“You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy... columnist.” The Christmas culture war comes around earlier every year.

Merry Shitmas and a Crappy New Fear

“It was Christmas season, babe
In the tabloids
An awful columnist said to me, let’s do another one
And then he wrote some guff
The Usual Culture War
I turned my face away
And dreamed about news…”

It seems like it comes round earlier every year — The Christmas Culture War. If it’s not stories about councils replacing Christmas with “winterval” — this never actually happens — or sad-faced people revealing they were duped by a ‘Christmas Wonderland’ that was three pigeons spray-painted to look like penguins and a Santa Claus who is surely on a register, the papers obsess about Christmas song lyrics and ‘PC gone mad’.

The modern classic is a heated and wrong-headed debate about the lyrics of Baby It’s Cold Outside, but there’s another contender for the most pointless political brouhaha over a Christmas classic — the now annual Fairytale of New York farrago. This one hinges on whether broadcasters should play the original 1987 version — which includes the word ‘faggot’, a slur against gay people, and ‘slut’, which I don’t really need to define for you.

Last year, Fairytale of New York found its way back into the headlines because of its inclusion in the Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special, which saw the characters singing the song in its original form, F-word and all. That allowed newspapers and talk radio stations to dedicate a lot of space and time to discussing the issue, as well as setting off a whole butcher’s cabinet full of gammon ganching about the suppression of their human right to scream a gay slur at Christmas time.

This year, the ante has been upped with the BBC itself drawn directly into the artificial scandal as Radio 1 will play an edited version of the song, Radio 2 is playing the original and 6Music is leaving the choice of which track to play up to the DJs. Of course, chancer, cosplaying politician, some time actor, awful singer, and man made of Twiglets, Laurence Fox has expressed his confected anger at this great free speech issue of our times:

His intervention was swiftly followed by a response from The Pogues official Twitter account. They don’t want him on their team:

The reason Fox and his friend Calvin Robinson, the face of the astroturfing Defund The BBC campaign, as well as the usual cabinet of horrors on talk radio stations, are jumping on this story and ginning it up is that it offers a stick to beat the BBC with. It’s the same reason they spun up the artificial controversy around Rule Brittannia and the Proms.

Despite it being clear that The Pogues don’t care, don’t sing the offensive words live anymore, or that the much-missed Kirsty MacColl switched ‘faggot’ for ‘haggard’ long before there was even a ‘controversy’ over the record, doesn’t matter to these people. It is their human right to sing a song from our glorious history in… the 1980s, and anyone who suggests that people screaming a gay slur — whatever the original intent of the record — might be a bad thing is a Communist.

Fox, in particular, has responded petulantly to being put back in his box by The Pogues, quoting their own lyrics back at them:

Quite what he thinks that proves beyond that he has access to Google/Spotify is beyond me. But expect to see him raising this example of “BBC censorship” on a range of tedious talk radio shows and podcasts from the political right over the next few days. Fox used to rely on getting scripts, now he’s dependent on having fresh culture war stories to splutter about, like so many others in the right-wing echo chamber are.

While the compromise — edited for Radio 1, unedited for Radio 2, and a mishmash at 6Music — is a typically clumsy BBC decision, it is not ‘censorship’. The song is available on a wide range of platforms in its original form and the BBC is even broadcasting it unchanged on two out of the three radio stations under discussion.

What the corporation is doing is serving its audience. Radio 1 is a station for young listeners and they don’t want to hear ‘faggot’ and ‘slut’ blasting out. People can make some spurious argument about offensive terms in hip-hop, but when they do it’s very clear what dog-whistle they’re using.

Don’t expect these culture war stories to stop being part of the run-up to Christmas. Like the absurdly early arrival of mince pies in the shops and the seemingly 365-day availability of Chocolate Oranges now, we’ll be arguing about song lyrics forever.

The best Christmas song is Stop The Cavalry by Jona Lewie, anyway…

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