I’m Going To Let You Finish

If the casual exposure to pop culture that seeps into our bones like radiation didn’t inform you, then let us repeat: Kanye West made an ass of himself at the MTV Video Music Awards this past Sunday, interrupting Taylor Swift while she was accepting the award for Best Female Video for “You Belong With Me.”

Yo, Taylor. I’m really happy for you; I’mma let you finish. But Beyonce had one of the best music videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!

Kanye-West-grabs-the-mic--001

Is there anything within this perfect storm of pop – self-promoting MC, neo-country tweener star, gorgeous musical diva and the station that no longer plays music videos – that merits overthinking? Maybe. Perhaps if we stretch.

Oh, who are we kidding? This is rife with opportunity.

1. Best Female Video

Why do the VMAs give an award for “Best Female Video”?

That the VMAs have any prestige at all has always seemed odd. The network that awards the Video Music Awards – MTV – is also the single largest broadcaster of music videos. It seems a bit disingenuous to lump consumption, distribution and acclaim in the same venue. It would be like Paramount giving out Paramount Movie Awards, all of the nominees being Paramount pictures by some odd coincidence, and then claiming that these awards had gone to the best movies of the year.

But pop culture awards don’t need a rigorous logic to justify them. Awards exist in order to have award ceremonies.

Awards ceremonies are an easy way of showering the biggest stars in a genre – movies, music, short movies that play music – with more attention. Everyone dresses up in high fashion, parades down the red carpet for hours before hand, and gets free interview time later about how great it was to win (winners) or what an honor it was just to be nominated (losers). And since popular artists require a spotlight to survive, an event with free publicity justifies itself.

marisa-tomei-oscar

Given that award ceremonies are a necessary part of the industry, anything which prolongs an award ceremony is also justified. And nothing prolongs an award ceremony like needlessly multiplying awards.

The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards gave out honors for each of the following categories:

  • Video of the Year
  • Best Male Video
  • Best Female Video
  • Best New Artist
  • Best Pop Video
  • Best Rock Video
  • Best Hip-Hop Video
  • Breakthrough Video
  • Best Direction In A Video
  • Best Choreography in a Video
  • Best Special Effects in a Video
  • Best Art Direction in a Video
  • Best Editing in a Video
  • Best Cinematography in a Video
  • Best Video (That Should Have Won a Moonman)

Is the distinction between Breakthrough Video and Best New Artist worth heralding? Why are separate awards given for Best Rock Video, Best Hip-Hop Video and Best Pop Video – especially since every Pop Video worth watching these days draws heavily on rock or hip-hop? And isn’t Best Video That Should Have Won a Moonman too paradoxical for the young?

Most importantly: why Best Male and Best Female Videos? Are these simply categories added to inflate the total number of awards? Or is there something that distinguishes a Male Video from a Female Video, other than the gender of its star?

One obvious distinction: you never see a male star rolling around nude in a music video, erogenous zones obscured by glitter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5-ZiNwv6kI

9 Comments on “I’m Going To Let You Finish”

  1. lee #

    Is there some coded racism that’s part of this meme/phenomenon? “Taylor is classy, Kanye is a douche. Taylor is country, Kanye is hip hop. Taylor is white, Kanye is black.”

    This is most evident in the way “Imma” has been so essential to this meme’s identity. That turn of African-American pronunciation/spelling has been used to further emphasise the “otherness” of Kanye and his actions (as if they needed any more emphasis.

    It’s also closely related to the mangled English of the LOLCat meme; i.e., “imma” is substitue for “I can haz” or some other nonstandard English phrasing. Their purposes are the same: portray the subject (Kanye West or a cat) as less than fully intelligent…or dare I say, hoomin?

     
  2. perich #

    @lee: Normally I’d be with you on that, but:

    (1) I think “I’mma” has transcended black culture and is now sufficiently urban so as not to be inherently racist.

    (2) Most of the meme images have Kanye commenting quite literately on some esoteric subjects (e.g., Hobbes and Locke’s social contracts; Gandhi’s philosophical anarchism; the flag on the Reichstag; etc). So even if the original event was couched in racial terms, the surrounding meta-commentary is not.

    (3) The hero of this whole story is Beyonce, so that sort of trashes the black/white thing.

     
  3. Melissa #

    I would add a 5th theory to why this whole thing has blown up so much: because a grown man took the stage away from a CHILD. A child in expensive clothes and makeup, granted, but still…it’s not like one of the Jonas Brothers grabbed the mic from her; it was a 30-something man who definitely should’ve known better.

    Maybe it’s because she asked him backstage if he liked fish sticks?

     
  4. dock #

    Marshall McLuhan shout out! Love it!

     
  5. Gab #

    @Melissa: Taylor Swift is nineteen. She has been a legal adult in all fifty states for a year now. Sure, she’s young and technically still a teenager, but “child” is a bit of a stretch for me.

