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Four Replies to 9-VIII-2015 or I Am A Terrible Person

Scott Hardie | August 10, 2015
For anyone wondering, this is my Facebook post. The article is linked therein.

First of all, Aaron, I can't tell how much of your reaction is due to my post, and how much of it came from other Kanye West discussions you might have seen or participated in. But for the part of it that I caused, that made you feel like your opinion was invalid or unacceptable in any way, sorry about that.

To be clear, I was referring to the popular fad that is bashing West: Doing things like signing a petition to get him banned from a festival, sharing around that video of Freddie Mercury laughing at him, sharing around that other video of Corey Taylor bashing him, et cetera, to share some recent examples. West seems to be a very popular object of ridicule every you go online, and it seems way out of proportion to his offenses, all of which involve being a rude egomaniac. There are plenty of other rude egomaniacs in music who don't attract this level of hate. There are also people who legitimately dislike his music, but they don't account for this level of hate either. Is it wrong to conclude that race is a factor, or to be more precise, that part of the popularity of this particular bandwagon is the natural instinct for a mob of white people to protect perceived white superiority from a black aggressor who would usurp it? We think of rock music as a white arena (which is laughable given its history), and we think of white musicians as making the best music overall. Black artists are allowed to make good black music as long as it's thought of as black music. When a black artist comes along with a serious claim to being the best artist overall, it's natural for a lot of white people to turn against him en masse: Look at how thoroughly Michael Jackson was decredited as a man-child weirdo even before the sex abuse allegations. It doesn't necessarily mean that you are racist for holding a negative opinion of this artist; it means that there are racist undertones to the popular bandwagon and more people should think through their positions, something that you have clearly done.

I'd like to do away with the notion that racism should shut down a speaker. Guess what: Everybody is racist. Every single person who participates in our society has at least some faint notion in their head that members of a given race have a given collective tendency or worth. It's natural and it's universal. Furthermore, we can't have an honest conversation about anything if some speakers are shut down. It's frustrating to me that the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction: It used to be that we tolerated racism and let it corrupt our society openly, and we got to a point in the 1990s and early 2000s when we were collectively acknowledging that some attitudes were unjustly racist, but now we've gone so far in the other direction of silencing anyone or anything perceived as racist that we're not just losing valuable voices, we're creating feelings of disenfranchisement and powerlessness where the whole point was to do away with those. To give an example, look at the n-word: Not along ago, it was considered wrong to call someone a nigger, but it was fine to use the word in society when talking about the word itself or about racism. Now it's considered racist to use the word at all under any circumstances, and even the most powerful black man in the world can't use it academically without controversy. By ignoring the word and trying to strike it from the English language, we only give it more power as a taboo. By shutting down any speaker who is even remotely perceived as racist and refusing to listen to anything else that person says, we're harming society (and that person), not helping society -- and besides, we're creating a simple and convenient means for shutting down any speaker, which is dangerous.

You mentioned not separating an artist's good work from their awful human tendencies. We were just talking about this in TC. Given my comments there, I have no problem separating West's music from West's dickish public comments, and he hasn't even done anything nearly as bad as other artists. Is that so bad? As you said, "talent does not and should not excuse poor behavior," but is it wrong to cheer one and jeer the other simultaneously?

To further that point, does one have to like West's music to defend his egotism, or dislike his music to denigrate him? Personally, I like exactly one Kanye West song, which I can thank former TCer Jackie Mason for introducing to me. I've tried to listen to several of his other hits and couldn't get into them, though I admit I didn't try very hard. My opinions about West or the popular backlash against him don't have anything to do with his music any more than your opinions about his egotism do.

You asked how someone can rank artists when art is subjective and artists don't have championships the way that athletes do. As it happens, I do rank artists, and of course my rankings are the only ones anywhere that count. :-)  If West were to enter Rock Block today, he would probably be an R3. In fact, he will eventually enter the game, because of course any artist can enter on a long enough timeline.

Is West the greatest living rock star? Even if you accept his genre as a branch off of the tree of rock & roll, which I do, I still think his comment needs more qualifiers, since there are a lot of still-living legends out there. A case could be made that West is the "greatest rock star who is actively producing music widely considered great." But then again, if I can be forgiven for bringing race back into it, West is judged on a different scale than white artists.

in case it's not clear, i agree with most of what you're saying, Aaron. Right on, and well said. :-)

Scott Hardie | May 6, 2018
I'm done defending Kanye West. Some of his latest comments are nonsensical and hurtful. Even through all of the bashing that he has endured over the years, I used to see the points that he was trying to make and I thought those points were worth highlighting to people too quick to dismiss him. But some of his comments lately are inscrutable even when considered sympathetically. He is beyond defending.

Erik Bates | May 8, 2018
I didn't realize that this was an old discussion with a new comment, so I started reading from Aaron's first post thinking, "How the hell can anybody defend Kanye after this most recent bullshit?"

And then I read your most recent post, Scott, and it all clicked.

Scott Hardie | May 9, 2018
Yeah, I don't know whether Aaron would have wanted that stuff brought back up again. But I didn't want to start a new discussion.

As long as we're talking about it: I am sorry, again, for making Aaron or anyone else feel slighted for having a genuine opinion. I have no doubt that he and many other people were acting in good faith when they judged West negatively. I was reacting to acquaintances of mine who acted instead in bad faith, who bashed West out of actual racism (I've seen some of the vile shit they say) or who bashed him out of lazy bandwagonism, who couldn't actually name one of his controversial statements or one of his songs, but who gleefully pick on him because he's a popular punching bag. Both are bad looks and I wanted to encourage people to be better.


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