The VMAs were scheduled at the same time as True Blood. I bet you can imagine which one I was watching until a frantic call came thru the line from a trusted pop culture colleague. Before even saying “hello”, she said, “Quick! Quick! Turn to the VMAs!” Like many other people watching the original broadcast, this is what I saw:
Just one day after the 912er march on Washington DC that exemplified white racial anxieties about the supposed “entitlement” of black men, Kanye West got up on stage and took the microphone from a 19 year old [white] girl whose fan base is from similar areas. As first time winner Taylor Swift stood there confused, Kanye told the world that Beyonce (a multi-VMA winner and adult [black] woman) deserved her award. Swift had just gotten done saying how she had always dreamed of winning a VMA, and at her age, the VMA likely still has major relevance.
Regardless of the racial dynamics of this event, West’s behavior during and after the VMAs was appalling. While MTV awards have had streakers during acceptance speeches before, I cannot remember a single instance, on any award show, in which some one had the audacity to take the microphone from the winner and denounce them for the world to see. Moreover, I do believe that West felt he would get away with such a heinous stunt because Smith is young, female, and a country music/tween pop star. In other words, he was relying on misogyny and urban-rural divides to dismiss the chosen winner. And given his other outbursts at the VMAs, I would not be surprised if he also felt justified in praising Beyonce at Taylor Swift’s expense because she is white and he believes the VMAs are racist. And while he has a point about the recent trend toward awarding mostly white artists in categories usually dominated by black musicians, historically the VMAs have awarded more black musicians than other award shows and more recently the dividing line between award winners and losers has been more about Viacom’s holdings, Disney’s promotional machine, and other capitalist interests that require a deeper analysis of racism in the industry as a whole than Kanye’s accusations allow. Regardless, Taylor Swift cannot be held responsible for how the industry runs and did not deserve to be punished for their actions, perceived or otherwise.
Getty Image/frm mtv.com
Kanye’s self-righteous indignation did not end with his [forced] exit from the VMAs shortly afterward. A reporter on twitter reported getting a text about Kanye losing it in his car while his entourage looked on at a stop light a little ways from the award show. Then he posted “an apology” in which he seemed to belittle Taylor Swift’s musical talent, re-praise Beyonce’s video, and reiterate that Swift did not deserve the award:
It is inconceivable to me that any man would feel this justified in humiliating any teenage girl, especially in an internationally televised forum. That he did it 1 day after racial tensions in this country threatened to erupt in the nation’s capital is the height of racial ignorance. All across the internet people have are using derogatory racial language to discuss Kanye’s behavior and the racist spectre of black misogyny has crystalized around a man who once so astutely critiqued the racial divides in this country during Katrina.
Where we once saw a man brave enough to take on a President for failing to act while N. Americans were dying, now all we see is a self-absorbed fool. For racists, West has not only undermined those moments when has been astute about racism in this nation but also provided the perfect image of so-called reverse discrimination for them to project even more their racial fears:
Make no mistake, Kanye West’s misogyny in this moment is all his own. It was neither condoned nor applauded by any other person at the awards nor watching from home.
Luckily, Beyonce stood up for girls everywhere when she spoke about her own excitement at her first VMA Show and her first win as a teenager. Refusing the easy categories that Kanye West relied on, Beyonce gave up her spotlight on the stage to give Taylor Swift back her moment.
Female musicians, regardless of race, were quick to check West’s misogyny as well. Katy Perry, who Taylor Swift had tweeted about being excited to see at the VMAs, tweeted a simple critique:
FUCK U KANYE. IT’S LIKE U STEPPED 0N A KITTEN.
while calling Beyonce her hero.
Pink, who put in an amazing “tight rope performance” with a special nod to Little Kim, tweeted about how offensive West was:
Kanye west is the biggest piece of shit on earth. Quote me. My heart goes out to taylor swift. She is a sweet and talented girl and deserved her moment. She should know we all love her.
Realizing that race would also become part of the interpretation of this event, Pink also praised Beyonce:
Beyonce is a classy lady.I feel for her, too.Its not her fault at all, and her and taylor did their thing. And douche bag got kicked out. HA
Former AI winner, and fellow nominee for the award Swift ultimately won, Kelly Clarkson wrote a blog post, connecting the sexist dots by comparing West to her cheating her ex-boyfriend and offered him her own award to be silent in the future:
I think we’re all just curious as to what would make a grown man go on national television and make a talented artist, let alone teenager, feel like shit . . . It’s absolutely fascinating how much I don’t like you. I like everyone. I even like my asshole ex that cheated on me over you…which is pretty odd since I don’t even personally know you.
She too praised Beyonce for standing up for women and girls in the wake of Kanye’s behavior.
Insults about Kanye’s behavior and tweets to or in praise of Taylor Swift from a wide cross section of twitter users has made the incident the trending topic at twitter since the first airing of the VMAs. And people trying to tell Kanye West directly that his behavior was out of line has crashed his website.
Ultimately, Kanye West’s ongoing outbursts at the VMA demeans actual racism, even when he is pointing to it, and actual artists/musicians. His behavior today upped the ante with a particularly misogynist self-involvement that insulted a teenage girl and an industry. And while all eyes are on Taylor Swift, his actions slighted many female performers tonight.
Pink/ Getty/ mtv.com
Both Pink and Lady Gaga put in jaw dropping performances no one is likely to be talking about tomorrow.
He not only dragged Beyonce into the middle of a racialized gender nightmare, which she gracefully extradite herself from, but eclipsed Madonna’s somewhat-problematic tribute to Michael Jackson in which she critiqued the treatment of child stars, and Janet Jackson’s first public performance in honor of her brother.
Miss Jackson, unaware of Kanye’s behavior tweeted:
I hope u guys enjoyed us tonight. It was very special for me
That specialness, the specialness of saying goodbye, of righting the wrongs of BET, and of two women who worked so hard to be at the top of the pop game, Beyonce and Swift, was all stolen by a self-absorbed man whose music and critical eye have taken a back seat to his offense.
While True Blood played of f of the myth of the black rapist and the dangerous black criminal for its season finale, Kanye West offered himself for similar comparisons in real life. What he has cost himself will likely fail to be the teachable moment he so clearly needs. What he has cost black people, especially black men, in terms of public perception is likely unquantifiable.
ABC reporter breached “off the record” to tweet about President’s reaction to Kanye West:
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TerryMoran: Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a “jackass” for his outburst at VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT’S presidential.
So much for all of the racist commenters on the internet who compared this to the Skip Gates incident and said the President would either side with Kanye West or refuse to weigh in because he secretly sided with Kanye West. This is why I said this misogynist self-absorbed incident was going to be seen as a race issue.