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This song is widely misinterpreted, which generated a great deal of exposure for the song and controversy for Newman. On the surface, the song is making fun of little people, but "short" is meant in a figurative sense, intending to poke fun at people who are short-tempered and small-minded, which is quite the opposite of the literal meaning. A lot of people didn't get the joke and thought of Newman as a bigot. Many radio stations refused to play it.
At first, Newman sings about Short People as having "nasty little feet," "stubby little fingers" and "dirty little minds," but he makes his statement clear near the end of the song when he sings, "Short People are just the same as you and I. All men are brothers until the day they die." (thanks, Eric - Sandusky, OH)
The Guardian newspaper July 28, 2008 asked Newman if realized from the start that this song's irony would be a tough sell. He replied: "I didn't. I thought, all you gotta do is listen. It's not like it's James Joyce. [Then] I realized the medium wasn't great for that. People don't listen to music like that, where they're actually listening. They're doing all kinds of things. It's just an irritation."
Newman has recorded other songs that examine and mock bigotry, notable "Rednecks" and "Half A Man." In 2003, when The Sunday Times asked about people missing the point of his songs, Newman replied: "To write indirect songs with characters that aren't yourself as the narrator is not the best way to achieve commercial success. I mean, irony, who's got the time? But it's what I do, and it's what I can't help but do. I couldn't write like Elton John if I tried."
Newman explained to the Chicago Tribune that he was adopting the role of, "a nut that no one would take seriously." He added: "I would never write a song to make fun of someone or something. What I'm making fun of his people's callousness and insensitivity."
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