Kanye West chats on his phone on the streets of Manhattan. Photo: Bobby Bank
If you’ve ever wanted to see the different ways in which male and female celebrity “meltdowns” are treated, look no further than Kanye West’s run-in with the paparazzi this week.
My future husband The rapper and producer walked into a street-sign pole and hit his head, which the gathering paparazzi began lapping up; angered by this, he then ran after them, yelling at them “Don’t take another f--king photo! Stop it!”
The bulk of the coverage, while it’s taken a moment to laugh in West’s general direction, then goes on to nod solemnly about how the paparazzi do need to back off, and uses West’s spray as the jumping off point for discussion of whether or not celebs should be afforded more space and more privacy.
Beyonce, Destiny's Child superbowl
Imagine, on the other hand, if his girlfriend Kim Kardashian had done the same thing: there can be no doubt the tone of the commentary would be about how she “asked for it”, and how she “can’t complain about her situation”, and so on. Someone would probably throw the word “hysterical” into the mix, and before you know it, she’d be labelled a diva, simply for requesting a moment’s privacy.
The irony here is that it’s possible that nobody in the world is a bigger diva than Kanye West, and yet time and time again, it’s women who are daubed with the term (and I don’t mean in the VH1 Divas concert series way).
New Statesman’s V Spot column has opened up the “diva” debate once more this week, and not a moment too soon. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter pinpont the media’s playing off of current American Idol judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey against each other as a key moment in supposed divadom - and how the whole sorry mess says more about gender roles than it does the celebrity spectacle.
Ryan Seacrest, Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban.
“It should go without saying that the 'diva philosophy' plays directly into the narrative which asserts that in order to be successful, as a woman, one needs also to be a mega-bitch who hates other women,” they write. “Space is limited at the top, the logic goes, and nobody wants too many kittens in showbiz; they'll have to get their claws out. So women 'throw tantrums' (because it's childlike); men 'fume' silently, or 'become enraged' with enough provocation, safe in the knowledge that there's room for them when they're done. Divas have probably gained an inflated sense of self from PMT-induced fervour; shirty men have 'complicated stories', and most likely 'psycho ex-wives' who drove them to it.”
Think about it: when Beyonce tries to remove some unflattering photos of herself from BuzzFeed, the internet goes crazy, photoshopping her into The Hulk (etc) as though to teach her a lesson: don’t be such a diva next time. If George Clooney did the same thing, everyone would probably be on his side.
The media’s treatment of former tween star Amanda Bynes has mostly subscribed to the notion that she is having some sort of breakdown; when Bynes requested that they stop fuelling nonsense rumours with misleading paparazzi photos, and instead use shots from her own Twitter and Instagram accounts, she was marked as meltdown-material by Complex magazine, and once again her request was decried, internet-wide, as diva behaviour.
In a thoughtful blog post on the topic, writer Lily Benson examined what was so off about the media’s treatment of Bynes: “[W]hat’s really unreasonable is that a human being should be subject to harassment and constant documentation of their daily activities because they were on a TV show as a teenager. To want to have public images of yourself be ones that you made, and not ones that were made without your consent, is a normal desire.”
Complex managed to get a whole listicle out of Bynes’ “meltdown” alone, but as Cosslett and Baxter point out, “Lists featuring the top ten celebrity tantrums are often female-dominated, despite the fact that paps have documented male paddies on behalf of everyone from Russell Crowe (not impressed when the BBC cut his televised poem) to Alec Baldwin (numerous toys-out-of-pram offences, most notably calling his daughter a 'rude, thoughtless little pig' on a leaked voicemail) to Hugh Grant (baked bean brouhaha - we'll say no more). According to the media, male meltdowns are either comedy fodder, entirely justified on the basis of papparazzi harassment, or, in the case of Charlie Sheen, concerning spirals into mental illness.”
Having spent over a decade writing about music, whenever a female star is labeled a diva, I think back to the treatment I received at the hands of outrageous egotists like KISS’ Gene Simmons (who gave the phone to someone else, mid-interview, because he was bored) and E from Eels (who went on a five-minute whine about internet journalism), and about how bands like Aerosmith and Van Halen would regularly pitch fits if their ridiculous rider requests (the infamous “no brown M&Ms”, for example).
As for their female equivalents, that story about Mariah Carey saying she didn’t “do” stairs, often quoted as the last word in ultimate diva-ness? It was all a lie: “Apparently not only do I not do stairs but I won't walk on carpet and I refuse to walk on grass. What do I do to get around? Hover? I mean, you live and exist under a microscope and at a certain point the rumours become amusing." Yes, Mariah has a sense of humour.
Can’t imagine Kanye will be laughing about his paparazzi run-in any time soon. Who’s the diva now?