A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about Kanye West, thereby adding to the ever-growing universe of Kanye-related content housed on Highsnobiety that has made this site “the unofficial Kanye West fan club,” as one commenter so cynically once put it.
This wasn’t the first thing that I’ve ever written about ‘Ye, nor will the one you’re reading right now be the last – which means that I will have to endure yet more abuse from disgruntled Kanye fans or people who claim that they’re sick of reading about him despite consistently clicking and commenting on articles about Kanye West, just as I did in the comments section of that aforementioned op-ed.
That’s the thing with Mr. Kardashian: you’re damned if you mention his name and you’re damned if you ignore him, which is why, just like anyone else earning a living by writing for music or fashion sites, I’m doomed to write about Kanye West forever – or at least until one of us dies.
Hopefully it’ll be him because then I can write about it, although I sincerely hope that day doesn’t come any time soon because he’s a steady source of income for me. But I digress.
Our lord and savior Yeezus West is a polarizing figure. Like Fox News anchors and professional wrestlers, he’s a pantomime caricature that can’t be ignored. While it’s pretty easy being indifferent to the personas of Jay Z or The Weeknd, Kanye divides opinion like Moses the Red Sea (if the Bible is to be believed). He pokes you in the eye and forces you into taking a stance on the topic of Kanye West.
If you’re familiar with ‘Ye, chances are that you either adore him or loathe him intensely. Very rarely do you hear anyone express a middling opinion about him.
This divisiveness makes it very difficult to talk about him at all, because whatever you say is going to piss a sizable number of people off – and as I’m sure you’ve probably noticed, the internet is not a reasonable place where people express their disagreements and grievances in a dignified manner.
Web-based discussions about Kanye West quickly sink into particularly congested part of the gutter where shit bobs around at face height.
The difficult thing about West’s corrosive personality is that it completely distracts from his music. Many of his haters, dare I say most of the ones that I know, have a deeply-entrenched antipathy for him despite having never listened to his work. His dick-ish behavior creates headlines that reach people who don’t even like hip-hop, shaping their opposition to him.
His headline appearance at Glastonbury Festival in 2015 was met with an angry change.org petition that some 130,000 people actually bothered to sign.
Although some of these people were expressing their dissatisfaction with a rapper being given a slot traditionally reserved for rock bands, Jay Z’s appointment as headline act in 2008 didn’t attract nearly as much vitriol.
Sure, Oasis’s Noel Gallagher said something terribly dull about Glastonbury being a rock festival and many agreed with him, but the debate in 2015 was markedly different. It felt like a referendum on Kanye’s character rather than musical tastes or the changing face of an aging festival, and the think pieces of the time make that abundantly clear.
A sizable number of the people that count themselves as fans, if not the majority of them, are specifically admirers of his music; yet any praise is instantly seen as an endorsement of him as a whole. I still think that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a brilliant album, but I now regard its creator as a politically illiterate gimp. I am able to separate Kanye’s personal defects from his creative feats.
The two aren’t mutually exclusive, although defending his work has become more difficult in the KimYe years: just as he has given Kim Kardashian – a lowly reality TV star before she met him – some cultural capital, the trash culture that she represents has smeared her husband’s work with yet another layer of stigma.
As far as his musical output is concerned, Kanye has consistently been one of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop producers of the past 15 years, but now many of his less-informed detractors dismiss him as just another Kardashian.
On the other end of the partisan divide, criticizing Kanye draws the ire of all those desperately pathetic Stan-like fanboys that worship him in a way that he would probably find really creepy.
Here’s a prime example pulled from the 76 comments that that article attracted: “You should be charged with human rights violations for producing such a poorly worded, and poorly thought out, pile of garbage. Rest assured that Ye will be enjoying success, happiness, and relevance long after your asinine self is forgotten completely.”
Again, this isn’t a concrete riposte to the specific criticisms that I leveled at Kanye; it’s a broad personal insult intended to offend me (unsuccessfully, might I add) and defend Kanye in his entirety – not Kanye’s marriage to Kim Kardashian or his endorsement of Donald Trump or whatever else I latched onto, but Kanye himself. Although there are a few balanced comments, most – both positive and negative – are of this nature.
Critique almost impossible with Kanye because it immediately degenerates into mud slinging. Even articulate, usually reasonable newspaper columnists are guilty of excessive force: a common accusation leveled at West’s critics is that they’re latent racists who can’t stand the sight of an outspoken black man commanding such a gargantuan influence on popular culture.
Sometimes that’s done bluntly, at other times it’s quietly insinuated, but the result is the same: to shut down debate. I can’t condone this behavior but I do understand where it comes from: if Kanye’s detractors rely on petty insults and baseless slander as many do, the counteraction is going to be equally baseless and petty.
But this extends far beyond Kanye. Although he’s clearly divisive, the way that we talk about him is symptomatic of a wider nastiness that purveys contemporary discourse.
As we saw from the EU referendum and U.S. election last year, we live in a bitterly divided era. Seldom has there been so little common ground upon which to build understanding.
Our disagreements are no longer differences in opinion but fundamental conflicts of identity. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan strode to sweeping re-election victories by winning a total of 49 states each, but those sort of landslides can’t happen anymore these days because places like California will always vote Democrat while the likes of Texas always goes Republican.
This is illustrative of a nation united only by its tendency to dig its heels in. Facebook’s filter bubble buries opposing views, thereby killing diplomacy in the process. Kanye West quite evidently isn’t the only subject that we struggle to talk about.
For more real talk, check out why social media has created a generation of self-obsessed narcissists.
- Lead image: Charles Sykes / Invision / AP