The Fanaticism of Kanye West
When any public figure takes a misstep, it's the first question that's asked. Never mind if the misstep has to do with a confrontation, a legal incident, the use of profanity, the clothing worn – the question is the same. Aren't you supposed to be a role model? Think of the children!
This week, Kanye returned to Twitter to say a lot of words, some of which were "dragon" and "energy", which you'll be unsurprised to know actually went together. Kanye used the term "dragon energy" to describe Donald Trump and showed off his signed MAGA hat, to which he received a polite "thank you" from the president. Naturally, his tweets drew a good measure of outrage from his supporters, and an outpouring of excitement from the right at the prospect of finally having a black friend. But the outrage was stronger – people could hardly believe that an iconic black man was supporting one of the most deeply reviled people in this country's history.
Some fans chose to give up their fandom. Some directed choice words at him, invoking things like respect and disappointment. Man, I hate when people use those words when It comes to celebrities – phrases like "I lost respect for Kanye" or "Kanye… I'm disappointed". How did Kanye even gain your respect in the first place? Did you know Kanye? The only reason you had 'respect' for him is because he made music that you appreciated, so you respected him as a musician. You never knew him personally to the extent that you were capable of having respect for him. So why is it only now that you started paying attention? Because something he did contradicted the idea you had of him? Did he not meet your standards?
Quick Note: Statements of the kind that Chance the Rapper made – "black people don't have to be democrats" – aren't particularly helpful in this . Chance tweeted this our (along with the follow-up "next President gon be independent") in apparent reference to Kanye's support of Donald Trump. Without any context, this is the kind of attitude that promotes the idea of a false equivalency between the two parties, the kind that pushed the 'lesser of two evils' narrative back in 2016. Besides, there's no honor in being an independent – just because you apparently abhor both sides doesn't make you more enlightened or more open. Calling yourself an 'independent' is as much of a label as 'democrat' or 'republican'. If your renouncement of party identity stems from your prioritization of policy over party, show me an actual policy position that you have as an independent. To Chance's credit, he acknowledged that his statement lacked context. I was almost disappointed in you, Chance! You've re-earned my respect.
However, there's a measure of credit we do have to give to the consumer or the fan. Fandom does not necessarily imply fanaticism (even though that's where the etymology takes you). This anger stems from the fact that the fans do actually think for themselves, and that celebrities' status as role models don't encompass all aspects of their persona. Fans are capable of separating the talent from the person – when we shoot a wad of paper into a trash bin and yell 'JORDAN', it doesn't mean that we're aspiring to be gambling addicts or minor league baseball flameouts. When we rap along to Kanye's lyrics, it's not a subtle endorsement of his tirades, or his political views, or his association with the Kardashians.
Even John Legend – in texts that Kanye later published – tried to sell him on this idea, citing Kanye's 'power' and 'influence', and reminding him that what he says "really means something to [his] fans." While he may be correct on the latter, it doesn't mean that Kanye's fans are impressionable – his cult of personality is nowhere near that strong. After all, Kanye's worst crimes are being generically rude, acting like a repetitive asshole, having douchebag friends. Most of his fans probably already had at least one of those personality traits before they started listening to him, and even know, they're still willing to disagree with him.
Listen to the kids, bro.