There’s been little in the way of evidence contradicting the self-evident truth that American role models have been — for some time now — at once defined by and congratulated for their celebrity. Ours is a culture that overwhelmingly prizes the aesthetic over the prophetic, the material over the spiritual, and indeed, the self-involved over the self-actualized.
Which is one hell of a bummer, for quite a number of reasons. With the principal of which being that we are now collectively predisposed to idolizing people who are very literally and professionally artificial, affected. Of this, the current social climate is hugely indicative. And no celebrity is more brash, more shameless, more ruinously enamored with and slave to his own hubris than the preternaturally sophomoric Kanye West.
In 2004 I purchased my first ever rap album, West’s perennial masterpiece, The College Dropout; it remains, to this day, one of my top ten records. There were a variety of aspects to the album that appealed to me, not the least significant or surprising of which was its unprecedented brand of swagger. By a long way the most significant, however, was its sincerity, honesty, its realness.
And if you watch an interview with Kanye from way back when, that authenticity is easily discernible. You’d be hard pressed to recognize the megalomaniac we’ve now come to love and loathe from the tabloids. The man’s roots are in fact humble, albeit so deeply a thing of the past that it’s hard even to imagine them being so.
Now that’s not to say his current persona is entirely attributable to the fame, because to some extent, that grandiosity must have been dormant. But West makes it very hard indeed to argue with the contention that celebrity unchecked is directly linked to the warping and distortion of humans’ view of themselves and the world around them.
Thus we are presented with a dilemma of worshipping those who tend only to worship themselves. Then again, it’s not like we’re presented many other viable options. The majority of those who were supposed to have been our leaders for the last 50 years proved to be more devoted to their own egos, libidos and greed than the people they were supposed to be uplifting (e.g. “Not a crook”, “Did not have sex with that woman”, “Weapons of mass destruction” et al.)
So really, who can we be expected to turn to? If our politicians are corrupt, our morals bankrupt, our parents divorced, and civil servants enforced, where then are we supposed to draw inspiration from? All of a sudden, the fact that we have come to look up to people whose only loyalty seems to be to themselves starts making a lot more sense.
When really, the true heroes of modern America are obscenely unsung, and it is precisely for their selflessness. Because the American Dream is now predicated on monetary gain at any moral expense, we look down on people who neglect to engage in its vain pursuit — which is insane, bordering on inexcusable behavior, especially when you consider how few of those people are remaining.
But anyway, back to Ye.
Apart from obvious reasons like controversy and publicity and entertainment, I think a large part of why we’re so fascinated with him is that we covet his relative freedom from the restraint of basic societal expectations of decency and/or modesty. Think about it, doesn’t some small part of you want the ability to live and act totally beyond the edge of reason? To exist not just in contrast with humility but in spite of it? To openly and habitually just not care about anything that anyone thinks of you? Doesn’t it?
I’d be lying if I claimed otherwise. And that’s OK. Ego is a natural, unavoidable fault in humanity, and there’s no shame in admitting its formidable power over us. The problem, I think, is that we are buying into this fantasy rather than acknowledging its absurdity. We’ve admired and emulated rockstars and movie stars in the past (even gone so far as to elect them), but never have we looked to them for real guidance. Now, though, we are. And that’s worrisome, because we do so blindly.
None of this is to say that being famous equates to immorality, not by any stretch. There are without doubt a great many celebrities who do a great deal in the way of bettering the world, some of which we actually appreciate. But realistically speaking, acts of philanthropy or largesse garner far less attention in the media than ones of caddishness or derangement. That being the case, we see them less, and value them as such, in turn.
I was a devoted fan of Kanye West’s music for years, and maintain still that his first, say, five albums, are nothing short of artistic genius. There’s no denying the man’s talent or, to his credit, style. Neither, however, can there be any refuting that he is well past the point of no return with regard to the unilaterally indefensible personality that he himself has cultivated in the public eye. And in so doing, the self-proclaimed messiah of rap has bound himself to living in a world of irretrievable solipsism that is reserved for the kind of people who are so deludedly into themselves that you almost can’t bring yourself to hate them…almost.