In this, the “Donda” event earned him another record breaking week. The brutal Daily Beast headline was representative: “Kanye West Brings Out Homophobe and Accused Rapist on DONDA Chicago Show. Some critics called for the holding of Apple Music, which broadcast the event live “indebted. “British release on Independent declined to rate the disc due to Manson’s involvement. (Nothing, of course, stopped the album from racking up amazing streaming numbers for its August 29 debut.)
In 2021, “Kanye West court backlash” could be uncomfortably close to “Dog bites man”. But this cycle of censorship was not only about the man himself, but about American cultural policy at large. For West’s critics, DaBaby and Manson’s sins, as serious as they are, become almost secondary to the fact that West has given them – literally, in this case – a “platform.” By refusing to run away from such figures, West has reinvented himself as a sort of impresario for the canceled ones. And by standing next to Manson in particular, once the black beast From mainstream American morality in its own right, West illustrated exactly how much our cultural conversation on this subject has changed.
As perhaps the last iconic public figure of heavy metal in the late 1990s, Manson’s combination of teenage rage, provocative androgyny, and satanic shadowboxing earned him widespread protest from religious groups, the ban cautious worried parents across Central America and even blame it for the Columbine massacre. Today such things register as kitsch – if they register at all. In 2021, the fastest way to stir up outrage is not to invoke taboo spiritual forces; it’s flouting liberal social norms in the way West has become so skillful – whether it’s through those more recent antics or his embrace of Donald Trump, whom he allegedly invited to the event as well. (No word on whether the former president was asked to write a verse himself.)
To be “transgressive” in mainstream pop culture today – or at least to be seen as such – is not doing something worth undoing, but willingly aligning yourself with the undone. West’s bromance with Trump was a telling prelude to his current iteration. Despite all their differences, the quality that brought the two men together is a deep belief in the value of provocation for the sake of provocation. The substance of what is actually said is almost secondary to the reaction to it.
This kind of trolling, and the humiliation that comes with it, has been used to uphold cultural norms since ancient times. But West, once again, produced a cultural innovation. By deliberately stoking a proxy controversy that almost masks the original sins of his accomplices, he revealed the matryoshka-like nature of mainstream American cultural discourse – which in turn fuels an endless stream of tabloids, cables and inevitably political controversies. .
The Trump-West principle of controversy as an inherent good transfers to the company that the latter now retains. Whatever one thinks of him, it’s hard to imagine West’s inclusion of Manson, for example, as an explicit endorsement of sexual violence. The intended message is rather that of mistrust: West (or Trump) will not be proscribed in the company he maintains (or his speech) by the offense he could cause to a wider audience.
The gravity of this offense has grown much stronger in the nearly two decades since West launched his career, just as Manson’s popularity waned. Homophobia, once endemic to mainstream rap music, is now largely taboo; one of the biggest stars of the genre is a homosexual. (West himself has been very critical of homophobia in rap culture; he removed another recent collaboration with DaBaby from the streaming services following the latter rapper’s comments, which he himself addresses on “Donda.” in a beautiful ouroboros of controversy.)
In Manson’s case, allegations of sexual assault are treated much more seriously today than when Harvey Weinstein’s predations were whispered like a morbid joke. But more relevant to West’s success as a provocateur than Americans’ diminishing tolerance for such rhetoric and behavior is the ongoing debate over whether or not to avoid the accomplishments of those involved. As Armin Rosen wrote in The rampart of the musical collaboration between the three men in question, West “brought together the canceled ones in order to force people to reconcile artistic success with their own unease.” (It feels like, if the opportunity arose, West would also return Woody Allen’s films to wide release, just to protest anything beyond the cultural framework.)
In this sense, his individual campaign against “the cancellation of culture” is reminiscent of one of the rare equally famous avatars of unreformed masculinity: Joe Rogan, the podcaster whose interviews with decidedly canceled personalities like Alex Jones, Roseanne Barr, and West himself have earned him an extremely loyal fan base who shares his reluctance to publicly avoid (or, failing that, hold accountable) such figures for their transgressions.
Ironically, this debate about how to deal with such transgressors is very much alive in the one thing about West’s album launch that has been somewhat clouded by the controversy that accompanies it: the music itself. “Donda,” recorded in the midst of West’s divorce from his mega-famous ex-wife Kim Kardashian, is a sprawling opus in which West recognizes, but still longs for, the incredibly difficult path to redemption from his inner flaws and feelings. thoughtless actions. look alike. As messy as it may be, this is West’s most performed and creative music for nearly a decade.
And it’s not just Manson and DaBaby appearing as musical props in West’s Passion Play. Buju Banton, a Jamaican reggae and dancehall star whose gay rights groups have protested against homophobic lyrical content, appears on one track. Jay Electronica, who has long been engaged in timid anti-Semitism both in his music and on social media, launches into a verse. West’s general subtext is typically messianic: all have been annulled and come short of the glory of God; Be freely justified by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Yeezus.
For many (perhaps most) Americans, such absolution does not belong to the West. Hence the controversy: to those like the Independent Critic who placed “Donda” beyond critical appraisal, the hard-earned gains over the past two decades in holding figures like Manson accountable are too valuable to risk “normalizing” their offenses by sharing his platform. cultural form with them, let alone as part of one of the biggest pop-cultural events of the year. This puts West on almost a par with his band of canceled men: he is, in the eyes of his detractors, an accomplice – which makes him the modern successor to Manson’s public enemy status circa 2001.
West stands beyond the boundaries of polite society, at least as defined by many Americans, helpless, painfully – and, yes, still sometimes transcendent – himself. He’s the usual line-stepper of our time par excellence, and that line has undeniably changed, and in most cases admirably, when it comes to our behavioral and speech taboos.
But more than that, the American cultural conversation has largely moved beyond consideration of unacceptable behavior. in itself to a debate about who might or might not tolerate it, the words we use to talk about it and what to do with the work of those who commit it. Diving headfirst into the deepest part of that conversation, Kanye once again revealed the combination of cultural intuition and recklessness that has enabled him to largely possess her for almost two decades now.