First things first. We know Jimmy Kimmel is a professional kidder who takes pride in tricking the Internet. And we know Kanye West is never shy about finding ways to promote himself. But, as far as we've been able to suss out, their twit-storm is the real deal and not some twisted PR play.
We asked Kimmel's rep, Lewis Kay, to weigh in. But Kay got so tired of fielding calls like ours, that he took his statement straight to Twitter.
— Lewis Kay (@lewkay) September 27, 2013
Now the second part of the question is a little trickier.
You wouldn't know it from West's Twitter feed — which looks like KIM KARDASHIAN IS PERMANENTLY PARKED ON HIS CAPS LOCK KEY — but yes, there is a viable reason for his outrage. Now, it may not be the same reason that West has declared war on Kimmel in 140-character bursts. But it is a viable reason.
If you missed the skit that started this beef, here's a primer: On Thursday, the musician began ripping into the late-night host on Twitter after Kimmel aired a sketch depicting West as a child. The skit was a parody of an interview that West did with BBC Radio 1.
After the skit aired, West got angry. Very angry.
JIMMY KIMMEL IS OUT OF LINE TO TRY AND SPOOF IN ANY WAY THE FIRST PIECE OF HONEST MEDIA IN YEARS
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) September 27, 2013
YOU CAN'T PUT YOURSELF IN MY SHOES. YOUR FACE LOOKS CRAZY… IS THAT FUNNY?… OR IF I HAD A KID SAY IT WOULD IT BE FUNNY??? — KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) September 27, 2013
West's retaliation, which focuses on Kimmel's looks and sex life (and, strangely, SpongeBob SquarePants), didn't exactly help his case. But there is a case in there. Really. Or, at least, a reason why many black people may take offense at a skit like this.
"Kimmel was trying to be funny, but he isn't black and doesn't have a history of being infantilized or talked down to in the same way that black men have," says Nsenga Burton, founder of the African Diaspora blog The Burton Wire. "He's just thinking about the joke, the punchline. He's not thinking about what black artists, or black people in general, have dealt with for as long as we can remember.
"But then again, Kimmel doesn't have to; he's a white man."
History is rife with examples of a privileged class depicting minorities as childlike, or barely civilized, or, literally, children. For black Americans, or for people of color in general, that tendency has manifested in many ways — calling black servants "boy," for example, or depicting a country with a majority non-white population as a little kid.
That isn't to say that West should be immune from criticism. Anyone who brags about introducing leather sweatpants to fashion scene, or declares himself the greatest rock star on the planet, is putting a giant target on his back. But the nature of the ribbing — the precise way in which Kimmel made fun of West — may have carried unintended baggage.
"Just because Kanye is a blowhard doesn't mean he should be ridiculed in a way that goes beyond the pale," Burton argues. "Even if you think he's a narcissist, we get it, it's done, move on."
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