Monday, December 16, 2013

In defense of Kanye West

Kanye West has an inflated ego. That’s about the worst that can be said following this non-controversy. Here’s a brief recap: In an interview, West compared the risks he takes as one of the reigning kings of hip-hop to the daily risks soldiers and policemen take. “Wow, this is like being a police officer or something, in war or something.”

This isn’t the first hyperbolic self-comparison West has made. He explained in October:

When I compare myself to Steve Jobs, or Walt Disney...Howard Hughes, David Stern, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Jesus...I’m saying these are my heroes.

West didn’t spit on soldiers and policemen. He didn’t call them baby killers and pigs. Since he thinks highly of himself, by comparing himself to them he indirectly paid them a compliment. Considering the filthy things celebrities have said about soldiers and policemen, and considering the more offensive things West himself has said and done, this shouldn’t even show up on the cultural radar screen.

Nevertheless, cue the false sanctimony:

“What I do not get is you EVER comparing what you do for a living to our heroic military members, who are always in harm’s way...and my brother and sister police officers who have to go to work carrying weapons and wearing a bullet-proof vest to protect themselves.” –Brimfield Police Chief David Oliver

By inspiring Oliver’s pen, West helped make this poet police chief more famous than 99 percent of active police officers and soldiers. For all the years of public service Oliver has rendered, he never received so much attention in his life as when he wrote a witty letter to Kanye West. What does that say about the premium we place on regular police work?

If Oliver is to be believed, would not the hour or two he took to write that letter have been better spent patrolling the streets, protecting kids from what we’re told are constant threats from gunmen and pedophiles? How many jaywalkers and dropped cigarette butts he didn’t prevent in the suburban Ohio war zone of Brimfield, population 3,343, due to his literary digression!

Here’s a headline you’ll never read: “1.4 million Service members risked life and limb today.” Given journalists’ propensity for sensationalism, they ought to run with this or some variant every day. They don’t for two simple reasons: The story doesn’t reflect the public’s priorities, and it doesn’t match the reality of a relative lack of danger in modern military service. For all the glamorous talk of heroism and sacrifice, Service members usually refer to their “always [being] in harm’s way” in simpler, humbler terms: usually, “doing my job.” For perspective, this Kanye West flap alone—there are others—has produced hundreds of headlines.

West is on the cutting edge of hip-hop, a fierce, ultra-competitive market, where self-doubt is costly. It wasn’t his talent alone that made him successful. His success, in large part, is due to his boldness.

There aren’t 1.4 million men in America who can do West’s job. There aren’t 14 men in America who can do his job. Stars in the spotlight flame out because they can’t sustain producing a high-value product, others because they can’t handle the pressure.

While not being literally shot at, figuratively people are gunning for him. They root for his failure. They want his record label, they want his market share, they want his fiancée. On top of that, the government wants more and more of his money (to finance police departments and the Armed Services, by the way). With each measure of success, the stakes rose higher, as there was more to lose and there were more people to take it from him.

The embattled West fought for all of it. “I’ll explain to my daughter one day, that me and her mother, we had to fight for this position that we’ll finally have,” he also said in the interview. To borrow from soccer pro Abby Wambach, he’s put his “whole human being-ness” into his hip-hop career.

Now he’s at the top, and it’s a long, long way down.

No comments:

Post a Comment