Meme Analysis: Kanye Interrupts, the Internet (and Obama) Listens

[show=kanyewest size=large]It’s fun sitting down with a meme just past the expiration date, right at that moment when it’s gone from being a hilarious in-joke you’re sharing with the Internet to a tired and overplayed gag. That’s right — we’re going to talk about Kanye.

The recap, for the sake of those in caves or posterity: At the VMAs this Sunday, Kanye West interrupted country singer Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech for best female video, telling the world that Beyonce was the one who deserved it. Despite immediately releasing an apology on his web site and again apologizing on Jay Leno the following day, he has become the brunt of harsh criticism and Internet tomfoolery.

At its core, the Kanye meme is similar to Keyboard Cat, but in reverse — when Kanye interrupts, he is wrong to do so. This article from The Daily Mail is a pretty thorough archive of the photo and video reactions: events Kanye’s interrupted include the Hindenberg crash, the moon landing, and Facebook.

You can now Kanye-ize your web site, though personally I take offense at the fact that the graphic is misspelled: The accepted nomenclature here is “I’mma gonna let you…”, not “I’m gonna let you…” For Beyonce’s sake, are we totally without standards? It’s a meme that’s even crossed over into real life. At a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live a friend of mine attended on Monday, the pre-show DJ put on a Kanye song — the crowd booed, until the DJ interrupted it with a Taylor Swift tune.

The first major video riff to go viral was a when-memes-collide moment: YouTube user freeyourpixels took a video of the most infamous moment from Obama’s congressional address on health care last week and dubbed in the Kanye audio over Congressman Joe Wilson’s “you lie!” The resulting video is now closing in on 3 million views, though — despite claiming to be a fair use product — it has not yet been monetized by YouTube.

The irony is that what’s extended the meme’s shelf life an extra few days is the president’s real reaction to Kanye’s poor display of impulse control. Initially mentioned in a Twitter from ABC’s Terry Moran, the TMZ-acquired audio of the president’s full reaction spread wide via YouTube (much like the Palin/Sarkozy prank call last year did) before video became available. The result is an almost ridiculous controversy over whether or not it’s appropriate for the president to call an R&B star a “jackass” in an off-the-record statement; the thing I feel like people have failed to point out, by the way, is that Obama was clearly reacting to the Kanye story not as a president, but as an overprotective father of daughters. Taylor Swift is a very young-looking 19, and watching the original video, it’s not hard to feel sorry for her.

Memes explode not because of the source material, but because of our reactions to them, the creativity we as a community devote towards extending and expanding the joke. But I feel confident that we’ve reached the upper limit on this one — that unless there’s another Obama-esque intervention, we’re done here. That’s why I’ve resisted, this whole time, interrupting myself Kanye-style. You’re welcome.