Matt Schaub, Kanye West and paparazzi ‘zoo-animal’ treatment


By Shawn Cooke / Staff Writer

Two weeks ago, rapper Kanye West sat down with BBC’s Zane Lowe for a passionate interview that covered a broad spectrum of topics including self-esteem, innovation and his admiration for “dopeness.” Soon after, Jimmy Kimmel aired a sketch on his show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” reenacting West’s rousing interview — albeit with child actors spewing profanities.

West took to Twitter to condemn not only Kimmel’s spoof, but also the actions of paparazzi.

“Jimmy Kimmel, I don’t take it as a joke. … You don’t have scum bags hopping over fences trying to take pictures of your daughter. … Jimmy Kimmel put yourself in my shoes,” West quipped in caps-locked fury, before firing an unprintable insult about Kimmel’s sex life.

Meanwhile, another widely-scrutinized pubic figure faced similar “fence-hopping” treatment. Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has recently been facing harsh criticism from fans. After a disastrous start to the 2013 season, initial reports surfaced that Schaub was verbally accosted by fans outside of his home. He later denied these reports, but he confirmed that people were spotted taking pictures outside of his house. The Schaub family has also filed a report with the Houston Police Department regarding trespassers.

Although the behavior of these disgruntled Texans fans cannot be condoned, the incident poses a striking parallel to West and the paparazzi. When a low-key NFL quarterback and his family fall victim to the same aggressive tactics as those the paparazzi take with West, the press takes notice. The blurred lines between celebrity and athlete (or even celebrity and deity) would fill a whole other piece. But even if an athlete or musician enjoys such lofty status, does that mean they should be subjected to this “zoo-animal” treatment? 

West hammered that term home in his interview with Kimmel last Wednesday night as they discussed the lack of human decency in paparazzi culture. When West assaulted a paparazzo back in July, many were quick to condemn his actions. After baring his soul on Kimmel, however, West just seemed like any other 36-year-old parent struggling to balance his staunch personal and professional demands.

Early in the interview, Kimmel clarified that the Twitter clash was not a publicity stunt for either of them, prompting West’s assertion that he has “never done a publicity stunt” in his life. Whether or not his intention is to draw attention from the media, West simply has no choice in the matter: Anything he says and every punch he throws will be scrutinized by the widest possible audience. After watching the Kimmel interview, it’s obvious that this scrutiny has taken its toll on West.

It’s easy to feel sympathetic for Schaub, an NFL nice guy who has largely avoided the media spotlight and allure of endorsement deals. But why does West receive no such sympathy? Is it because of his polarizing statements, his reality-star girlfriend or his perceived braggadocio? Maybe. But I’m not convinced that this story would change if you stripped away all of West’s idiosyncrasies and replaced him with a slightly more wholesome celebrity.

In the eyes of many armchair critics, being heckled and constantly trailed by the paparazzi falls right under the celebrity job description — as if it’s something they’ve signed up for. As much as celebrities such as West have to keep a high profile to maintain relevance, dealing with “scum bags hopping over fences trying to take pictures of your daughter” isn’t part of the contract.

The paparazzi have been a fixture in popular culture for decades now, trailing celebrities and their families from the moment they leave the house — if they’re deemed important enough. In the ’90s and early 2000s, images and videos captured might grace magazine covers or entertainment news shows, which seems tame compared to the tools modern paparazzi have at their disposal.

In our modern YouTube culture, footage of celebrities is easier to access than ever before, prompting a race for entertainment reporters to post the most jarring or shocking material before anyone else. Fueled by our obsession with celebrities, this invasive behavior is accepted as the status quo, without any consideration for the damaging impact it might have on the subjects.

Some recent vigilante flicks have glamorized the father who snaps to protect his family at all costs. Though West certainly hasn’t been faced with Liam Neeson levels of danger, he appears to have had his “Taken” moment and reached his breaking point — in spectacularly viral fashion. Punching a reporter is difficult to justify, but is it any less humane than the tactics that provoked it? 

Although they lead very different public lives, Schaub and West ultimately want the same thing: safety and respect for their families. It might be a stretch to dub West a family man at this point, but he seems to aim for the distinction. If that characterization never comes, however, he’ll just have to settle for creative genius.

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