This post is by Stephen Lee Naish and was written for Everyday Analysis
At the VMA awards in August 2015, Kanye West took to the stage to accept his Video Vanguard Award from Taylor Swift. He concluded his acceptance speech by announcing that he would be running for President of the United States. The audience, consisting of multi-millionaires, bestselling musicians and mega celebrities, all cheered and fist pumped in approval. Those who saw the event on television, and were all too used to West’s proclamations and stage-hogging antics, assumed it was a lark. The following month, West’s statement drew remarks from President Barack Obama. Obama stated that: “You got to deal with strange characters who behave as if they are on a reality TV show,” a reference to West`s wife, reality television star, and possible future First Lady, Kim Kardashian. He then continued: “Do you really think this country is going to elect a black guy from the southside of Chicago with a funny name to be president of the US?” Of course stranger things have happened, are happening, and are yet to occur in America.
To be clear, I wouldn’t dismiss West as a presidential contender. In another life he would make an outstanding public servant. In some respects West’s upbringing and background would even prepare him for public office. From a young age he showed a proficiency for art and eventually became involved in Chicago`s vibrant hip-hop scene, first as a writer and producer, then morphing into a world class performer. West carries more weight as a Man of the People figure than even Obama can muster. Certainly he is more connected to the plights, triumphs and failings of modern Americans than say current Republican candidate, Donald Trump. In 2005, West appeared in a live telethon in support of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, he proclaimed to the audience that "George Bush Does not care about black people.” which summed up the feelings of frustration against the Bush administration. As the situation played out in New Orleans, one could hardly disagree with West’s comments. West has also shown divergence from popular discourse. Before his presidential announcement he even suggested some pretty radical amendments to popular culture:
I believe in myself, we the Millennials bro. This is a new mentality. We not gonna control our kids with brands. We’re not going to teach low self esteem and hate to our kids. We’re going to teach our kids that they can be someone. We’re going to teach our kids that they can stand up for themselves. We’re going to teach our kids to believe in themselves. It’s about ideas, new ideas, people with ideas, people who believe in truth.
At worst, West`s ambitions point towards something more sinister: the belief that politicians should be suave, savvy, well chiselled iconoclasts with easy sound bites and a digestible platform, as opposed to being hard working lawmakers who understand the hardships people face. We are venturing further towards an age of extreme spectacle, where reality and fantasy converge. The ascent of Donald Trump’s campaign for the 2016 Republican Party nomination has shown that Americans may be even be prepared for such a spectacle to occur. Trump’s approach has been to tap into the extreme prejudices against immigration that lie within the dark heart of the American psyche, and to blame immigration on the financial, and cultural wasteland that is apparently rampant. Trump’s answers are extreme: build real walls to keep immigrants out, build virtual walls to keep prejudice locked in. Trump`s merciless nature and desire for conflict is extremely dangerous in a world faced with tremendous unrest. Nonetheless, at the time of writing Trump has excelled in the opinion polls.
As detestable as it sounds, Donald Trump and Kanye West are reading from the same script. Like Trump, West’s positions on matters such as medical care, U.S foreign policy, finance, economics, care for the elderly and poor, America’s space program and education reform have not been disclosed. If West`s campaign is real he will have to work with a huge group of managers, organizers and volunteers, and here lies the problem. There is a false presumption in America that the presidency is the ultimate accumulation of power and status, the totality of the American Dream. But the presidency is far more than just one individual. There is a cabinet office, a senate, the people to contend with. Based on his evoking of Christ-like imagery (the song ‘I am a God’ from an album called Yeesus) the vision West has for his presidency will be to embody every aspect of America. With lack of experience in representing real Americans this embodiment of every American reality is ultimately an empty vessel, and makes any post-Kanye presidency worthless, with any popularity seeker vying for office (Lindsey Lohan stated she`ll run in 2010) and willing to flip the switch from self-involved to righteous.
In his book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Chris Hedges applies commentary to the mass disillusion that America seems to be partaking in. Hedges comments that “The worse reality becomes, the less a beleaguered population wants to hear about it, and the more it distracts itself with squalid pseudo-events of celebrity breakdowns, gossip, and trivia.” The pseudo-events and trivialities have now entered into the political playing field. Under this cardboard template of democracy the atrocities of rampant capitalism, the crippling of the working classes, the decimation of the environment, the failings of the education system can continue unabated, and Kanye West would be powerless to stop it, even if he wanted too. After all, his presidency is just another tick-off in his path for popularity, as he said at the VMA’s “I just want people to like me!” A West Presidency is trading record sales and ticket stubs for votes. No longer will America exist in the same reality as the rest of the world. America will instead operate in a permanent state of entertainment. No lefty, moderate, or right-winger with hard earned credentials will dare to follow the circus.
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