The latest controversy from the man who lives to be divisive is just further proof that it’s time we stop relying on our “heroes” to change the world.
“I am a firm believer that there is rarely a straight line between good and evil.”
– Nicholas Denmon
When shit hits the fan, is you still a fan?
– Kendrick Lamar
Kids, don’t you know how all this shit is fantasy?
– Andre 3000
A week after the chaos that was the 2016 election cycle, and a week before the release of the then-fresh Yeezy sneakers, professional provocateur Kanye West was back in our newsfeeds. His controversial speeches and divo antics had begun to divide his fanbase like never before. He incited an entire stadium of concert-goers to yell “Fuck you, Kanye!” following the now-infamous Sacramento show of his Saint Pablo Tour; media blitz after media blitz casually threw around the term “meltdown;” and, as usual, his mental health was put to question, with rumors flying around that his resulting hospital stay was due to him being off his meds. In other words, it was business as usual for Mr. West.
I was in the San Jose audience for the hour-long rant that ended in a would-be Trump endorsement, and it was surreal to see so many fans disappointed, saddened, and angered all in the same moment. The girl next to me was in tears as she saw a childhood icon not only refuse to shut up and play the hits, but completely betray the underlying ideology that bolstered them. For her, and tens of thousands of others, West turned his back on his old self in a way that seemed irreversible. Jesus wept, and Yeezus yet again became our bad guy.
Then, silence. Apart from rumors of forthcoming music and random Wisconsin sightings, the man had deleted himself from our digital lives.
we got love pic.twitter.com/Edk0WGscp6
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018
I call bullshit. But not on Kanye.
West is not forbidden from having a political opinion, albeit a confounding one. He can support and endorse whomever he so chooses, and that’s his right as an American citizen. What is foolish is his fans’ belief – including my own – that this isn’t at least in part a strategy for publicity and controversy. It’s hardly a coincidence that West met President Trump at his eponymous Tower sporting a bleached fade, nor is it by accident that he would make light of his “sunken place” status in the same tweet as his announcement of producing not one, but five upcoming, hotly-anticipated albums.
I’m hand producing all the albums I tweeted about. Been chopping samples from the sunken place 😂Pusha May 25th My album June 1st me and Cudi June 8th and Teyana June 22nd and oh yeah…
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 22, 2018
Water is wet. Kanye is controversial.. After 17 years of stardom (if we’re including his producer credits on Jay-Z’s “Blueprint”), you’d have to expect someone like West to be able to poke our national sensibilities in order to stay a vexing personality, beyond his music and Tatooine-chic garbs. This is the latest iteration of a career built on similar media tactics – West may or may not be lying when he says he loves Donald Trump; what isn’t up for debate is that he knows exactly what he’s doing. Politics is merely the conduit through which Kanye trolls us.
The difference between West’s latest “outrage” and v. 184.108.40.206. is that it comes at a time when politics dominate the national consciousness like never before.
We’ve conflated politics with celebrity for decades, ever since the first televised presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Kennedy’s youth and charisma juxtaposed with Nixon’s curt gruffness played a huge part in swaying public opinion in his favor. Iconography and media-savvy supplanted substantial discourse as the primary factor in the American political sphere. Now, in 2018, we have a political climate that has devolved to “sport.”
Like sports, there are star players that people tune in to see. The problem is, the star players of today are becoming more icon than politician (see: Trump). And thanks to our national obsession with the notion of “celebrity,” we end up drafting non-political players to our political teams to make “our side” appear savvy or popular. The celebrities we draft act as mouthpieces for one ideology or another. Add this to the conflation of fame and political posturing, and you get a Kanye bid for a 2024 presidency, all while promoting his latest album.
You reap what you sow.
We huff, and we puff, and we continue to take West’s words to heart because, well, we give him our hearts. Perhaps it’s time we learned to keep things in perspective, and stop trying to “own” our celebrities as people and appreciate them for their art. Sure, it’s a lofty premise: Can we appreciate the people whose products we love to consume while disagreeing with their opinions? Or is political theater doomed to intertwine with, well, actual theater? If Ye’s recent TMZ “slavery was a choice” comments are any indication, it is that he’s less knowledgeable of political history and more concerned with posturing for “free thought,” minus the “thought.”
Trust your feelings. Stop thinking so much
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 28, 2018
Whether West loves Trump or idolizes Emma Gonzales, it’s clear that his motives are to stoke the flames of a divided America in order to, in his mind, bring about a sort of unity of understanding between contentious factions. Media stunt or not, I can’t blame him for having this goal. But regardless of his motivation, it’s a goal rooted in self-promotion, not out of concern for our nation.
It’s up to us – the fans and the pundits and the bloggers and the “media elite” and the politicians and the voters – to focus on creating the change we wish to see in the world instead of waiting for the next media darling to say something we agree with (or not) and adding them to our side’s arsenal in the Great Rhetorical War.