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whatsthatsound On November - 26 - 2010

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

– Percy Bysshe Shelley

Am I the only one that’s not crazy here?

– Kanye West, November 23rd, Bowery Ballroom

In the solipsistic universe that Kanye West inhabits (in which he is Kanye West, and we are not) he has been done an injustice. By Taylor Swift. Yes, the winsome VMA award winner who stood, dumbstruck as Kanye jumped on stage, grabbed her microphone from her as she was giving her acceptance speech, and proceeded to let viewers know that he felt the award was undeserved, and should have gone to Beyonce instead, has not gone to bat for him in the year since. “Taylor never came to my defense”, he lamented, toward the end of a very bizarre soliloquy he ad-libbed at the end of a concert at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC earlier this week. In the nine minute rant, Kanye had plenty of other gems to offer his adoring audience as well. Hastening to assure them that “I never talk about the numbers”, he proceeds to do just that, bragging about the sales of his recent album, (100,000 the first day, digital alone, 650,000 projected in the first week, without a #1 single – just some of the numbers he never talks about); defending former nemesis George W. Bush, portraying him as equally “villainized” as Kanye himself by a rabid media always looking to tear people down, etc. He tops it all off with the humble admission that, “I can’t be your role model. I can’t be your savior. I can’t be your antichrist”. Personally, I was thinking to myself, “well, that’s a relief, because I wasn’t really counting on my savior being a boorish, loutish, self absorbed egomaniac to begin with”.

But that’s just me. For their part, the audience gave him the requisite dose of adulation, even as his rabbit-hole speech took them deeper into his child’s brain mentality about the world. Like the frightened adults in that classic Twilight Zone episode, who heaped only praise upon the terrorizing bully child who otherwise would “send them to the cornfields”, Kanye’s fans shouted out affirmations and gave their applause to his every utterance, no matter how bizarre they increasingly became. And why wouldn’t they? In our celebrity-obsessed culture, why should we use our own minds to decide if what we are hearing is egotistical drivel or words of wisdom, even “salvation”? He’s famous, after all!  If his words seem weird and hard for me to make any sense of, if they seem to go against my own ideas about what is and isn’t proper behavior, the problem is obviously with me. I’m not the one who’s up there on stage. I’m not the one who never “talks about the numbers” of my mega-selling records. In the presence of a genius like Kanye, my own conventional assumptions need to be checked at the ticket gate.

Meanwhile, for self-proclaimed “king”, Lebron James, things are not going according to plan. Ever since his nationally televised (and widely watched ) “Decision” (which I suggest should heretofore be known as “The Derision”) to bolt his home state of Ohio and head for Miami to join fellow superstars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in pursuit of multiple NBA championships, the wheels of karma seem to be churning as if propelled by a benzedrine popping lab rat to bring “the chosen one” down to earth. A week from now he will be returning to Cleveland, and the team he jilted, for a match-up between his Miami Heat and his former team, the Cavaliers. And the Cleveland fans are going to be rabid! Never has a local hero fallen in stature faster than this “traitor”, and the boos that will fill the stadium from the second he exits the  locker room to the second he heads back in again, surrounded by security, will be deafening, a cathartic primal scream from a fan base that had placed their hopes and dreams and aspirations in him, who had believed him when he proclaimed as an eighteen year old rookie, who had already appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, that he wouldn’t quit until he reached his goal of bringing a championship to the city on Lake Erie that has known nothing but heartbreak and decline for decades.    And the moment will be all that much sweeter for his former fans knowing how disappointing this season has gone thus far for the would-be superteam. Currently standing a mere one game above .500, with a record not all that much better than that of the Lebron-less Cavs, the Heat players are well aware that they may very well lose that night, as derision rains down upon them and unprecedented hatred blasts James at every turn. Cleveland fans would probably prefer that the Cavs lose every other game this season in exchange for handing Lebron a humiliating defeat on his former court. The mayor of the city would be crazy not to declare the next day a city-wide holiday if they win. Adding an almost painful note of irony, a few years ago, when he was Ohio’s favorite son, Lebron built a fifty million dollar home in nearby Akron, and is now probably the least loved person in the entire state. Will he shut himself up there, like Charles Foster Kane did, surrounding himself with phantoms and mirages?

