Friday, September 2, 2005

"George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People."
Kanye West deviates from the script during NBC fundraiser.

Jay has the video and transcript.
Google News coverage.
Blog reaction.
Indie geek reaction.
Hip-hop geek reaction.
Industry geek reaction.
Red-faced, frothing-at-the-mouth conservative geek reaction soon to follow.

Update. While NBC apparently cut some or all of Kanye's comments, MSNBC.com was blogging the concert and appears to still have video. (Via Wonkette)

Update II. We spent a not inconsiderable (which is to say, considerable) amount of time Friday and Saturday watching CNN. Enough to decide that Jack Cafferty is something of a hero. And enough to say, with some confidence, that by Saturday afternoon two general notions had come to the fore and deemed worthy of discussion.

First, that it was not insignificant (which is to say, significant) that many of those left stranded in New Orleans were black and poor. And second, that America's leadership, ultimately leading back to President George W. Bush, had failed to respond in a timely and appropriate manner to said people.

Put the two together, as we can only assume most mildly intelligent adults have done, and you arrive at a rather astonishing question: Could it be that America's leaders had failed to act in a timely and appropriate manner because said people were black and poor?

By Saturday evening, we'd guess that somewhere between 17 and 326.7 million people had actively considered this question. And, though we lack any kind of independent polling numbers (beyond a sample of two in our living room) to support this, we'd wager that anywhere from one third to half of those people had decided that, "Yes. If the Superdome was full of white people, the National Guard would have likely arrived days sooner. With caviar. Or at least sparkling water." One possible subsequent conclusion being that, "Perhaps George Bush worries more about the well-being of white people."

Given this, it's probably fair to suggest that Kanye West didn't say anything Saturday night that hadn't been said or suggested somewhere in America. He might have been voicing the minority opinion, but he couldn't even be said to have brought any kind of subversive, underground whisper to the fore. Anyone watching CNN could have come to the same conclusion. Or at least had cause to consider it.

But Kanye said it. And none of the above makes Kanye's moment any less remarkable. In fact, having said all that, we still think his rant stands as the single gutsiest move by a pop star this millennium. All things considered, it's probably one of the five gutsiest moves in the history of pop music (the other four being up for some debate, but probably all involving R. Kelly).

There is, of course, a thinly drawn line between blinding arrogance and guts. And certainly Kanye has been known to suffer from arrogance-associated blindness. But not for a second in his minute and a half on screen did Kanye look arrogant. He looked scared. Sad and frustrated and impassioned and pissed off. But mostly nervous. He was in grade four again, delivering a speech about civil rights in front of the whole school. He'd memorized it all beforehand. But he'd forgotten his cue cards and was now just intent on getting it all out - probably without the use of periods, unintended tangents and all.

Now, usually when a pop star wants to be daring, they have various, generally accepted options of expression - protest song, lesbian kiss, underage marriage, concept album, simulated masturbation, heroin overdose, etc. Rarely does this involve live television. When it does, the result is usually something silly and gratuitously shocking (lesbian kiss, ripping up a picture of the Pope). Rarer still does it involve anyone at the peak of their popularity. Almost never does it occur during a period of national crisis.

So how bewilderingly unprecedented is it that Kanye West went on live national television Saturday night - with his country struggling to comprehend almost unimaginable horrors on its own soil; at a time when all political dissent is discouraged as un-American - and demanded to discuss the most painful cleavage in American history before calling out the leader of the free world as a racist?

Regardless of everything else (whether he was right, whether it was the proper venue, whether it was impolite to leave Mike Myers hanging like that and so forth), and whether or not it results in Kanye West being deported, that requires a unprecedentedly large set of testicles (figuratively speaking, we assume). And we dare say it essentially redefines any previous notion of what constitutes a bold, defiant, challenging artist in pop music.

(All the same, we bet that if Kanye hadn't said it, Cafferty was totally going to.)

(Anybody else see the Colorado/Colorado St. game? Cripes. Early frontrunner for most ridiculous game of the year.)

(For the record, we have no doubt Bush loves black people. It's just tough to tell when he's getting all misty-eyed about the fate of Trent Lott's front porch.)

(Perhaps to prove his love for black people, Bush could enlist Cuba Gooding Jr. to re-create the "Show me the money" scene from Jerry Maguire. Couldn't hurt.)

Update III. This, a comment on an ilXor thread, in response to the suggestion that Kanye's off-the-cuffness will draw attention away from the immediate tragedy: "[D]oes it really divert attention from the disaster? Really? Did one person, even for a second, forget that there was huge humanitarian tragedy taking place in New Orleans when they heard and discussed Kanye West's remarks? Or are people actually able to hold two thoughts in their heads at once: the tragedy, and how it's being mishandled, and (maybe even three thoughts at once here!) how that mishandling seems to indicate apathy if not something worse on the part of the President?"

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