Poetry News

Morgan Parker Thinks About That Kanye West Katrina Moment of Rupture

By Harriet Staff
Kanye West and Mike Myers, Hurricane Katrina telethon

Morgan Parker wrote for The Cut yesterday; the poet and writer is thinking about comedy, about slavery, about Kanye West in the Katrina telethon. "I’m not a comedian, but I believe myself to be a fairly hilarious person, one who thinks quite a bit about how words work. I know we laugh when we’re uncomfortable, and we cry when we laugh; those urges sit in our chests, two-headed. I know the best jokes hurt, that they needle at you slowly, because they are rooted in the most unspeakable truths. I love real shit and sad jokes. And that shit that happened on live television in 2005 was super funny...." More:

If I were teaching the clip in a creative-writing class, I would laud its clean narrative structure. In mere minutes, the viewer can identify the hero and the villain, the realms of status quo and interruption, sane versus insane. The collective gasp comes when Kanye’s speech veers emotional — What is he talking about? Why is he “ranting”? Who is this angry, illiterate person? — and the belly laugh comes when Myers’s gaze juts sideways like a shiver, when he redirects the moment, glossy-eyed with bewilderment, and restores the teleprompted order. Nice save. Kanye West, predecessor of the shoe chucked at George W. Bush’s head during a press conference three years later. Kanye West, disturber of peace.

In The Los Angeles Review of Books, Ismail Muhammad notes how the moment predates the artist’s “crafted” public image as an irreverent, outrageous, and even poignant antagonist. The Kanye West of today has a slew of public outbursts on record. But “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” is a markedly different statement than “Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” It was improvised, not stylized — and its urgency and potency is in its awkwardness. “Kanye’s mournful and broken speech,” Muhammad recalls, “erodes the telethon’s universalism, provides a window into black America’s emotional life.” The shock of Kanye’s leap off-script reverberated beyond the cameras. It’s funny — and it’s scary — because it’s uncomfortable. Because it’s a moment of trespass and rupture.

Full piece at The Cut.

Originally Published: March 13th, 2018
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