The story of Lebron is similar to that of Kanye, one of unrestrained hubris that tunes out everything that doesn’t speak of ones own personal greatness. At the tender age of eighteen, upon entering the league, Lebron declared as a goal that he become a “global icon”,  as if unaware that no one in history has ever become a global icon by having that as their goal. He could say that with a straight face because his basketball skills had elevated a mere teenager to a stature that could only exist in a society gone screwy. The hatred being shown toward Lebron now is nothing other than the flip-side of the inappropriate and unjustified adulation showered on him by the working stiffs of northern Ohio and elsewhere as they built his ego up to Ozymandias-ian proportions. In short, it says more about his fans, and the American Cult of Celebrity they spring from, than it does about the man-child himself.  What did they want him to be, and why? What part of themselves did they transfer from themselves to him? Like Kanye, Lebron is nobody’s role model, or savior, OR antichrist.  He’s Icarus. And as his former fans watch with glee as he falls like a stone through the sky, one hopes they might remember that they are the ones who gave him the wings.

Written by whatsthatsound

Writer, Illustrator, Curmudgeon. Ferret Owner. Tokyoite, formerly Ohioan. Much nicer in person.

179 Responses so far.

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  1. Moist Robot says:

    I give Kanye a pass. He doth protest too much, but I am more understanding about the emotions that may course through a black man’s veins. He’s preachy and makes the unfortunate association with GW. But that only puts this all into a more mythic scale.

    George Bush as “Zoiks” Thunder God of Insane in the Membrane
    Sarah Palin as “Scylla from Wasilla”
    Taylor Swift as our gentle white heroine
    Beyonce as our gentle black heroine
    President Obama as the Good King of the American Hordes
    Kanye West as the mega successful black artist businesman in conflict.

    The remarks on the KW 11/23/10 vid are hot with arguments about racism. That is the natural projection with Kanye. It may also be true with Lebron:

    Lebron James as the “runaway slave” who is really king: King James
    Dan Gilbert as Duke of Cavalier and the slave master.
    Reverend Jesse Jackson as the Oracle of the King James bible.
    The good people of Cleveland as themselves.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      MR, perhaps this discussion could proceed better if you give me a few “for instances” as to where he is specifically making arguments that are based in his perceptions of racial injustice. Because frankly, I don’t see them, and admittedly I may be missing a deeper meaning (and I REALLY don’t want to watch the video again).

      • Moist Robot says:

        It’s implied. This video does not exist in a vacuum. It has a natural history. So, the conversation DOES turn to race, ultimately, whether it was stated in the video or not. Kanye has had to publicly deny he is a racist and has had to recant his accusation that Bush is one. The scenario invites the discussion of race because the issue of race is still very much alive in this country.

        Kanye West was a bully toward Swift. He was inappropriate. He is probably very troubled by how he set himself up and the attendant aftermath. He probably is trying to maintain a modicum of dignity while retaining a rapper’s identity.

        I really empathize with the plight of black people in this country. Their history and the current atmosphere in the US by very vocal groups must bring up old wounds. I’ve had people who I’d never expect, say the most racist things in my presence since Obama was elected.

        I give Kanye a free pass because he is NOT like Palin, or Bush. He has not had a history of being an asshole as far as I know. He stated having a relationship with the public is like having a relationship with a girlfriend. It can get ugly. I’d rather see a genuine meltdown over Palin’s or Bush’s calculatedly cool and detached idiocy any day.

