Yours truly is enjoying another Saturday night listening to the radio and doing dishes. I’m listening to KOOL FM – the name alone makes me seem hip, and their tag line is “Halifax’s Greatest Hits.” If their current visual ad campaign is anything to go by, Halifax’s greatest hits have not changed for a while. The advertising features album covers for The Beatles’ Revolver, Elton John’s Greatest Hits, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. In other words, this is an oldies station. Suits me fine – I’m old.
Life in the Fast Lane, by the Eagles, is playing: One of a string of comfortably familiar tunes. Then suddenly the music drops out and there is a tone. Before I can start to wonder how long this technical difficulty will last, the music is back, and I realize the song has been censored. Specifically, the words god dam, in the line “We’ve been up and down this highway; haven’t seen a god dam thing.”
Seriously? Yes, I know the expression is considered offensive, particularly to some religious folks. The third commandment requires that people not damn others in God’s name – that’s His job. And I’ve argued before in this blog that gratuitous swearing is annoying. However, in this case I think the demands of art and meter justify the language. Keep in mind that this line belongs to a character already negatively described, in a song that is critical of the characters’ lifestyle. The easily offended might be more concerned about possible glorification of the lifestyle. In addition, there is the usual context of this song – played with other songs that could easily be considered more offensive. Given the highly offensive nature of many radio songs, why pick on this one?
There’s no legal requirement to censor the song, unlike the brief situation where Money for Nothing had to be censored. Halifax is port city, full of students and military, neither of whom would probably be offended. But on Saturday night, hardly prime radio time, KOOL carries a syndicated American national show. Censorship of this particular tune dates back to 2009 in the States, when an Alabama station started playing an edited version with god removed from goddam.
Obvious censorship almost always defeats the purpose of censorship, by drawing attention to the very thing it hopes to hide. Broadcasters worried about offending an audience with this song should simply not play it – or perhaps wait to see of anyone is actually offended. As for listeners, including myself since there are things I’d rather not hear, there are lots of music choices. If you love certain rock tunes but aren’t always comfortable with the lyrics, and have a sense of humour, check out the Christian parody band ApologetiX. Maybe even listen to “Life in the Last Days.”