Not So Swift, Kanye

At the 2009 VMAs, Kanye West thought Beyoncé got robbed. But he was the one who did the robbing.

At the 2009 VMAs, Kanye West thought Beyoncé got robbed. But he was the one who did the robbing.

Most Americans couldn't care less about awards shows. Frankly, there are just so many of them and they've become so targeted—Teen Choice Awards anyone?—that they all blend together. With the notable exception of the Oscars and perhaps the Golden Globes, there is such a surfeit of these formulaic showstoppers that it's nearly impossible to watch them all. In that category, I'd certainly put the Video Music Awards—a program that has been telecast by MTV for 25 years and which was first envisioned as an alternative to the Grammys. But thanks to rapper Kanye West, everyone is talking about the Video Music Awards today. MTV (and its lunar-themed trophy) must be over the moon. Particularly because they've been able to keep the following incident off of YouTube, forcing curious Monday-morning quarterbacks to view the show via MTV embeds alone.

Kanye West. The man who last year was named one of Vanity Fair's best-dressed men, will now go down as one of the world's worst-behaved. In an episode that has rocked the halls of the music industry, West grabbed the microphone from the hands of Best Female Video award winner Taylor Swift last night and proceeded to praise runner-up Beyoncé Knowles, who was a nominee for her much-disseminated (and imitated) video Single Ladies. "Yo, Taylor, I'm really happy for you. I'll let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!" He then shrugged and handed the mic back to the stunned 19-year-old. For her part, the teen country music star was so flabbergasted by the episode that she was simply unable to complete her speech—remarks that prior to her interruption had been appealingly sincere. Camera cut-aways to Beyoncé showed she was positively stunned. The audience, which was as shocked as everyone else, rose to its feet and gave Swift a standing ovation. Sadly, it was not enough to give her the resolve to go on. That courage did come later in the program, when Beyoncé won the award for Best Video of the Year and invited Swift to re-take the stage so she could finish her speech. By that point, reportedly, West had been whisked out of Radio City Music Hall, to parts unknown. He later posted the following apology on his blog:

I feel like Ben Stiller in “Meet the Parents” when he messed up everything and Robert DeNiro asked him to leave… That was Taylor’s moment and I had no right in any way to take it from her. I am truly sorry.

Although I want to take Kanye at face value, I can't chalk up his horrendous indiscretion to anything that a bumbling but well-intentioned Ben Stiller did in Meet the Parents. Stiller's Greg Focker may have ruined the wedding of his girlfriend's sister, but it was far from intentional. The rap performer's antics, on the other hand, were deliberate and cruel. He was most certainly entitled to his opinion—as was Rep. Joe Wilson last week—but under no circumstances was he right to voice it on stage. And his conduct in the day since begs the question: Is he apologizing because it's the correct public-relations move? I have to wonder whether he'd be so "contrite" about his literal publicity grab if for some reason the audience had greeted his remarks with cheers instead of jeers. In that alternate scenario, would he still have been remorseful for having stolen the young star's thunder, or would he have been reveling in his own brilliance? What Joe Wilson, Serena Williams and Kanye West have all proven over the last week is that some public figures believe that they have to scream to be heard. It's not enough to have constituents, product endorsements or fans who pay great sums of money to watch you in concert. Nor is it enough to have hundreds of thousands of people following you on Twitter, where you can share what you had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And what you think of the President. Or a line judge. Or Beyoncé's Single Ladies. No, to be heard—really heard—in today's always-on thoughtcasting society, you need to do three things that Mom expressly told you not to do:

1) Interrupt. (Ignore those childhood edicts about waiting your turn and raising your hand before speaking.)

2) Yell. (Also known as forgetting to use your inside voice.)

3) Use obscenities. (If #1 and #2 still haven't gotten you the attention you crave, throw #3 into the mix and the networks and blogs will be buzzing about you faster than you can book yourself on a late-night talk show to offer your ahem, apology.)

Speaking of the number three, the wives' tale says that bad things happen in threes. Wilson. Williams. West. Let's hope we've exhausted bad behavior from the "W's." And that no antics are coming down the pike from X, Y or Z.