        The fact that he wore a crown of thorns means he is probably relating to something larger than himself, albeit in a grandiose way. I can imagine Beck doing the same thing, but Beck is white. He can assimilate anywhere in any town. Kanye can’t. Dissimilarly from Beck, Kanye’s thorn episode could be interpreted as his being crucified for this country’s biggest transgression against any people.

        I think when he took the award away from Swift, it was an instinctual moment. It was at the very least laced with race, because he took it away from a white girl and wanted to give it to a black girl. Had he wanted to give it to another white girl there would have been no issue.

        The video is a postscript.

    • Kalima says:

      The problem I have with the first part about West is just this. There are many successful black men and women in America and around the world that don’t think of themselves as victims, why should he, he makes enough money from his fans doesn’t he, why bore them to death too?

      • whatsthatsound says:

        I’m with you, K!

        • Questinia says:

          So, money changes everything?

          • whatsthatsound says:

            Well, it, and success, have obviously changed Kanye quite a bit. Where do you think his sense of himself comes from, that he can talk to his audience as if he needs to tell them that he is not their savior? What about his feeling that he could waltz up on stage and ruin a fellow performer’s moment? Why the need to brag about his initial sales. Clearly money means a lot to Kanye.
            So if you are trying to argue that it doesn’t change how he identifies himself as a black American, but Kalima and I are arguing about an instance of very bad behavior, then I believe money, fame, success, need to be examined not only in terms of what they don’t change, but in what they do. And that’s actually one of the main points of my article.

            • Moist Robot says:

              It comes from the power of being a multi-talented mogul/artist/entrepreneur black man with a rapper’s pedigree. Being a rapper is about anger to a large extent. His mega-success in all those spheres plus his role as a rapper make it more likely for him to behave that way.

              He was rude, plain and simple. I’m not arguing that. His persona and iconic status are what fueled his hubris. His money as well. But I also think the fact that race has been publicly superimposed upon it all makes it also an important thing to consider.

              Kalima says that he shouldn’t think of himself as a victim because he makes money. Victimhood (and I do not think KW would see himself as a “victim”) and money are independent variables.

              You chose to portray two black men who have all those things you state. Since race HAS been related to both stories in the media, then it must be included in the meat of the discussion. Otherwise it’s just about rich talented men behaving badly. But it’s about rich and powerful BLACK men behaving badly. How much does that alter the observer’s perspective?

              Kanye West is a black man in America. His behavior is too psychologically complex to put him in the same camp as Palin or Bush. He has a different provenance.

      • Moist Robot says:

        It’s hard to gauge what successful black men and women think unless one is black. If not out and out “victims” then certainly prejudiced against. That is definitely alive and well in the US.

        • Kalima says:

          That’s sad I agree, but he’s not eating at a soup kitchen or being refused healthcare, he’s made his money, and to hear him speak on stage, you’d think he was the only one. Some people just have to blame others, and no I’m not taking about the vile racists, then again, neither was he. I just don’t think he’s a nice guy, and it has nothing to do with the colour of his skin.

          • Moist Robot says:

            Try having Kanye get a taxi in Manhattan at 1 AM. Since when does money and material comfort exempt one from the very primitive fear of the “other”? It’s not about being a “victim”. That is your word and I choose not to employ it, because it infers worthy of pity and weakness to a degree. I think it’s a very complicated psychology to be a successful black man so soon after civil rights. Only 145 years since slavery. People live to be 100!

            He is throwing a tantrum. But, in my book, he gets a pass.

            Lebron is a different kettle of fish however.

            • Kalima says:

              I will say that I believe you about the cab drivers, I don’t live there and have no first hand knowledge, and although West should be pleased to have a pass from you, I can’t give him one.

              If as suggested this is supposedly all about race, then this would imply that had a white performer done the same thing, everyone would have been fine with it. I find that conclusion morally and intelllectually dishonest, which would make his apology to the young woman he upstaged, null and void.

              Yours sincerely,

              Natto- Lips 😉

            • Questinia says:

              It doesn’t matter about the ethnicity of the cab drivers. Black men are in a different position than other ethnic groups. I agree that his behavior was abysmal. But, I still give him a pass.

