Queen Latifah used her monarchical powers to marry 33 couples at the Grammys last night. Some of those couples were gay. Macklemore sang his song "Same Love." No straight marriages were harmed by last night's proceedings.
Macklemore's song includes the lyric, "Call each other faggots behind the keys of a message board." He sang that, un-bleeped by network censors. That's cool, in context, that word shouldn't offend any people. Meanwhile, Kendrick Lamar had half of m.A.A.d City bleeped out, probably because of his prolific use of the N-word.
Are there laws regarding this, or are the people at CBS just making things up as they go along?
Contrary to popular belief, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not ban specific words. There aren't seven words you can't say on network television. The FCC bans "obscene" speech, so arguably there are hundreds of words that could be strung together in a prohibited way, depending on the tightness of your wad.
The FCC only acts when they receive public complaint about programming. In 2012, there was a backlog of 1.4 million such complaints, but a recent Supreme Court ruling encouraged the FCC to get its act together and come up with some more clear rules for broadcasters. People complain about all sorts of things. Check this out to see some of the best FCC complaints form the Miley Cyrus MTV performance.
Realistically, there are only two words that will get your network automatically slapped, and I think we all know what they are: dropping F-bombs will get you in a load of waste. For pretty much everything else, if the FCC gets a complaint, its staff will look to the context of the language. And that brings us back to Macklemore. In the context of a special marriage ceremony, in the context of a song about the unequal treatment of gays and lesbians, Macklemore's use of the otherwise offensive word "faggot" shouldn't result in an obscenity fine. In fact, it's unlikely that most people even noticed the non-bleeped use of the word (it's at about the 2:26 mark):
But the Grammys are nothing if not hopelessly behind the culture of music. Kendrick Lamar also "sang a song" during the Grammys... and it should make the Grammy people feel bad for not honoring his work this year. Macklemore even apologized to Lamar for "robbing" him. Interestingly, Lamar's rendition of m.A.A.d City was so heavily edited you might have thought your cable was cutting out during the performance:
Now... there are a lot of F-bombs and N-words in m.A.A.d City. It's probably not that surprising that CBS censors worked overtime on that one. But it is interesting that when it comes to the N-word, context be damned. Shouldn't the FCC be just as able to distinguish offensive context around the N-word as it is regarding anti-gay slurs?
Don't get me wrong: lots of people think the N-word should be just as "banned" as any of the traditional dirty words. Lord knows, the last thing anybody wants to see at an awards show is Brad Paisley and LL Cool J working out their racial issues on stage.
But legally, CBS didn't have to bleep Lamar like he was a Hobbit humping the Imagine Dragons. We could live in a world where everybody got the benefits (or consequences) of context.