Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Mind your language

It was all over the news this week, when an Australian teacher decided to redraft the lyrics of one his country's best loved songs. Thanks to Principal Garry Martin's delicate sensibilities, the kids at Cheltenham’s Lepage primary school in Victoria found themselves singing about rather less merry kookaburra.

Martin was concerned that the little 'uns might find singing about the 'gay' life of the native Australian fauna might encourage use of the word which is being increasingly used as a one-size-fits-all pejorative. So he changed the lyrics of 'Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree' to "How fun your life must be".

Media reactions were depressingly predictable, although at least the Herald Sun, which originally broke the story, allowed Martin to comment on his actions: “It was my decision to replace it. I guess that was hypersensitive of me. Political correctness is to the fore in schools – what’s appropriate and what isn’t – and sometimes we rightly or wrongly err on the side of caution.”

But this awkwardness around which words are or aren't acceptable is becoming increasingly common. According to a story carried by the Associated Press, a Microsoft Xbox gamer from West Virginia found his online privileges suspended because his registered address was a small town called Fort Gay.

Microsoft's 'slang engines' had added the word 'gay' to their code of conduct regarding offensive language. It's just a good job that the would-be player wasn't logging on from Cockermouth.

Given this knee-jerk reaction to any kind of terminology that may cause upset, it's great to see that some musicians are happy to keep challenging our understanding of the power of language. The latest star to open up the dialogue is heavyweight singer Cee Lo Green - best known as the voice behind Gnarls Barkley and their chart-conquering Crazy. His new song 'Fuck You' looks set to provoke, offend and entertain in equal measure.

Weirdly, it sounds like a peppy, perky sixties finger snapper, and even has a video that pays unofficial tribute to Little Shop of Horrors with its 'sixties girlgroup as Greek chorus' motif. And yet its decidedly adult lyrics seem to deliberately jar with the frothy, upbeat nature of the melody and production. Funnily enough, it's almost exactly the same effect as Lily Allen accomplished last year, with an identically titled song aimed at George W Bush.

It's hard to feel offended when a song is so catchy and engaging - which throws up an interesting question about whether context is important in causing offence. It's all so confusing, it almost makes me long for a more innocent time, when Frankie Goes To Hollywood found themselves banned by Radio One for 'Relax'. Even though the song itself now sounds about as offensive as the minutes of a WI meeting.

1 comment:

  1. Heya , Hi
    Gay is described in the oxford dictionary as merriment.
    If this word should be banned from our usaged as a word that is offensive, maybe the powers that be should look at what it means.But I'm pleased to hear that homosexual people are so merry as it is no simple endevour to come out as a person attracted to the same gender as themselves.We're beyond stoneage (I believe)...Lets all grow up some n let these pebbles go....