Monday, May 16, 2011

The New F Word and Kids

Recently, I watched an episode of TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin on my computer. The episode was called "The New 'F' Word," and I had missed it when it first aired in January 2011, despite the fact that a good friend of mine, Charlie Keil, a professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto, was one of Paikin's guests on that occasion. The hour-long show consisted of a discussion of the recent decision by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to ban the Dire Straits song "Money For Nothing" from Canadian airwaves because of its repeated use of the anti-gay slur "faggot."

I was twenty minutes into the show when my 11-year-old daughter, J, walked into the room. Although she did not stay long, I am pleased that she walked in when she did, and saw the show's title displayed across the screen. The ensuing discussion—which occurred while I paused the show, and which I have transcribed below—served as a unplanned continuation of a conversation that began when she was quite young. (See here.) I'm not a big fan of the phrase "teachable moment," but I do believe this was one.

J: Hey, what's Charlie doing on there?

Me: He's a guest on the show.

J: "The New 'F' Word"? What's that? Charlie won't even say the old F word. [She's right! This is revealed near the end of the show, starting at 46:25.]

Me: The new F word is "faggot." It's a pejorative term for "gay." Have you heard it?

J: No. Why are they talking about it?

Me: Because a song containing the word has been banned from being played on the radio.

J: Good.

Me: But it's complicated. In the song, the word is used satirically. Do you want to listen to the song?

J: Okay. [I find the the original version of "Money for Nothing" on YouTube and play it for her.]

Me: So you see, the person saying the word in the song is a character. He doesn't represent the singer's views.

J: I still think he shouldn't say it. But I guess it's like in a story when there's a character you're not suppose to like, who says nasty things.

Me: Yes.

J: Or like in Billy Elliot, when the miners say the old F word because that's the way they would talk in real life. [J and her twin sister have said they do not want to see the stage version of Billy Eliot because of the swearing.]

Me: Sort of. But it's a bit different because the old F word isn't directed at a specific group. The new F word is worse because it targets gays.

J: Yes, but I still don't want to hear either the old or the new F word.

Me: But do you understand why some people might object to the new F word being banned?

J: Sort of. But if it upsets people to hear it, maybe it should be banned.

Me: But, J, in art—in songs or stories or plays—you have to be able to critique ideas or words, and to do that you have to be able to say them. When they're used in that context they're not necessarily hurtful.

J: Maybe you just think they're not hurtful when they're used that way because you're not gay.

Me: Maybe.