Thursday night was a hot one for retweets. Kanye West ripped into Jimmy Kimmel over a sketch the latter commissioned in which a child reads quotes from West’s interview with BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe.
West was truly enraged, indicting Kimmel for mocking him by saying the comic was “out of line to try and spoof the first piece of honest media in years” and telling Kimmel that he doesn’t “take it as a joke.” “You don’t have scumbags hopping over fences trying to take pictures of your daughter,” West claimed before devolving into pure rage and accusing Kimmel of leading a sexless life and having an artless face.
For some, it was just another of West’s “rants,” another time that Angry/Crazy/Unhinged Kanye West let his ego get the best of him. Those people are basic.
Kanye’s greatest genius might not be music or Air Yeezys or anything you can listen to or hold, but his self-fashioned status as a mirror: The collective American reaction to Kanye is and has always been a damning look into how we choose to see people. West was a beloved, even cute performer to America back when he was wearing Polo shirts and smiling his way through interviews. But now, the man usually clad in black leather and a scowl challenges dominant media narratives at every turn and gets hell to pay for it.
Let’s talk about what Kanye actually said in his interview with Zane Lowe. He said that he feels he’s not respected as a designer by white executives in the fashion world. He contrasted his shut-out from corporate branding and designing deals to those worlds’ embrace of Lady Gaga. He noted that he’s the biggest rock star on the planet.
Where did he lie? Which one of those statements is not only true, but obvious to anyone who doesn’t force themselves to believe in the myth of a post-racial America? Are we really mad because Kanye thinks black creatives have a harder time being taken seriously than white creatives, or are we mad because Kanye is confident enough to say it out loud?
Kimmel’s spoof was insulting because, as Ayesha Siddiqi noted last night, the sketch “didn’t even change his words, they literally replaced him with a child. That’s how White America sees Kanye and that’s his battle.”
“Kimmel did everything Kanye kept explaining always happens to him, not being taken seriously as a black creative,” Siddiqi continued. (Her whole set of tweets from last night should probably be required reading.)
West’s anger must be considered in its full context: The rapper has been a lightning rod because he has repeatedly spoken his mind on his own timetable. What has West done to turn so many people against him? He gave voice to a common sentiment about George Bush, interrupted Taylor Swift and occasionally lashes out at paparazzi whose job it is to ruin his life and have fun doing it.
We live in a world where countless celebrities have engaged in horrific acts of domestic violence and continue to work, and yet America is upset about a visionary creative who doesn’t always say the politically correct thing.
Adding insult to injury, Kimmel’s response to Kanye’s comments was predictably dismissive. On Thursday’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the comedian gleefully deemed himself in a “rap beef” (because, yes, rappers can only have “rap beefs,” they can’t just be hurt, offended or wronged) and admitted that he didn’t really know much of what Kanye was even talking about (a copout). But worse still, Kimmel claimed there were two Kanye’s, a “bad Kanye” who was behind Thursday’s tweets and “a good Kanye West, who posed for a picture with my dad.”
Obviously, there are not two Kanye’s. There is one Kanye, who poses for pictures with people’s dads, cries about his mother’s passing on national television and is endearingly defensive of his baby daughter’s privacy. It’s this same Kanye who gets mad when he gives risky testimony to having experienced racism only to have his words voiced by a child in a mocking sketch.
It’s easier for Kimmel, a “Man Show” alumnus who built his career cracking bro jokes while women in bikinis jumped on trampolines and prides himself on trolling news outlets, to dismiss real criticism as part of some foreign monster that fuels “Bad Kanye.” It’s easier for him because he’s lazy, and because he knows he can get away with it.
Because, after all, who’s going to take the side of an angry black rapper when there’s a grinning white comic on a major U.S. television network to stand behind? The deck is stacked in his favor.