Why Are We Even Listening to Kanye?

Celebrity is a powerful thing. Once we get it into our heads that a given public figure has earned our continuing attention, it becomes difficult to look at them from any other perspective. Case in point: the last few weeks have seen a certain Twitter user shallowly pontificating about philosophy, offering unwavering support of Donald Trump, contending that the American slavery of black people was mutually consented to, and releasing underwhelming snippets of his forthcoming hip-hop project — and he has the full attention of the American media. Of course, anyone reading this knows I’m referring to Kanye West’s latest Twitter explosion, but let’s forget about the “who” for just a moment and focus on the actual content being delivered here.

First of all, the bits of “philosophy,” which Yeezy claims he plans to turn into a book someday, stretch the definition of the word to say the least. Some choice cuts include: “Instead of doing what you feel you just do what other people think you should do,” “Some people have to work within the existing consciousness while some people can shift the consciousness,” and “truth is my goal. Controversy is my gym. I’ll do a hundred reps of controversy for a 6 pack of truth.”

Now, there is some genuine truth to be mined from these statements; however, truth does not automatically equal depth or insight. Most people who have lived through adolescence will tell you that doing what you feel at any given moment isn’t a very effective way to go through life, and particularly impractical for anyone who isn’t an extravagantly wealthy celebrity operating under a giant banner reading “ICONOCLAST”.

The same goes for the second statement implying that the author is one of the people who, “can shift the consciousness.” Again, this is arguably true, but is probably more because of the platform afforded by his pre-existing celebrity, very much built within the existing consciousness of the 2000s, than by any deep connection to cosmic truths. The third statement could function as a statement of the faulty thesis this entire undertaking is based on: that contrarianism and free thought are one and the same, rather than the former being a sloppy facsimile of the latter.

Furthermore, a provocative discussion can only be of limited use in uncovering truth if one side already feels they’ve pulled their intellectual weight simply by being provocative. The endorsements for Donald Trump and the bag-of-hammers stupidity of his slavery opinions are just more examples of Kanye’s flawed assumption that courting controversy is the same as fostering intellectual discourse.

Of course, none of the ideas Kanye is expressing are new to Twitter, a platform lousy with would-be iconoclasts and hot-takers. However, a celebrity like Kanye preaching acceptance of these ideas raises their profile within the public consciousness in a way that the average alt-right edge-dweller could only dream of, the obvious distinction being that the former is an international celebrity who has for years successfully (and quite impressively, to his credit) cultivated a debate about whether or not he’s an actual genius. The thing is, tweets like the ones Kanye has been delivering lately bear too much resemblance to the dregs of Twitter trolling to be mistaken for the work of an actual genius. A provocateur, sure, a master troll, undoubtedly, but certainly not the modern guru he makes himself out to be.

And yet we continue to pay attention, and retweet, and engage with his arguments, and some of us type up smug, wordy takedowns for certain student-run college publications, all on the strength of the long-standing stardom of the person behind the tweets. Admittedly, “don’t take celebrity tweets seriously” isn’t exactly an earth-shattering epiphany itself. But Kanye’s type of celebrity is uniquely monumental and influential in our times, and the rhetoric he is now spouting especially toxic. To heavily paraphrase a newer Kanye track, do we really have to scoop this poop just because it came from him?

Skyler Romero is a third-year English major. He can be reached at romerosl@uci.edu.