January 18, 2022

Is it OK if ‘Fairytale of New York’ has got a homophobic slur in it?

Fairytale of New York is a late-twentieth century Christmas classic.

The uncomfortable truth about it though, is that one of the lyrics contains the word ‘faggot’, a homophobic insult.

For some people, I would imagine, this is enough for the song to be shunned, packed away and forgotten about.

I wonder what gay people, over the last forty years, thought and continue to think about the song. Are they bothered?

For some, perhaps, one ought to take into account the fact that the song, in some ways, is theatre, rather than a representation of what the singers actually think and feel. Listening to Fairytale of New York is like watching a play, with realistic homophobic language in it. It is realism, not political advocacy, and so acceptable. The problem with this argument is that songs are never just theatre are they? Especially when they become a shared cultural habit, in which some appreciate the theatre, and others take on the position and perspective of one of the characters as they sing.

Some choirs, who like singing contemporary Christmas stuff, I’ve noticed have taken out the word ‘faggot’ and replaced it with something that is an insult of kinds, but not a homophobic one. I’m not sure this move works particularly well. The word faggot becomes ever more conspicuous by its absence, at least to those who know the song well. And in any case if there is a problem with the homophobic nature of the word, shouldn’t the whole song be binned for its homophobic content?