The Futility of Cancelling Kanye
After effectively breaking Twitter for a week straight with a collection of outrageous statements claiming his support of Donald Trump for their shared “dragon energy,” Kanye West has roared back into our lives, for better or for worse. A lot of people have been rightfully furious with Kanye for making Trump, Ben Shapiro, and even Jordan Peterson seem cool, and there’s been a lot of seemingly well-intended talk of “cancelling Kanye.” Of course, much of this outrage has most likely been manufactured in order to generate attention around the latest Yeezy season, including YE and the albums he’s had key creatives roles on that have been released since.
Many predicted that because Kanye had clearly lost his mind, his new album was bound to be awful, particularly after the putrid “Lift Yourself” single dropped. But as it turns out, YE is fine; half-assed and incomplete, but well-produced and filled with enough self-aware winks that make it tolerable. As of writing this piece, “All Mine” alone has 16 million streams on Spotify. Clearly, we as a culture have decided that Kanye will not be cancelled any time soon.
Through a bizarre confluence of circumstances, Kanye dropped YE right as another right-wing media figure was cancelled. Roseanne Barr finally got caught slipping, Tweeted something a little too overtly racist to someone a little too influential, and next thing you knew, her TV show that was enjoying overwhelming success and praise was cancelled. At the speed of light, it seemed, the swift and decisive outrage of Twitter had risen up and triumphantly snuffed out a woman giving the alt-right a voice on prime time television. Even if Kanye’s abhorrent statement about slavery being a choice wasn’t enough to get him “cancelled,” since Kanye is mostly only accountable to Kanye, for many, Roseanne’s cancellation felt like a victory to balance out Kanye’s success.
Yet there’s a thing I’ve come to recognize more and more through the Trump administration: When so many of our culture wars are waged through media personalities that we build up and destroy, nothing seems to tangibly change depending on which celebs we rotate in and out of favor. Ask yourself, what would have happened if Kanye had come back on Twitter and been vehemently anti-Trump? Would Donald Trump resign tomorrow? Would the mass deportation trials of immigrants suddenly grind to a halt? Would the rise of white nationalism falter? No, Kanye would have been just another celebrity who was against Trump, maybe in his own Kanye way, but in terms of shifting power in this country, I really don’t think that Kanye would have been the breaking point where culture definitively turned its back on Trump.
The very good music podcast AND INTRODUCING pointed out in a recent episode that there’s no reason why anyone should expect Kanye to have good politics. Kanye West has always been very honest that all he really cares about is Kanye West, and aside from the time he reminded the entire country that George Bush doesn’t care about black people, he hasn’t really done anything to indicate that he’s a “good person” in the traditional sense. We love Kanye because he gets to exist in a sphere he’s created for himself; insecure and grandiose, but distinctly not like the rest of us. One of his greatest musical achievements is a passionate toast to assholes, so why wouldn’t he be drawn to the biggest asshole on the planet?
Kanye identifying with Trump strikes a particularly painful nerve because it forces his fans to accept that Kanye has always been a lot like him. They’re both insecure narcissists who unabashedly pursue wealth, women, and fame to their own ends. If you’ve enjoyed Kanye’s music over the years, in a sense you’ve enjoyed the Trump mindset. Kanye obviously has a lot of verifiable talents whereas Trump has only a few—they have plenty of differences, but it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to understand how Kanye sees himself in Donald Trump. That’s an uncomfortable thing for Kanye fans to recognize, but it’s important to acknowledge if you care about the cultural politics swirling around him.
It’s totally fine to be done with Kanye, but it’s essential that we’re honest that there’s no getting rid of someone that cosmically influential. It’s fine to want to boycott Kanye, but keep in mind that effective boycotts are organized, consistent, and militant; they have a hard line they do not cross. You as an individual getting off the Kanye train does nothing to change his place in culture.
This gets to a deeper issue in how we deal with pop culture conflicts as if they’re political struggles. It’s easy to laugh at dumbasses smashing their Keurigs to support Sean Hannity, but let’s be honest in that trying to make Donald Drumpf again was equally pointless. The same can really be said for Rosanne; sure, Disney cancelled her now, but only after they and Roseanne both made millions off of the new show. Disney knew she was a bigot before they put her on the air, but they took the risk because they knew the show would be profitable. Celebrating the cancellation of ROSANNE does little to shift the meaningful power in this country, and trying to ignore YE does nothing either.
This isn’t at all to say that I think we should all adopt a cynical nihilism. Since Trump took office there has been a real sense that fighting over cultural space is the only option left-leaning people have. Complaining about Kanye and calling Rosanne a Nazi on Twitter is cathartic, and can even be mistaken for actual politics. But neither of those things can really be called political. Calling your city council member to demand better conditions for your homeless neighbors is a political act. Showing up at city hall to protest killer cops is a political act. Accompanying a woman so she can get an abortion safely is a political act. Being engaged in the political processes in this country, such as they are, isn’t always sexy or immediately gratifying, but doing your part to tangibly tip the scales back towards making this world reflect your values is the only choice we have to start shifting power in this country. Do that, even in a small way, and then for all I care you can go back to complaining about Kanye all you want.