy Hernandez did a POV commentary in which she mentioned how relieved Arizona Latinos were that the man who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wasn’t one of them.

“My eyes scanned the mobile papers,” she confided. “I held my breath. Finally, I saw it: Jared Loughner. Not a Ramirez, Gonzalez or Garcia.”

“It’s safe to say there was a collective sigh of brown relief when the Tucson killer turned out to be a gringo. Had the shooter been Latino, media pundits wouldn’t be discussing the impact of nasty politics on a young man this week— they’d be demanding an even more stringent anti-immigrant policy.”

Following the resultant uproar on Fox News and elsewhere, NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard weighed in on the controversy.

Hernandez “made a valid, thought-provoking point. If only she hadn’t used the word ‘gringo’,” Shepard noted. “Instead of a thoughtful discussion, the conversation on npr.org, in the blogosphere and on Fox News focused largely” on the use of that word. A “distraction,” she called the term, and “not effective journalism.”

Sadly, if it wasn’t effective journalism, it’s because people don’t want to think. Is there any question but that Latinos in Arizona use the word “gringo” to describe white people? Is there any doubt that when some atrocity happens, ethnics in big cities scrutinize the identity of the culprit to make sure he wasn’t one of them, and employ a variety of epithets to express their anxiety or relief, including “goy,” “honky,” “nigger,” “spic,” “yankee,” or similar terms in reference to themselves or others?

There’s no doubt in my mind that this happens every day. But as long as nobody acknowledges it on the radio, we are fine. Does context mean anything any more? Or, mindful of our increasingly polarized sensibilities, should we just ban all coarse but honest references from the airwaves?


Just one dollar a month makes you a patron of Radio Survivor. Help us through our Patreon Campaign!


LinkedInRedditTumblrPinterestInstapaperGoogle GmailShare

, , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes