Kanye West appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! last night, discussing the fallout from Kimmel’s already-infamous skit wherein a couple of children reenacted parts of West’s interview with the BBC’s Zane Lowe. West was his usual mix of awkwardness and volubility — the feud over the skit in question was put to bed fairly quickly, with Kimmel explaining his side of the story (including that he hadn’t actually watched the BBC interview) and suggesting his intention hadn’t been to infantilize West. The rest of the segment was devoted to West explaining exactly why the whole thing bothered him so much: “Protecting my ideas and my dreams, and that’s the reason I went so crazy.”
It’s worth looking at how last night’s appearance was reported, because hey, what were we just saying about coded language? Gawker led with an edited version of the interview that seemed to go out of its way to make West look as silly as possible, doing exactly what West was complaining about Kimmel doing — taking certain comments out of context. It came with observations about West mispronouncing “Zara” and pointing out that he apparently had something at the side of his mouth for much of the interview. And the headline? “Here’s Kanye West Ranting for Over Eight Minutes Straight on Kimmel.”
Let’s have a toast for a douchebags! Let’s have a toast for the assholes! Because, actually, West didn’t “rant for over eight minutes straight.” He spoke at length on various topics, becoming heated at times, but generally in a manner that was quite personable. If it were anyone else, we’d call it “speaking out” or “being passionate.” But no, it’s Kanye West, so it’s “ranting.” Let’s remind ourselves of this:
There were parts of the interview where Kimmel spoke at length without being interrupted, but that never gets called “ranting” (and anyway, Gawker conveniently left them out of their video). The story was the same elsewhere — Popwatch went with “Kanye West on Kimmel: epic rant to clarify last rant.” At Huffington Post, it was “Kanye West Buries The Hatchet With Jimmy Kimmel, Goes On EPIC Rant About Everything.”
And then there was TMZ, which concentrated on a small piece of footage toward the end of the interview where West “made it clear last night on Jimmy Kimmel’s show … he will fight the paparazzi with physical force if they cross the line in the sand … the line Kanye has drawn.” Yes, this is what the Internet’s greatest ongoing celebrity crapfest took from nearly half an hour of footage wherein West discussed everything from the connection between classism and racism to the nature of the fashion industry: that scary black man! Attacking photographers with his posse!
Let’s in fact read the entire quote:
The way paparazzi talk to me and my family is disrespectful. We bring something of joy to the world. When people hear my music, they have a good time, and I should be respected as I walk down the street. Don’t ask me a question about something you saw in the tabloids. Don’t try to antagonize me. You know what? It’s not safe for you in this zoo. Never think I’m not from Chicago, for one second. Don’t think you can walk up to me and disrespect me and my family, constantly. People say, ‘Well, you signed up to be a celebrity, blah blah blah… I understand paparazzi. You have to get money. It’s hard out there. But let’s have respect for each other. You do help me get money, paparazzi — you show people how fresh my outfit is. But it’s a lack of decency.
That doesn’t sound quite so unreasonable, does it? If you were reading that quote from, say, Brad Pitt, you might be less inclined to call it a “rant” and more inclined to see it for what it is: the actually kinda understandable frustration of a man who, just like everyone else on the planet, takes a fairly dim view of photographers camping out behind his back fence in the middle of the night.
There’s also been the usual backlash against West’s perceived arrogance, and the fact that he refers to himself as a “genius.” Again, it’s easy to pick out key quotes and say, hey, what a dick: “I’m a creative genius, and there’s no other way to word it.” But if you read the rest of what he had to say, it’s less arrogance and more self-belief: “I know you’re not supposed to say that about yourself. I say things the wrong way a lot of times, but the intention is always positive.”
Perhaps the best expression of this came toward the end of the interview, wherein West explained that his self-belief and confidence are both a manifestation of his ambition and a necessity to survive in his chosen industries:
My mother made me believe in myself. No matter how many people tell me, “Stop believing in yourself. Stop saying what you can do. Stop affirming what you’re gonna do and then completing that in real life. That’s the improper way to do it.” I refuse to follow those rules that society has set up and the way that they control people with low self-esteem, with improper information, with branding, with marketing. I refuse to follow those rules. It’s about truth, it’s about information, it’s about awesomeness.
I dunno about you, but for me, those are words to live by — and they’re also not that far away from the quotes on motivational posters that Middle American assholes who tut-tut about West probably have stuck up in their cubicles at work. Because you know what? There are people in this world who try to bring you down, to cut you down to size, to belittle your work and your opinion. (You need look no further than the comments section of any website on the Internet for an example.) And this is no doubt doubly true if you’re a self-confident black man trying to break into areas that have traditionally been closed to you.
Laugh all you like about leather jogging pants, but West has a point about the under-representation of black people in fashion. And beyond that, really, I’d take a man with ambition and a vision over a thousand small-minded refuseniks any day of the week. I’ll leave the last word to West:
Taste, culture, art, quality of life: this is what I’m here to do. When I compare myself to Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Howard Hughes, David Stern, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Jesus, these are my heroes. These are the people I look up to. This is the type of impact I want to make on the earth.