By: Elizabeth Klein
Kanye West has always been known for pushing the limits when it comes to his music and his public persona. Who could forget when, during a live TV fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina relief, West looked straight at the camera and said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Or how about when he took the microphone from Taylor Swift when she won the MTV Award for Best Female Video to assert that Beyonce should’ve won? But these controversial actions weren’t destructive for West’s career. Like the saying goes: “No news is bad news.” It didn’t matter to West that people were talking poorly about him as long as people were talking about him.
But many feel that he has crossed a line with his public endorsement of Donald Trump and his recent suggestion that slavery was “a choice.” However, at the same time, many have rushed to defend him for his ostentatious actions, calling him an “artist” and a “genius” for throwing his support behind such controversial ideas. But defending him unconditionally is dangerous. Fans must stop looking for meaning in his controversy, because it simply isn’t there.
We need to understand that this is not art—this is a social experiment, and we are the willing participants. Look at us. Scrambling to find meaning in his delusional actions like looking for a needle in a haystack. Look at him. He’s laughing at us, we the plebeians who have surely traded dignity for vanity. Like seeing good qualities in bad art and strong symbolism in weak literature, we look for more in Kanye West because we want more for ourselves. What a sense of accomplishment one receives from using the phrase “avant-garde” in a sentence. What a sense of moral superiority one employs when defending the “different” actions of a “different” person. What a sense of intellectual triumph one feels when looking past the surface level. But in this case, what’s underneath is simply more surface.
Kanye West is concealing a sneer as we kiss his shoes. As inevitable as death and inescapable as time, we have fallen victim to the paradox of the young: in attempting to come off as more intelligent than we are, we come off as less intelligent. Over and over, doomed to play out this Faustian deal that plagues each generation of young people, we trade our dignity, our integrity, the essence of our humanity which lies in the most precious part of our souls, for a link to something that lifts us up among our peers, that distinguishes us from the crowd.
To achieve this for ourselves, we’ve made Kanye into a kind of deity. But our savior is bought and sold. The more his popularity falters, the more inflammatory he must become. Drunk on that insatiable power which, for centuries, has driven monarchs to madness and rich men to ruin, Kanye West has attempted an epic transformation that has succeeded in dazzling the general populous and naught else. What you see here is not artistic genius. Someone who was an icon of both generation and genre realized a new wave of icons has been born. But he is unwilling to step aside, so he has created a new persona for himself, one that is seperate from his music but closely related. And we worship him. We praise the hallowed ground upon which he walks; we absorb like sponges his delusional preachings. But we must stop and ask ourselves to what fanatic practice we are pledging ourselves. Is a shredded Yeezy t-shirt our closest connection to the divine? Is the word of a provocateur facing the pathetic end of a once-popular career to be our gospel?
As Sigmund Freud so eloquently put it, “Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” We don’t need to look for more if there truly is none. While defending Kanye may give us a sense of purpose, it reflects poorly on us as a generation. Kanye West’s stunts aren’t the work of a mastermind—they’re just sad, desperate attempts to cling to the last shreds of public favor that Kanye has left. It’s understandable that we seek to simplify the things we don’t understand; we quantify them by giving them divine qualities that turn confusion easily into comfortable clarity. But our support must have limits—without them, we deny our brains a challenge of intellect that is the food of growth.