    West is a “jackass,” as Obama put it so nicely- and I think the fact that even his opponents aren’t using it against Obama says everybody agrees with that candid and honest assertion. I don’t really care too much about it, but I do think Swift has handled it very well and maturely (check out her little interview on The View, for example).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSErLA9LIaE – it isn’t spam, he makes a very OTI argument. We’re offended for her and for ourselves.

    I didn’t watch the ceremony itself, but I heard about some of the jokes the host, Russel Brand, made, so I read them later; and while they don’t surprise me because of his sense of humor (and how he seems to think rape and objectification is funny), they rather made the feminist in me agitated. Here’s a quote of the worst one:

    “She has admitted she is a little bit cuckoo upstairs and I have trained in psychiatry. So Megan, if you do have a little dizzy spell love, I could probably drop you a little pill. You can go and have a lie down in my dressing room. You might get some crazy dreams about being visited by a scarecrow, a perfumed weirdo leaning over you. But let me tell you, that’s a common side-effect. Megan, take your medicine.”

    I may not like Megan Fox, but I don’t condone joking about slipping *any* woman (or man) a date rape pill. So I just find it interesting (and a little sad) that the West-Swift thing got all of the attention- the optimist in me wants to think Brand would have received more heat had West kept his mouth shut, but the cynic in me says nobody would have given a damn, regardless. On their own, the jokes I quoted are offensive, imo; the other jokes about women he made (ones about Lady Gaga’s “penis” and Katy Perry needing him as a “shoulder to cry on) weren’t that bad on their own, but in the context of his entire routine that night, and especially in comination with the Megan Fox line(s), Brand seems lucky he didn’t face a firing squad the next day. Hell, that night, even.

    Why *did* it get more attention, then? Well, I’d chock it up to how it wasn’t part of the “plan,” so to speak, for one thing. Brand’s jokes were scripted (even if from the backstage area in between segments- he had to go onstage with at least an *idea* of what he was going to say each time) (which, arguably, makes them even more offensive than if they had been totally improvised- call it “premeditation”), whereas West’s outburst interrupted the proceedings with a dramatic spectacle. And spectacle it was, in comparison- lines delivered on stage in a routine are mellower than someone jumping out of nowhere, snatching a microphone, and yelling. Brand’s lines were less visually stimulating than West’s “performance.” Also, there was nothing sexist about West’s outburst 9after all, he was doing it in “defense” of another woman), meaning it has a more universal pool of potential “victims,” meaning people likely to be offended- Brand’s pool of “victims” is limited to feminists and those more sensitive to humor objectifying women. West was impolite, something more frequently and readily recognized as such than objectification.

    I’ll stop rambling and usurping the thread now (for, as per usual, I could go on/elaborate more), but that’s some of my own personal overthinking of the whole thing.

     
  6. James T. #

    I’m going with (4) on this one – I think the growth of communications and the ease of access of media has reached a point where all it took was a celebrity with a quirky enough reputation to do something sufficiently ridiculous to set of a memealanche.

    I’m still surprised at the rapid growth of this thing – within a week, there’s a detailed and well-documented Wikipedia page, political figures such as Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter have weighed in, and people who are usually the last to hear about these things are proclaiming it tired and played-out. It really says something about the speed of communication; the water-cooler has suddenly become both instantaneous and ubiquitous.

     
  7. Jack Daly #

    I’m just curious as to why singers get awarded for music videos.

    Do they double as competent directors, producers, cinematographers (etc.)?

     
  8. Cody #

    Back on the subject of paradoxes, how is it that the Best Video Of The Year (Beyonce, which is a whole other dilemma cuz watching the video made dumber and i wish kanye hadn’t made me waste those 3 mins of my life trying to figure out what he was talking about) isn’t even nominated for Best Female Video. Last time I checked Beyonce was female. Even Lady Gaga was nominated and that’s questionable. If you have the best video of the year shouldn’t your video be better than the rest of the females of that year.

     
  9. CppThis #

    I think it’s a combination of 3, 4, and 5 (from earlier post). I shall explain:

    3. Kanye was drunk off his ass. There’s pictures floating around of him swigging straight from a bottle of cognac, sort of like how Mickey Rourke did at some awards show a while back. Remember that one? Apparently boozing equals comedy, even if it’s only implied.

    4. A lot of the people in a position to kick-start memes don’t follow music videos that closely. The Internet is serious business to them so they probably weren’t watching those earlier shows. The VMAs however get a lot of mainstream hype, thanks in no small part to their history of over the top antics. So people were watching live when he did it this year.

    5. Swift isn’t a “kid” but there’s a big difference between offending people like U2 and Jay-Z–veterans with loads of cash and decades of industry experience–and doing it to a newcomer for whom this is their first big break. Plus a lot of people feel that rappers get away with too much outrageous crap as it is (show of hands, who thinks they’d invite Taylor Swift back if she got blasted and crashed Kanye’s speech?). So the incident is kind of in that gray area where people aren’t about to bust out the pitchforks, but do feel the incident requires copious amounts of bad jokes as a sort of unconscious social punishment.