There's a great story about Dame Judi Dench, in which a London cabbie yells at her, "You stupid cunt!" and Dench replies, "That's Dame Cunt to you!" Brilliant, whether it's true or not. The dame/diva brandishes wit as a weapon. Shirley Bassey's brilliant new album - more on it soon - has a track written for her by Rufus Wainwright. It's called Apartment (hear it below) and one line leaps out:
I don't want to kiss that faggot froggyLyrically, the song features a lot of references to fables and children's stories like Rapunzel and Cinderella, so the full line is
I don't want to kiss that faggot froggy / Don't want to fall in love with the beast or the beauty / Get me out of this, this here fairytale / According to me, dreams are hell.
In these situations, we have to look at what we already know: That Rufus is a literate, gay writer with a dry sense of humor. That Bassey has a legion of gay fans and her own dry sense of humor. That, in context, it seems to mean priss... or something. When she performed it at Electric Proms, she highlighted it with a smile. There is clearly no malicious intent.
But in these situations, it's hard not to look at the flip side of what we know: That faggot, when used in a certain tone and context, is a truly vicious word, in my opinion far worse than a word like fairy (which, in this case, would have been a pun). It's unlikely Wainwright would have "co-opted" any other fill-in-the-blank derogatory term and equally unlikely the label would have allowed said word onto the album, Shirley's "grand return."
Rufus Wainwright is often too clever for his own good. Why bait Bassey? But then, I suspect a Dame calls her own shots.
What do you think?