Saturday, January 29, 2011

Censorship For Nothin'

According to a Canadian Press story, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has banned the song "Money For Nothing", by Dire Straits, from airplay in Canada following a complaint, received from St. John's, Newfoundland, from an anonymous radio listener who took exception to the following phrase from the song:

That little faggot with the earring and the makeup.
Yeah, buddy, that's his own hair.
That little faggot's got his own jet airplane.
That little faggot he's a millionaire.

Of course, it's the derogatory term "faggot" that got the knickers of both the complainant and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council all bunched up.

One of my personal pet peeves, besides the gratuitous use of alliteration, is runaway political-correctness, and this ruling is a prime example of what I mean. To begin with, it all started with a complaint from one single listener. To the best of my knowledge, there was no groundswell of indignation against the song among the gay community at large, although EGALE Canada has since come out (if you'll excuse the term) in defence of the ruling. Since when does a democratic society make policy decisions based on a complaint from one overly-sensitive malcontent? The album "Brothers In Arms", which included the offending song, was released in 1985. Several songs from the album, including "Money for Nothing" in particular, have proven extremely popular and have been getting a healthy amount of air play all over the world for over 25 years. In all that time, nobody has had a problem with the lyrics. But one person complains, and suddenly censorship is called for?

To be fair, the complaint has since found more supporters. "It perpetuates the stereotype," declared EGALE Canada's director, Helen Kennedy, "It's negative and offensive."

Apparently, neither Helen Kennedy, EGALE Canada, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council or the original complainant would recognize sarcasm if it came up and bit them in the ass (hint: That was an example right there.) The point that all of these politically-correct reactionaries appear to be missing completely is that the song itself is a musical caricature of a certain mentality, and not a flattering one at that. Songwriter Mark Knopfler was clearly lampooning the sort of ignorant, blue-collar mentality that would make such a statement. He wasn't poking fun at gays, he was poking fun at the speaker.

In fact, Knopfler has long ago explained that the song was inspired by an actual conversation that he overheard in an appliance store one day. One of the store's employees was watching MTV on one of its many television monitors and carrying on with a comrade in much the style that is presented in the song. Knopfler found it so amusing that he took out a pad of paper and started scribbling down notes. He later turned it into a song. He was ridiculing the guy.

If everyone was going to get offended from taking everything that they hear and see at its simple face value, then pop stars should be boycotting the song, because it seems to be declaring that they don't really work for a living ("That ain't workin'. That's the way you do it. Money for nothin' and your chicks for free.") Ah, and women should be boycotting the song because the line "chicks for free" surely implies that most females are whores who charge for their services.

The CBSC has since modified its position, agreeing that the song can be aired as long as it is edited; in other words, you can't say "faggot" anymore. I'll go out on a limb here and assume that "homo" and "poofter" are equally verboten. So what do we substitute? We need a two-syllable word that's somewhat derogatory, but not too derogatory. Might I suggest "Newfie"?

In hindsight, it's a good thing that "Les Boys" never received a lot of airplay!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

U.S. Customs Confiscates Bird's Egg

I'm surprised that not one newspaper thought of that headline. I'm referring, of course, to the recent confrontation between the U.S. Customs service and Canadian Lind Bird, after a random search of her car, as she attempted to cross the border into the United States, uncovered dangerous contraband.

Was it weapons? No.

A bio hazard? No.

Terrorist propaganda? No.

The Yusuf Islam record collection? No.

It was (insert strident orchestral chords here) a Kinder Surprise Egg.

For those who don't know (and who haven't yet clicked on the above link), Kinder Surprise Eggs are chocolate eggs which contain a two-piece plastic container that opens to reveal a tiny toy. A television ad produced by the treat's Italian manufacturer, Ferrero, sums it up nicely. Kinder Surprise Eggs combine three of a child's favorite things; candy (chocolate), a surprise and a toy. Some of the toys are quite imaginative and many require assembly. I've often been fascinated by some of the engaging novelty items that Ferrero has managed to cram into their diminutive treats. In fact, they've become collectors' items in their own right.

What fascinates me most about the chocolate eggs is that their outer shell is regular, brown milk chocolate, but the inside of the candy shell, once you crack it open, is white chocolate. How do they do that? It's the grandest mystery since Cadbury's Caramilk bar!

Unfortunately, the U.S. Customs service does not share my admiration of Ferrero's creativity. They seized the candy as illegal contraband, and advised its would-be "smuggler" that she could have been fined up to $300 for trying to take it across the border. Apparently, Kinder Surprise Eggs have been banned in the U.S. because they've been deemed to present a choking hazard to small children.

Now, let me begin by acknowledging my agreement that the tiny toys that come out of these chocolate eggs can, indeed, pose a choking hazard to small children. So can lots of other things. Gum balls, pens, coins, flash memory sticks, paper clips, bottle caps, key fobs, laser pointers, nail clippers... I could go on, but you get the idea. Is U.S. Customs going to start fining people hundreds of dollars for taking any of the above across the border?

Okay, so let's grant that Kinder Surprise Eggs are specifically targeted toward children whereas most of those other items are not and, as such, they may have a higher probability of winding up in the hands (or mouth) of an unsuspecting youngster. But nobody said that Bird had any plans to give the offending treat to a minor. Maybe she was planning to eat it herself. Some grown-ups like them too you know. (I know I do!) In any case, she was clearly unaware that the seemingly harmless eggs were banned in the States and therefore had no knowledge or intent of any wrong-doing. Given that, a $300 fine seems just a bit of an overreaction.

Seems the U.S. Customs service is pretty serious about keeping these malevolent threats out of the U.S. of A. though. This isn't the first time they've stopped one at the border. Officials boast that they've seized over 25,000 of the treats in over 2,000 separate seizures. Well anyway, now we know what they're so busy doing while boxcutter-wielding maniacs stroll unimpeded across their borders.

In a fine display of bureaucratic flare, the United States government has since sent Bird a seven-page letter formally asking her permission to destroy the seized Kinder Surprise Egg. Now, I admit that I have a predilection toward verbosity, but even I would be hard-pressed to fill seven pages asking for permission to destroy a chocolate egg. Maybe they listed all of the possible means of destruction that they would not use; you know, just to reassure the egg's former owner that its final destruction would be humane, painless and quick.

I wonder what the black market price for Kinder Surprise Eggs is in the U.S.? It probably dwarfs even that of other Canadian confections that you can't get south of the border, such as Crispy Crunch, Coffee Crisp and Smarties (which, incidentally, might also present a choking hazard).

Friday, January 7, 2011

What's In A Name?

Here's an interesting comment that I encountered this week:

"It isn't really necessary to specify 'The Clown' after the name 'Bozo'. I mean, what else would he be? Bozo the gynecologist?"

Point well taken. I immediately thought of several other unlikely possibilities, including:

Bozo the neurosurgeon
Bozo the physicist
Bozo the mortician
Bozo the librarian
Bozo the accountant
Bozo the hit man
Constable Bozo
Special Agent Bozo
...and so on.

Let's face it. People have been contemplating the importance of names at least since Shakespeare. I'm of the opinion that one's name does colour peoples' perceptions of the person. That's why Norma Jeane Mortenson changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, and Bernie Schwarz became Tony Curtis. Then there are those who employ reverse psychology, such as Arnold Dorsey, who changed his name to Engelbert Humperdinck.

One of my favorite Bloom County comic strips reveals Berke Breathed's take on the subject (click on it to make it larger):
One last thought: Just as it's not necessary to append "the clown" to the name "Bozo", it is probably equally unnecessary to add the name "Bozo" before "the politician".