December 13, 2012

I’m easily amused, so when Kanye West took the stage at last night’s Hurricane Sandy benefit, I fired off about a half-dozen Gchats to friends describing the scene. “Oh my God,” a typical one went, “Kanye is dancing to the ‘Mercy’ beat by himself on a giant stage. And he’s also wearing a leather skirt.” That was so Kanye, the responses went, though as the performance got a little meatier (which started when he stopped dancing to choruses by himself), I found less to be surprised about.

But not the Internet. While it’s the lowest form of journalism or commentary to merely copy-paste a dozen Tweets as an example of a “trend,” there’s something to be said for mob incredulity and the object of its attention; in this case, the goth prom apparel he was sporting below the waist. You can search Twitter for “Kanye’s skirt” and find a variety of reactions, whether it was recycled references to meggings, jokes about borrowing Kim Kardashian’s wardrobe, or just plain confusion as to what he was doing on stage dressed like an extra from The Matrix.

Which was bizarre because Kanye’s been wearing this outfit for a year, as Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak points out, and because it’s not like skirts have never been seen on a dude. But it illustrated something about the bubble of reassurance, and how entities like Twitter enable one to stick with preconceived notions and assumptions about anything—like, for example, whether it’s okay for a grown black man to gender bend in the tamest of ways. (A wildly unfunny parody account was even started, of course.) And while it’s impossible to say whether Kanye was going for something intentionally subversive—he is, after all, a big goofball—that it became the lasting image from his performance says it all about the difficulty of trying something different on a big stage, even in the quietest of ways. As MSNBC’s Toure notes:

More daring, I think, was the fact that his jersey said PYREX on the back. But you won’t see any USA Today trend pieces about that.

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