Bozell Column: Outbursts and Punishment
At the semifinals of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Serena Williams drew nearly universal condemnation for screaming profanities at a line judge who (wrongly) ruled her foot was over the line on a serve. It wasn’t just obscenities, it was threats of physical violence, with Williams suggesting she would shove a tennis ball down "your f—ing throat" to the referee. Her performance was so vile that even historic tennis bad boy John McEnroe called it beyond the pale.
Had Wilson yelled that he was going to shove something down President Obama’s blankety-blank throat, then we’d have a similarity. But why did Williams feel free to uncork a massive fit? Maybe because there are no consequences. She was assessed a $10,000 fine, less than a slap on the wrist. She won more than half a million dollars at that tournament alone.
She was on the A-list before, and on the A-list she remains.
On the MTV Video Music Awards, 17-year-old country singer Taylor Swift was giddily accepting an award when boneheaded rapper Kanye West mounted the stage and ambushed her in protest, insisting Beyonce had a better video and should have won instead. When he finished his broadside, he handed the microphone back to Swift and walked off. While Swift and the audience sat too stunned for words, MTV thoughtlessly cut away to a video. West had ruined her acceptance speech.
If Joe Wilson had jumped up to the podium during an Obama speech to Congress, stolen the microphone from the president, and suggested his election was a serious mistake? You envision the consequences. But Kanye West can be a serial abuser of the microphone at public events, and he remains a star.
It started at the 2004 American Music Awards, where West stomped out of the arena after hearing he lost the Best New Artist award to Gretchen Wilson, like Taylor Swift a white country singer. (Racism, anyone?) He later told reporters he was "definitely robbed." At the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards in Denmark, when his video "Touch the Sky" failed to win an award, he invaded the stage and yelled "You guys won already. Share the wealth. F--- this." He also had a legendary backstage freakout in Las Vegas in 2007 after losing in five categories at MTV’s video awards.
But West’s highest-flying flameout came during a 2005 NBC Red Cross fundraising concert special for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Standing next to comedian Mike Myers, West blurted out that "George Bush doesn’t care about black people," and "America is set up to help the poor, black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible," and that lawmen have been given "permission to go down and shoot us."
NBC was mortified -- but made excuses. Matt Lauer declared West’s outbursts were "part of the American way of life." The NBC brass even quickly booked West on "Saturday Night Live" to laugh it off and rehabilitate his image.
In an article on Wilson, Williams, and West in The Washington Post, writers Wil Haygood and Chris Richards argued that there’s method in West’s madness. He "has practically turned this media hyper-awareness into an art form, delivering public fits of pique in precise, well-timed bursts." In the Post piece, former Hollywood executive Steve Blauner lamented, "Of course, West can get away with this type of conduct. He's got more money than God."
An "art form"? Spare me.
Unlike with his Katrina babbling, no one is cheering Kanye West for his latest MTV outburst. But it does make you wonder why MTV keeps nominating him for awards, or even allowing him admission to the building, given his record of disturbing the peace. MTV doesn’t really want West punished. They know that his bad behavior makes for good publicity. Who would have heard of this latest awards show without it?
Here’s the dirty little secret. MTV likes what West did. He’s their very own Dennis Rodman. It’s time the networks were held responsible for the outrages of their stars.