If you’re upset about the ‘F’ word in Fairtytale of New York, you are a scrooge
By Gary Nunn
The song, performed by the Pogues and Kristy MacColl, is the most played Christmas song of the 21st century in the UK. (Supplied)
Warning: This story contains language some people may find offensive.
The Christmas party pooper has, over the centuries, taken different guises.
The classic Dickensian scrooge wore an imposing hat and a grimace and said “bah humbug”.
The grinch is a disgruntled green creature written by Dr Seuss who steals Christmas.
But the modern day scourge of Christmas has no candle, imposing hat or green fur.
Instead, they have a well-hammered keyboard in front of them, wear the most po of all po-faces and say:
“Stop playing the Fairytale of New York because it offends me and my LGBTQI+ and non-binary friends”.
And to them I say: bah humbug, mainly because the ABC would probably bleep out what I’d really like to say to them, and precisely where I’d like to shove a mince pie.
Their catchphrase isn’t catchy, their Christmas creation isn’t the result of a literary genius and their cause is virtue-signalling of the emptiest kind.
Including the word faggot was to give authenticity to the song’s character, songwriter Shane MacGowan has said. (Supplied: Youtube)
Now, you may be surprised to be reading it from a writer who identifies comfortably as LGBTQI.
But every year, for the last decade, some humourless sourpuss or other has defaced this classic Christmas number from The Pogues by either bleeping out the word “faggot” in on of the verses or, worse, banned the song altogether from the airwaves.
It is an act of cultural vandalism we must resist.
Thankfully, some certainly are resisting.
Nigel Owens, the first professional rugby union referee to come out as gay, has called to “stop this PC madness” and resolved to listen to the song daily — a most commendable form of resistance.
He has tweeted in response to an Irish radio station who have elected to censor the song this year writing, “Seriously now if we don’t stand up to this stupidity then society is broken”, advising offended listeners to switch off and not “bloody listen to it”.
In a further tweet, he reveals that his favourite meal is “faggots and peas”, preferably home-made by his mother, and ponders whether he can now make such a confession.
He was responding to 2FM DJ Eoghan McDermott who said: “I asked the two gay members of my team how they feel, since faggot is their N word. If people want to slur the gay community, this is their most powerful weapon,” he said.
“One favours censoring, the other outright not playing it. Neither like it. Simples.”
Except, it’s not really that “simples” is it?
He asked two gays? I’m pretty sure the robust minimum quantitative measure of participants in credible research, even for Irish gays, is somewhat higher than two people consulted by the quick flick of a foot on a wheelie chair.
You’ve gotta pick your battles
Other radio stations have reacted differently.
Yannick Lawry, who has held a variety of programming roles across London and Sydney radio stations, including Gaydar Radio, Capital Radio, Nova 96.9, smoothfm and 2GB, said that the word had been reclaimed.
“When I worked at Gaydar Radio in the UK, we’d deviate from our house-heavy playlist and sprinkle in Christmas tunes to mark the season. I remember playing Fairytale of New York often. Staff sang along to every word.
“If anything there was a sense of re-appropriating the F-word which in its context is actually pretty funny.”
Last year, Nick Duffy at the UK’s Pink News wrote that their inbox was once again “flooded” with complaints about Fairytale of New York.
That “flood” has been happening almost annually since Christmas 2007 when BBC Radio 1 bleeped out the “offending” word.
At the time, I managed the Press Office for Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBTQI campaigning charity.
We were flooded ourselves — with calls from journalists (silly season and all that) asking if we supported this censoring.
The response surprised them: we didn’t.
At the time, we said we’d be happier to see Radio 1 take action against the persistently anti-gay DJ Chris Moyles (who regularly used “gay” as a synonym for “inadequate”) rather than bleep one word of a Christmas classic.
In short: pick your battles.
Don’t ditch artistic freedom to please the millennials
BBC Radio 1 reversed its decision: the song was played in all its uncensored, raucous glory.
Those offended by one word in this song are overlooking two crucial elements: context and characterisation.
These are creations of fiction, characters just like Scrooge himself, and the Grinch itself. Their vitriol is subversively affectionate; the scene in the song occurs “in the drunk tank”.
The Pogues lead singer Shane MacGowan last week told the Irish Times he was trying to “accurately portray the character as authentically as possible”.
It seems ludicrous he has even had to come out and explain this.
If we censor works of fiction in this way — songs, novels, films — we can kiss goodbye to the artistic freedom to create anything but sanitised, priggish characters who win the approval of frustrated earnest millennials. Please, no.
If we bankrupt ourselves of occasions when we’re offended, there’ll be no bite or credibility to our complaint that “faggot”, when the last word heard by someone kicked to death, should be concrete evidence that this was a crime of homophobic hate.
Not to mention that few gay men complaining about this seem bothered that the woman is called “an old slut on junk” in the song.
I must concede, there’s a sweetness to the desired sensitivity, especially when you’re considering your audience.
Michael Polh, music director at Australia’s LGBTQI radio station JOY 94.9, said any song with homophobic words wouldn’t be played.
“Our communities have a zero tolerance of hateful language. Simply censoring the word doesn’t fix the problem.
“If an artist believes using that language in a particular context is appropriate, we cannot condone the song as a whole.
“While some might find owning those words empowering, for some it could be a painful experience.”
I’m certainly not going to slam JOY 94.9 who have done what they think is right for their listeners.
But the only joy for me this Christmas will be to tune into an uncensored radio station, settle down with the song’s two loveable rogue characters, belt every last insult, sweet sherry in hand, awaiting the cheeky, gorgeous pointing fingers in my direction as that F-word is sung.
Gary Nunn is no longer a Scrooge. Twitter: @garynunn1