Is all publicity good publicity?
Kanye West is no stranger to controversy. Whether it is his “White Lives Matter” T-shirt on the Paris Fashion Week runway, or ambushing Taylor Swift at the VMAs (the audacity, am I right?), Kanye truly believes all publicity is good publicity. But is it?
To put it simply, Kanye West is a menace to society. Yes, I said it. I know this has ruffled some feathers. However, I don’t mean to talk about his musical, artistic genius, and his contribution to the arts in general. I’ll let the others steer that debate; the conversation we are having here is of much greater importance. And contrary to explaining the problem away, by claiming that he is a “freethinker” or at an “elevated level of consciousness”, we cannot let him get away with normalizing white supremacist propaganda.
Kanye is a media provocateur: he believes that he is trying to break the status quo, the current chain of thoughts. He believes he is giving rise to revolutionary ideas – something new, something fresh. But he is nothing more than an embodiment of cultural chaos that is more harmful than most people realise.
Having created a brand that is much bigger than any musician, Kanye holds a significant amount of influence. His words are resounding. They carry weight. Kanye is not just a moment in pop culture. His following isn’t as benign as rooting for a favourite team. It is powerful. And with power comes…(you know the rest). Nevertheless, Kanye never takes this responsibility. He is prone to overstepping his mark. He is prone to provoking dangerous ideas - anti-Black ideas, anti-Semitic ideas - that damage all the progress made overall these years.
Kanye’s recklessness appears almost carefully designed, but also a matter of sheer impulse. He is unpredictable. And that adds to the supposed charm. His thoughts are always mind-boggling: every new Kanye headline is where he exceeds himself. We can never trace his chain of thought. We can never augur Kanye’s next move – his next media stint. Some people might call it genius. But in this arena, he is a gremlin. And this needs to be addressed.
Being a black man himself and using anti-Black rhetoric, Kanye West becomes a kryptonite for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. By using slogans such as “White Lives Matter” he normalizes anti-Black hate symbols and fuels the white supremacist propaganda that is costing lives. And this is problematic on many levels because many people listen to him. They are influenced by him and thus start accepting the right-wing narrative. Every time there is a conversation about how “Black Lives Matter” he allows people to subvert the conversation to “But white lives also matter”. He is distorting the message of an entire historic movement by making it appear as if the Black Lives Matter movement undervalued the lives of non-black people, causing irreparable damage to a movement that is imperative to establish equity and save lives.
In 2017, Kanye was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Some use this as an excuse for his catastrophic behaviour. However, what is so harmful about this is that most people who listen to Kanye West, who are influenced by his words, are people who aren’t aware of the full context. They aren’t aware that his comments are not coming from an entirely rational place and hence start accepting extreme right-wing ideologies. He allows young people, vulnerable people to accept his argument and align themselves with the far-right. He does exactly the opposite of what the society is trying to do. With his contrarianism, when as a society we take two steps forward, Kanye sends us ten steps backwards.
Kanye West’s antics cannot simply be labelled as clout chasing. They are flippant at worst and hazardous at best. Exempting him from being held accountable on the grounds of him being an artistic genius or him having a mental illness is perilous. We need to sympathise with him and his diagnosis. But we also need to urgently address his errant behaviours, his recklessness. His words have a ripple effect that is far more outreaching than we can comprehend. And this needs to be curbed. His narrative needs to be challenged. Kanye West simply needs to be called out.
Illustration: Calum Mayor