Unless you’ve been trapped under a rock for the six weeks or you don’t have a Twitter account, you’ll be aware of the current debate surrounding the well-loved Christmas classic, ‘Fairytale of New York’ by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. Specifically, the use of a homophobic slur in said song. The infamous line “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy f**got” is the subject of a lot of controversy, as many people from the LGBT community are – justifiably – uncomfortable with having to hear that word on repeat throughout the Christmas season. As well as suggesting that the word in question be censored when it’s played on the radio, people from the LGBT community are asking cishet people to refrain from singing it, simply because of the weight that carries.
Seems fair to me. I’m speaking as a bisexual woman who, as I’m not out to a lot of people and have only ever been in straight-passing relationships, hasn’t experienced discrimination based on my own sexual orientation. However, I do have empathy and compassion for those who have and I would never do anything to trigger upsetting feelings. I love the song, but to be honest, that one little word isn’t what makes it for me. It’s an absolute banger without it too, and removing it just means that people who find it particularly offensive won’t have to hear it. Shane McGowan said he doesn’t have a problem with people censoring it, so what harm can it do? But, as with any issue like this, there’s backlash.
People – straight people – are becoming absolutely furious at this. Common arguments include “It’s only a song, grow up!” (yes, popular culture is always immune to political correctness, which is why we still laud Birth of a Nation as a brilliant work of art – wait a second) “It was written in 1987” (yeah, when homosexuality was still illegal in Ireland. Times marches on) “It’s not actually being used in a homophobic context, the word also refers to a lazy person” (okay, now you’re just grasping at straws). Even ignoring how weak a lot of these defenses are, it truly baffles me how opposed people are to simply showing a bit of basic decency.
Heterosexual people can’t seem to understand the weight that that slur carries. And that’s understandable in itself: the word wasn’t designed to hurt them. To the privileged, that word is just a word, to others, it’s a violently offensive insult that might trigger painful memories. My point is this: if the word wasn’t meant to offend you, why are you saying “it shouldn’t be removed because I’m not offended by it”? It doesn’t make sense.
But let’s face it: the ‘Fairytale of New York’ debate is only one issue in a larger debate. Go to any festival and you’ll see white people belting out the N word used in rap songs, do a Google search on Versatile’s song ‘Dublin City Gs’ and you’ll see people defending the racist lyrics because “it’s only a song”. Privileged people, it seems, have always chosen to be blind to certain standards that others want to hold them to when it comes to art. If it’s not real life, it doesn’t matter, or so they say.
It’s a debate that’s been going on for a while, and it probably will go on for a while. However, maybe it’s time to take a look at who is having this debate. Straight people are well within their rights to have an opinion on this controversy, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be shouting over the people who are actually offended and belittling their experiences. We need to listen to these people, take what they’ve said into consideration, and then just censor the damn word because its absence won’t hurt anyone. Oh, and by the way: if you know that there’s someone in the LGBT* community within your earshot who hates that word in the song and you still shout it out when the song comes on the radio, cop on. That’s a level of petty I’m not going to respect.