            • Kalima says:

              So his “tantrum” wasn’t about looking for pity?

              Blogging at HP for over 2 years, I saw the racism every day Q, it was vile, and I was shocked to read it. However before the primaries and the GE, it remained mostly hidden, and since Obama became your President they were encouraged by people with money and with a voice on radio, tv and extreme RW to iron their white sheets and hoods.

              When people like Billy Holiday sang her songs like “Strange Fruit” things were really bad for AA in your country. Her songs were about things she had witnessed and situations that had haunted her, and although there are hateful racists
              out there now, they are being egged on by white men in power financially, and being used as tools for political gain. When Billie sang her sad songs things were very different.

              No it’s not all about the money Q, but did only AA buy his albums, and the people he was raving about on stage, were those people all out to get him just because he was black, or because he made an arse of himself by deciding he was already too big to fail, and people would forgive his outrageous behaviour just because he thought he was entitled to behave that way?

              We all have strong emotions about different things, most of us keep within our boundaries when it comes to personal feelings about how we think we have have been wronged, and to talk about it like he did in front of so many was in my opinion, to gain sympathy. So whether you like the word “victim” or not, his behaviour implies that this is how he sees himself, and 9 odd minutes of talking about himself, amounts to whining, and making everything about himself.

              So when I wrote about money, I meant that he can now do what he did because he has made a name for himself, he has made money. It would have been far more impressive to hear him talk about poor, underprivileged AA children who need a helping hand to gain an education, and through it a better life, than hear him rambling on about real or imagined slights.

              I’ve never been to Manhattan, but aren’t the majority of cab drivers in NY from many different ethnic origins?

              Here in Japan, a cab driver can refuse anyone who is drunk or drunk and disorderly a ride.

    • Questinia says:

      Positively BRILLIANT Moist Robot!

    • bitohistory says:

      MR, Sounds like Quite the play. Can’t wait to see it. Off Broadway, Broadway or Chicago?

  2. whatsthatsound says:

    Here’s Kanye doing his thing, Nov. 23rd, NYC

    • bitohistory says:

      Ok, Whats, you accused me of lowering your IQ from a 2 minute Palin clip, I just watched 9 bloody and 22 seconds of the most mind numbing victim hood drivel I have ever heard. Where can I get my IQ points back? 😀

    • kesmarn says:

      Oh wow, wts, you almost have to listen to it and watch it to get the full impact of this rant.

      It really borders on the comical. A nearly ten minute howl of self pity inspired by fear. The fear that he has indeed cooked his own personal golden-egg producing goose.

      He’s really on to something, though, in comparing himself to Dubya.

      Anyone who insists on living in his own echo-chamber — on surrounding him/herself with yes-people — is going to lose his bearings and do some ridiculously damaging stuff. Then, when the rest of reality says: :”Cut it out, you big jerk!” They are stunned. And terribly *sniff* hurt! And then outraged that someone dared to criticize.

      And before you know it, they angry at their own victims.

      Yes, this has Dubya and Palin written all over it.

      • whatsthatsound says:

        absolutely, Kesmarn. I was thinking of Sarah Palin as I wrote this last night. This really says something about our culture, I think, that our sports and entertainment worlds, AND our political world, is filled with such kind of people. And WE are the ones who put them there, and tolerate them until we don’t anymore.

        • kesmarn says:

          And with — again, almost comical — lack of self-awareness, Palin says of American Idol:

          “No one they have encountered in their lives -- from parents to teachers to their president -- wanted them to feel bad by hearing the truth,” opines Sarah Palin.

          She says Idol trots out a “seemingly endless supply of people who can’t sing but are deluded enough to get in front of a national television audience anyway.”

          If anyone declared that America had a seemingly endless supply of people who can’t govern/think but are deluded enough to run for office anyway, would she get the point?
          Doubtful.


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