In one of the oddest, if not exactly surprising, pop-culture developments in recent memory, the classic “Fish Sticks” episode of South Park actually came true last week, as producer/rapper/irritant Kanye West took extreme umbrage to a mild joke about him on a late-night talk show and showed the world the gaping hole in his soul where the sense of humor is supposed to be.
It seems that Kanye gave a long, ranting interview to the BBC, mostly complaining about his failure to break into the world of high-end fashion design. Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel took the transcript of the interview and used it for one of his recurring bits, “Kimmel Kid Re-Kreation”: a couple of 9-year-olds acted out the interview over milkshakes, interviewer kid nodding reverently while Kanye kid shouts increasingly megalomaniacal boasts.
As even Kimmel admitted, it wasn’t really that funny, but it also wasn’t exactly a character assassination. In any case, it sent Kanye into a rage, and he lashed out at Kimmel on Twitter, granting the host his long-held wish, as he said on his show soon afterward, to be in a rap beef.
All of this is just the backstory for last night’s big showdown: Kanye was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and the two came face-to-face to hash out their differences.
There was some buzz that Dr. Phil might also be on hand to moderate what everyone assumed would be a rhetorical fireworks show, but it never got remotely heated; the two celebrities had clearly kissed and made up in the green room, so the interview consisted of them taking turns explaining where they were coming from. Except for when Kimmel tells Kanye, “A lot of people think you’re a jerk,” and Kanye’s stone-faced reaction to that statement, it’s a little disappointing in terms of direct conflict.
But the interview reinforced something I was thinking when I first watched that BBC interview, because Kanye once again spoke at length about his frustration at not being hailed as a leading light in the fashion world, despite his repeated insistence that he is a leading light in the fashion world.
In the BBC interview, Kanye goes on and on about how his genius is constantly being disrespected, and points to the fact that he approached Fendi with his idea for leather jogging pants, and was rebuffed. Since, as we all know, leather jogging pants have since taken over the world (I’m wearing a pair right now, aren’t you?), and Kanye has received none of the credit for the world-changing nature of leather jogging pants, it’s clear (to Kanye) that he is unfairly being shut out of the fashion world. In the BBC interview, he suggests that it’s a racial thing — that designers don’t want to work with him because of his race — but on Kimmel last night, he said,
“It’s not about racism anymore, it’s classism. Paula Deen, she was old-school … ‘You’re a rapper and your girl is on a reality show, so you’re not up here with us. We’re old money.’ It’s snobbery and I’m not into all that snobbery, like seriously. Because we have the loudest voice, we have the loudest communication. All we want to do is make awesome stuff. All we want is a real shot.”
I can’t figure out how Paula Deen fits into Kanye’s argument — but then, I can’t figure out how 90% of Kanye’s argument fits into Kanye’s argument — but he’s suggesting that he is being frozen out of the fashion world because he’s a rapper, and his lady friend is being frozen out of the Hollywood Walk of Fame because she got famous by having sex on camera is on a reality show.
I don’t know a lot about fashion, but as I understand it, the fashion business is a business like any other business: the goal is to make money first, second, and third. I am not a fan of Kanye’s music, but there’s no denying that he’s one of the three or four most famous musicians on planet Earth at the moment, and there’s no reason to think that he couldn’t sell clothes with his name on them. Brand recognition is everything, and even though Kanye’s brand is music, I can’t see any reason a designer wouldn’t want to use that brand to make more money, as Jay-Z and Puff Daddy have done to enormous success.
Well, hold on. I can think of a reason. Two, actually. One: maybe — and I’m just spitballing here — maybe Kanye’s designs just aren’t very good. Blasphemy, I know. Kanye’s a genius, the new Steve Jobs, the most important figure in culture, etcetera etcetera. Just something to think about.
Two, and I think this is the likelier reason: KANYE WEST IS A PAIN IN THE ASS. Talent is very important in the arts, or in business, but if you are unable to stop from punctuating your every thought, word, and deed by proclaiming that you’re an unappreciated (multiplatinum-selling) genius, and attacking everyone around you for not being sufficiently in awe of all your awesome, that kind of cancels out your talent. And if you’re too egotistical and impetuous and thin-skinned to work with fashion designers, who four and a half seasons of Project Runway have taught me are an egotistical, impetuous, thin-skinned lot to begin with, it’s not them, it’s you.
For me, the key quote in the interview is:
“Who do you know who’s known more for clothes than me? And to not be able to do and produce at the highest level? And to have a meeting with everyone… And everyone just kind of looks at you like you’re crazy and you don’t crash the Internet, and you’re just like, How can you get a shot?”
“Everyone just looks at you like you’re crazy.” The Kimmel interview, as a whole, provides a handy simulation of what a business meeting with Kanye would probably be like. He starts out quiet, affable, polite, and you’re thinking, “this guy is not nearly as nutty as his reputation would suggest! We are about to make a lot of money together!” But as the conversation progresses and he begins to warm up, he’s talking faster and faster and the digressions and the non-sequiturs start to pile up and you’re thinking “what is he talking about?” and pretty soon he’s bouncing in his chair, shouting about being a genius, comparing himself to Steve Jobs, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Walt Disney, Howard Hughes, David Stern (?!) and Jesus all in the same breath, and your hand starts inching toward the red button under your desk marked SECURITY.