When Kanye West proclaimed himself a God on “Yeezus”, no one could’ve possibly predicted the extent to which he’d embody that visual in the years to come. The brand of Kanye has now become synonymous with untempered chaos — whether it’s exploding at interviewers for asking fairly-reasonable questions, his advocacy for the most incompetent president in American history, him saying slavery was a choice, his brief stunt as a repenting Christian, or now running as a president as he missed all the deadlines to get on the relevant ballots; the man is self-imploding his brand far beyond repair.
The signs were there all along, but most would dismiss them as Kanye just “being himself” — it’s not uncommon for musicians to embody a different self in the making of their art, but very few foresaw the sentiment expressed in “I Am a God” materializing in every facet of Kanye’s public life. From “you ain’t got the answers Sway” right down to this very moment, the undoing of Kanye’s myth couldn’t have taken on a more linear path — it’s as if his ambitions of grandeur expressed in Yeezus weren’t just the ramblings of a man relishing his status of a coveted musician, but rather the seedings of what would soon become the norm as Kanye’s extra-musical — and often ludicrous — pursuits took over.
That the Georgian musician “hasn’t been himself” or “isn’t doing okay” isn’t a controversial opinion anymore — at a recently-held rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, Kanye had what could be best described as a mental breakdown on-camera as he recalled the feats of his mom, something many speculated was the precedent for his descent into utter madness. He also opined about abortion and Harriet Tubman in the most bizarre terms possible, calling into question whether his bid for presidency isn’t just an elaborate joke rather than the serious undertaking he’s been painting it as on social media.
Discussions of Kanye’s current condition have become enveloped in a sort of taboo that either posits any criticism of a mentally-ill person as sacrilege, or takes their mental illness as enough pretext for them to be barred from public speaking. “One of the gaps in modern etiquette is that while we can now present ourselves to enormous audiences of strangers instantly, we have no protocol for responding to obvious, public episodes of mental illness,” says New York Times columnist Elizabeth Bruenig. “People with mental illness, treated or untreated, have as much of a right as anyone to speak in public, and to address the world they’re a part of. I favor wide latitude for self-expression. Still, seems like there should be some social protocol for onlookers.”
Owing to the particular circumstances of our current political moment, that latitude just isn’t something that many people are willing to dispense of — even the Black community, which had largely been supportive of Kanye’s endeavors despite their great distance from the common Black experience, have now realized there are far better spokesmen for the cause of Black liberation than a former MAGA-hat-wearer.
Kanye is an extreme example of what happens to the public ego when it goes unchecked — he’s clearly seeking glory, otherwise, he wouldn’t have ran for president; but his judgement remains clouded in the absence of any dissent, and it’s likely the reason why he kept bouncing from one controversy to the other without having learned much. This is a case where Kanye’s mental illness just acts as justification for him not to seek the help he can very clearly afford — for what he’s trying to do, and if his music stands any chance of being fondly looked upon after his death, the opportunity for redemption is slowly slipping away.
Recalling J.K. Rowling’s recent transphobic screed, people are wondering whether support of Kanye’s art equates an enabling of the harmful ideas he platformed in recent years — regardless of that statement’s veracity, it’s clear that the more Kanye is talked about, the less-compelled he is to pump the breaks on his egomaniacal tirades.
Much to his detractors’ dismay, Kanye has graduated from a simple mouthpiece for movement-conservatism to now becoming an item of pop culture — he’s no longer Kanye the musician; he’s Kanye the memeable person who once shilled for Trump, then briefly played gospel music as show for his repentance, only to follow it with an impossible bid for presidency. His life has become fodder for both public and media to chew over — especially in a climate of unprecedented boredom in the middle of a global pandemic — and the sooner Kanye realizes people have elevated his deeds beyond his own person, the likelier a chance he will have of better weathering the challenges of his now-scuffed public image.
Should Kanye be taken seriously for any of this? Both yes and no. The statements themselves won’t amount to much, but what they signal is an apathy we have developed towards the plight of the famous when their sensibilities for what is acceptable come under harsh scrutiny. At this point, it’s not only those reviling Kanye that are savoring his fall down the pit of insanity — those who bear great concern for him hope that the show of public humiliation will be enough motivation for him to lay-off the kool-aid and right the ship before its captain sinks it to the bottom of the sea.