• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Hitching Your Wagon To A Star Will Get You Only So Far

May 2018

A recent outburst on the set of TMZ proved exactly how far the Tao of Kanye goes. The answer, sad am I to say, is not very far.

Kanye dropped by the gossip-monger’s headquarters in L.A. for a rare in-person interview. It was supposed to be an interview at whose end we were to be enlightened with a better and fuller understanding of just where Kanye stood on the political spectrum. More than that, we were to learn exactly how it came to be that this flamboyant and unscripted artist, who not so many years ago accused George W. Bush of racism in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, arrived there. The hip-hop mogul was supposed to talk about his ideas, his opinions, or perhaps better yet, the epiphanies by which he’d lately been touched. Certainly, his were thoughts that needed clarification. They were thoughts that were recently expressed on social media and invidiously received all around. Everyone was eager to hear from his mouth directly an explanation for this drastic political change of tune. Unfortunately, no such song was to be heard nor a capable singer to be found.

At the interview’s end, we were still left wondering precisely who or what it was that inspired this rap superstar’s jarring political shift from the left to the right. After all, Kanye’s putative transition from liberal to conservative, ostensibly from Democrat to Republican, has in recent weeks dominated the news cycle and become something of a cultural cause célèbre. It’s become a controversial, if not a seminal moment in the cross currents of politics and culture, of Hollywood and D.C.

If you’re at all unfamiliar with how this came about, Kanye a few weeks ago tweeted his support for President Trump. Incendiary on its own merit, he then added to it by going on to reference and highlight some right-wing devotees, pushed what could be called recognizably conservative ideas, and vaunted the fact that he had in his possession a “Make America Great Again” hat. Probably, that last point was the most inflammatory of them all.

Not surprisingly, these tweets and his apparent defection from the left to the right caused in the media and in the culture a palpable shift. The earth trembled and the seas did swell as hip hop enthusiasts wept and gnashed their teeth. The apocalypse was now, and Kanye was standing blithely at its epicenter tossing asunder the status quo and moving mountains with a touch. It was as if, by his tweeting alone, the tectonic plates of politics got up, moved, collided with the culture, and caused resentment to fill in the faults. It’s for this reason he arrived at TMZ to smooth the jagged ground left in the clearing dust and to build a political foundation from which he might preach.

However, the political quickly descended into the personal. Once Kanye got going, the entire affair cracked and went off the rails. The troubled artist began by confiding in the entire TMZ staff that he’d been abusing opioid drugs for the better part of a year. Admitting this to TMZ was a bit ironic; known for their sordid insight and their dogged persistence in capturing the much-ballyhooed hit-piece, usually it’s TMZ’s job to bother celebrities and get the scoop. They importunately stalk the clubs, encircle the restaurants, and lurch about the airports if only to get a glimpse of a celebrity’s unscrupulous corners and to catch him in the act of doing something, anything loutish, remarkable, or untoward. Then, with any luck, they’ll parlay that juicy penetralia into advertisement dollars and views. Seldom, though, is a story as interesting as Kanye’s and even less seldom is it so readily volunteered.

Letting it all hang out, Kanye’s path toward sobriety, he admitted, wasn’t easy, nor was it—as anyone watching might’ve inferred—complete. Taking well in excess of what could be considered a therapeutic dose, it appears that Kanye was absolutely bathing in pills. Throwing back five or more each day, he was taking an amount that could render a hippopotamus limp or make a dealer in Chinese opium blush. For his descent into drugs and, consequently, his addiction, he blamed the media. The readiest and perhaps most deserving of scapegoats, the media, said Kanye, demanded of him a certain unrealistic sex appeal. They wanted an aesthetic that he couldn’t achieve, so he turned to liposuction and to drugs.

We mustn’t forget that Kanye was indeed there, strange as it is to say, in order to talk politics. The topic wasn’t meant to be the absence of his confidence as it pertains to his body image. He was there to address his string of controversial tweets that had gained him no small amount of national, though probably not unintentional, attention (he does, after all, have a forthcoming album to sell and attention pushes downloads and sales).

Everyone is in agreement that these tweets were controversial, but only insofar as they bristled against the orthodoxy of the left. As mentioned earlier, and to recapture the crux of the issue at hand, Kanye lit this fire when he voiced his support for President Trump and other right-wing devotees. It was considered immediately a move befitting an apostate. In receiving his tweets, Democrats found themselves somewhere between flummoxed and crestfallen. Wincing at every word, they watched as Kanye promulgated the ideas of Candace Owens (a young “neo”-conservative with whom he actually arrived at TMZ for his interview), quoted the venerable economist Thomas Sowell (from whom he still obviously has much to learn), referenced creator of Dilbert and ardent Trump apologist Scott Adams, and added to every message a piquant dash of his own sui generis personality.

At TMZ, these were the very topics about which he and Candace Owens had intended to talk. They were going to discuss some of the merits of the classical liberal creed, which champions among other things personal responsibility, autonomy, assiduity, self-sufficiency, limited government, free markets, free thought, and free speech. Surely, the two also had it in their mind further to debase the victim mentality so common to the left that, like a contagion, plagues otherwise capable members of society in our day.

But they hadn’t the chance. Aside from being veered off course by his own doing (when he got to spouting off about his liposuction and his pills), Kanye was confronted by a TMZ staff member. The staffer, to whose remonstrations the rapper hadn’t thoughtful nor capable replies, was able to get the best of Kanye. It wasn’t so much a debate, as verily it might’ve been, but a brow beating. Indignant, and in many people’s minds rightfully so, the TMZ staffer chastised Kanye for how aloof he’d been. He brought up the history of slavery in America but he too, like so many others who’ve skimped on reading Professor Sowell’s prodigious body of work, distorted or misapplied the facts. He seemed completely to omit the fact that it was the Democratic Party who was most responsible for the continuation of this institution of slavery that he and I and everyone so abhors.

If Kanye had been better versed in politics or history, he wouldn’t have so meekly conceded almost every point to the TMZ staffer. He wouldn’t have pined for a hug instead of the truth or for harmony instead of a moment of discord and strife. He might’ve evoked the memory of bygone Democrats, those from the antebellum and Reconstruction South, who promulgated the rule of Jim Crow and adhered like acolytes to segregation. Doubtless, it’s an unprepossessing part of its history, but this is the Democratic Party’s cross to bear. It would behoove anyone arguing from the left to keep this in mind. The Democrats and the subsequent Dixiecrats wanted a society stratified along racial and political lines. And, for a while and at their urging, they achieved that end. It was the right, as today we know it, that worked toward rectifying this moral lapse.

Kanye might’ve said these things, and he might’ve said them with the passion and with the sharp wit of his scathing and rhythmic tongue, but he didn’t because he couldn’t. At least at the time, he couldn’t. If he is to thrust himself into this arena, this impossible octagon of politics and personal affronts, he must do so better equipped. He must learn, if only as a dilettante, the crux of the arguments over which so much ink has been spilled. He must develop not only thickness of skin, so that he might absorb the punches as they come, but also the fleetness of foot and the quickness of hand, so that he might dodge and counter them as well. He proved that his influence is boundless, but his intelligence is constrained. And if he really wants to fight and ultimately to win these battles, he’d do well to expand the latter and maintain the former as it is.

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