A friend of mine observed, “ That Kanye, he sure does bring out the racists, doesn’t he?”
He made this comment a couple of weeks ago after Kanye had said something Kanyesque about books. This was the quote:
“Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed. I am not a fan of books. I am a proud non-reader of books.”
People, primarily white, middle-class people, as far as I could tell, rushed to their social media channels to denounce and mock Kanye yet again, portraying him as an illiterate, entitled child who lacked the intellectual capacity for long-form reading. However, in so doing they completely over-looked the fact that what he said wasn’t stupid at all, and could easily apply to the vast majority of the population.
Novels were once the castles in which everybody wanted to live. To write one was considered the highest artistic and intellectual aspiration, and all that was profound in culture and human experience was transferred– as if by holy passage– through them. Well, that’s simply not the case any more. The world has changed and we consume our culture and entertainment in very different ways than we did 50 years ago.
The experience I used to get reading a novel, I now typically get following specific TV shows. For me, the scope, intellect and cultural penetration offered in shows like Breaking Bad or Transparent (you could name dozens more), and the continued richness of experience and evolution of circumstance they present, simply outstrips what is available in novels. Other people will make similar arguments using graphic novels, Blogs, gaming communities, sports or more traditional forms like cinema, dance or music as examples. (I would also argue that we are much more participatory, almost partnered, in what we consume now and much less the passive receptacles we were in the past.)
Novels, particularly literary novels, have traditionally been written by a very specific group of people, and it’s never been a diverse group. The expression “Dead White Males” might pop to mind here, and although there’s much greater diversity in writing than there ever has been before, it still speaks loudest in the privileged, virtually aristocratic fields of MFA’s.
Naturally then, the experience of reading novels is an alienating one for the vast majority, and with so many other, and superior options available, why on earth would somebody like Kanye spend his time reading books that don’t speak to him, instead of creating art and pursuing his passions?
Earlier in the week a video purportedly made by bored hacktivist group Anonymous was released targeting Kanye. It was ridiculous– like a Prog Rock video from the 80’s. In it, a Guy Fawkes masked figure, in a condescending British accent, chided Kanye for all manner of untoward behaviour. It really sounded like the gripes of a 15 year-old who was angry with the cool kid in school who got all the attention.
What people want with Kanye, I think, is to keep him in line.
They want him to remember his place in the hierarchy, and every time they raise their voices to ridicule something he says or cry foul at a taboo he’s broken, they remind us not of his boundless ego, but of their inability to live in a world– now so different from the one they grew up in– where a man like Kanye might confidently assert himself and speak for an unheard majority that they’re no longer a part of.