Initially I should say that I understand that by writing this, I am a part of the problem. There is an irony in talking about people who’s main goal seems to be being talked about. However, the way these two, Kanye West and Donald Trump, manipulate us is so insidious and unsubtle and effective that it should be acknowledged. It’s hard to credit that two walking egos can do what they are doing currently, but there they are doing it. I hate myself for falling for it, but here I am falling for it, and so are you, so at least we’re at the bottom together.
Each man has achievements that can’t be ignored. Although he comes from money, Trump has built a large and diverse portfolio of real estate, which isn’t easy, he’s a driven, competent man, though that doesn’t qualify you as President. His potential 2020 opponent has 7 platinum albums in an era when album sales are not so much slumping as diving off the edge of a cliff. I suspect that the number they care about the most are 19.4 Million and 6.3 Million, West and Trumps Twitter followers, because it is here, rather than in the boardroom or the record shop that their true genius is revealed.
They both understand that to be talked about is to be relevant, and that if they have detractors, they’ll have passionate defenders. Then they simply do the things that get them talked about and their defenders defend them, and their detractors attempt to detract from them but fail, and anyway, they talk about them which is the currency of our age.
As a tactic, it’s hardly Machiavelli, but it’s effective. Kanye has released an underwhelming record and hidden it on a site that nobody subscribes to and yet has been in the news more than anyone who has released overwhelmingly excellent records and allowed everyone to hear and buy them. He’s done it by releasing three different album names and track lists, by declaring he’s in debt, and in general by being the loudest and most unpleasant person in popular music right now. This is not new to now, of course. Kanye West was nominated for one award in 2009 at the VMA’s, winning none, but he’s the thing you remember. Do you remember that Beyoncé actually won video of the year, ahead of Taylor Swift? (Swift won Female Video of the Year.) Of course you don’t, because a) who cares and b) Kanye. As a beef, Kanye and Taylor isn’t Jay-Z and Nas, but if you’re going to pick a target why not make it one of the only popstars in the world bigger than you? Kanye doesn’t care that half (more than half) of the articles about him saying he could “fuck Taylor Swift” didn’t paint him in a good light, because he knows that’s his role to be the pantomime villain, just as Swift knows it’s hers to remain aloof and demonstrate that she’s the bigger person. Each gets their name in the headlines and your timeline and you remain aware of their brand.
Trump has tapped into the same market. His defenders always says he “tells it like it is” which seems to mean that he says things that appeal to latent racism, homophobia and sexism in people. Kanye is extremely unpleasant, Trump is extremely worrying, but the tactic is the same, throw in a grenade, back away and watch your name in the headlines, watch people on either side of the aisle throw up click bait and think pieces on their timelines (hey, throw this clickbait think piece on your timeline tho, support local clickbait think pieces.) Then do it again, aware that there’s nothing that makes people support you more than their supposedly idiotic friend telling them to stop supporting you, as evidence think of how many posts along the lines of “clearing my friends list to get rid of all the negativity/hate.” Once people go down that road, they consume their information in more and more of a vacuum (Facebook full of right wingers, Fox News, Drudge Report) and then all they hear is your message and forget that there is another one out there.
This opens up a broader perspective on our lives. We have more access than ever before to information, more ways to consume it which is supposed to have broadened our horizons, democratized our societies but I believe has done the opposite. We operate more and more in a vacuum, all of us do, as we narrow and refine where we get our information. That’s why the world is drifting toward the extremes and away from the center, not just here in America (Trump, Cruz, Sanders) but elsewhere too. In the last British election, UKIP, who are frankly and objectionably racist were a major factor, and in the aftermath of a conservative landslide the Labour Party elected Jeremy Corbyn as Party Leader, a massive leap to the left after the centrist days of Tony Blair and his successors. Obviously this can’t all be laid at the door of our self-isolation, but I think it’s a factor. As we yell into our echo chambers and have our friends yell back into theirs our opinions intensify and we get more radical, people who were not socialists feel the Bern, and people who were right of center want to ban all Muslims.
Of course it’s possible to like ‘1989’ and ‘Late Registration’, and to view unfettered immigration as a concern and believe we should raise taxes to offer essential services to people who can’t afford them, but not when he who shouts loudest shouts best is our credo. If you really want Trump and West to go away, stop talking about them going away, stop giving them the oxygen of attention they crave. Who knows? Maybe they’ll go back to building opulent casinos and golf courses and making half decent rap records. Or I’ll see you in 2020 as they duke it out to see who gets to be Supreme Ruler. Of course I’ll have taken advantage of this UK passport and be long gone by then.