This week, rapper Kanye West has made rounds in the news over his erratic slew of tweets, most notably tweeting antisemitic remarks where he stated “I’m going to death con 3 [sic] on Jewish people.” Justifying this threat, he remarked in the same tweet saying, “the funny thing is I actually can’t be Anti Semitic because black people are Jew also You guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.” Following this event West’s twitter account has been locked, preventing him from making any more tweets for the time being.
West typically finds himself involved in some type of controversy and it is no surprise we now face another one. This recent development in West’s political views has been in the limelight on social media and news outlets. A week earlier, West and Candance Owens, a popular conservative commentator and Connecticut resident, were seen wearing t-shirts displaying the text “White Lives Matter”, a phrase usually used by right leaning individuals in retort to Black Lives Matter, at a Paris fashion show.
West later defended his actions in an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. “I do certain things from a feeling,” West said. “I just channel the energy, it just feels right. It’s using a gut instinct, a connection with God and just brilliance”. As well, he stated “because the same people that have stripped us of an identity and labeled us as a color have told us what it means to be black and the vernacular you’re supposed to have”.
West does not lead much explanation to his statement saying “so the answer to why I wrote ‘White Lives Matter’ on a shirt is they do. It’s an obvious thing,” West said. Since then, West has run into not only criticism, but business trouble with Adidas reconsidering their contract with West and JP Morgan severing ties with the rapper.
Though West considers his social martyrdom a vindication of his views, his statements do not go any farther than their face value – they are superficial and only serve as a provocation to instigate others. It is doubtful West garners any actual hate, but rather he takes on the image of hate and, in his mind, places some deeper meaning behind it that can only be accessed if one accepts erratic and provoking behavior.
And yet, though his recent actions lack nuance, there is a larger picture. Why is West even in a position to promote watered down political commentary? Him, along with the majority of celebrities, demonstrate the social power imbalance that celebrity figures have in the media. The advent of technology has given celebrity figures unprecedented power and social influence. Celebrity figures deserve little to none of their outreach – generating cult following around certain icons is an ultimately asocial behavior and must be entirely reconsidered in events like these.
Furthermore, this symptom of technology generates a dramatic polarization of the online political space. It leads us to indulge in the tendency to create fine divides where celebrity figures, like West, are now forced into certain categories and associations within the political environment. Social media allows us to now bring extreme judgment against any individual in a larger social context, and as demonstrated generate a media storm for no other purpose than for the sake of media itself.
West’s comments and actions were insensitive and the consequences are expected, but we must reconsider the relationship between social media and celebrities and the role that these figures have in larger discourse.