Saturday, September 17, 2005

At Least it Wasn't Mike Jones

I have not felt like I could really address this Hurricane Katrina thing with my blog. There is just so much involved and its’ a more complex issue. I have been listening to others and trying to glean some idea of the state of the world and humankind by listening to the reactions of various folks. I guess there is a little excitement that maybe this event will be the sobering experience this country needs to really look at itself, but then again I felt the same way the morning of September 11, 2001 before I watched this country hastily go to war and aggressively sow more seeds of hate and fear.

And already the cynic in me has noticed a small troubling detail about the Katrina aftermath. Let's just say that I think the corporate driven media and government have learned a valuable lesson from magicians by learning to keep us focused on things of little consequence like exposed breasts and some R&B singer peeing on a fourteen year old girl. I have been really disturbed by the amount of people seriously discussing the brief, obviously extemporaneous comments of a Mr. Kanye West when he gave his honest reactions to what was going in New Orleans just a few days after the flooding from Katrina. Check out links like these:

Washington Post columnist addresses whether George Bush cares about black people

Black apologist article that addresses kanye's lack of political awareness

National Review article that addresses the need for the democratic leadership to distance themselves from Kanye

Well if Mr. West intended to be controversial and use his fame to start a dialogue, he has been successful, but I just find it strange that in the midst of having real questions that need to be answered about the direction of this country economically, globally and socially, that Mr. West's name is on so many people's lips. Who knows how we are going to pay the aftermath and a war in Iraq, especially without a tax hike? Who cares that the administration that has made virtually no headway on domestic issues like health care in the last five years is being entrusted to fix a problem far more difficult and complex. Let's dissect the statements of “the college dropout" instead. The media can easily find 100 other people who are saying truly insightful things and raising serious questions, but instead we are collectively wrapped around the axle over what a rapper said. Not that rappers cannot be astute and savvy...but this is a fairly easy fraternity to join considering that Snoop Dogg, Paul Wall, and Lil' Kim all maintain esteemed positions in the rap world.

So why Kanye? Maybe he actually struck a nerve, but I just don't understand why so many people who have nothing to do with hip hop or pop culture are focusing on Mr. West. Here is a man whose music career is based on a) being a producer with a strong ear for what will sound good on radio (yet he possesses very little musicianship) and b) being a rapper whose image is built on exposing a typical middle class identity crises: accepting the money/power oriented values system of a global market economy or trying to transcend that through some form of self awareness and introspection and observation of the human condition. Oddly Kanye ends up generally being cynical about his ability to transcend the values of the culture he lives in and always returns to the safety and comfort of identifying with money, fame, and popularity rather than a more self-determined since of self worth. Kanye always seems to be winking to the listener that although he is caught up in the rat race, at least he can claim to be a winner even if he still is a rat. (Don't get me wrong, Kanye's honesty is refreshing because at least we can identify with him instead of the alpha male ruthless warrior image of a 50 Cent.)

So given this guy's modus operandi why are people looking to him for social commentary? Do we really expect some insight to come from a guy who struggles with the decision of whether to where his jewelry or not? Yet so many people are going on tirades criticizing him as a conspiracy theorist and racist or just an immature unaware celebrity, which by the way he is entitled to be since his job is to make pleasant sounds and rhyme words. Why are engineers at my job asking me about what I thought of Kanye's comments as if that is a good starting point for a dialogue between two people who work for a major defense contractor and have tons more insight to how the government really works? I feel silly even having to respond to , but probably not as silly as they feel when I ask them how they would feel if I asked them about what Britney Spears or Tom Cruise has to say.

I think the media people addressing his comments are either just trying to get some publicity or they must feel like Kanye is representative of black people in general. To a certain degree, Kanye's perspective is very typical even if it is simplistic, but that applies to most Americans who have never developed the ability to see things from multiple perspectives and accept how broad the and complex the truth tends to be. I understand some people will chalk Kanye's statements up to his being black...but these are people who don't want what they think challenged in the first place and so they just dismiss Kanye as racist or absurd. Dismissing Kanye is easy to do given what he said...but if he had been eloquent, balanced and insightful these people would have only had to strain a lot harder to find something wrong with him and dismiss him none the less.

The strange thing is that no amount of character assassination is going to change the fact that we live in a country that is creating large communities of people who feel the way that Kanye does (even after they make money and prove themselves capable of thriving in this money driven culture). So I just don't understand why a legitimate columnist in a newspaper like the Washington Post actually feels a need to stir up the debate about whether George Bush does in deed care about black people, as if answering this burning question will put us on the path to enlightenment and the betterment of society. I read an article where Laura Bush was agitated enough to call Kanye's comments disgusting. I wonder if Ms. Bush realizes that by even feeling a need to respect Kanye's accusation with an emotionally charge retort, she makes me more suspicious that maybe Kanye had struck a tender little sore spot.

I don't understand why George Kane [writer of the second article linked above], who is black, feels a need to dumb himself down to have a one sided debate with Mr. West as a means of criticizing the perspective of the general black community (which as we all know gets treated as some monolithic uniform political and social perspective). Large segments of the black community tend to be insular in terms of political and social views and several powerful perceptions linger that lead to gross accusations like: "white people are all racist, the government wants to destroy the black community, etc." But large segments of the white community are insular and hold on to several powerful perceptions. This is a product of people of all colors not interacting with folks of diverse backgrounds and coming to naturally see how human just about everyone is on a personal level. So what purpose does it serve for George Kane to attack poor black people who blame racism for the failure of our government to give their lives more economic priority? Does it make it any better if the disregard for someone's life is due completely to classicism? It appears that Mr. Kane just wants to establish how erroneous Kanye's thinking is so he can establish how erroneous most black people's thinking that he can dismiss the legitimacy of anything the angry victims or the angry people who sympathize with them have to say.

Finally, I am saddened that a portion of the democratic leadership has to think about distancing themselves from the "Kanye perspective" in order to attract votes from the centrists who have drifted over to the Republican party. What they are essentially saying is that Democrats may be able to appeal to the marginally racist angry white people who might vote along their class interests if the Dems can just avoid the perception that they sympathize at all with the poor black people who are angry and dissatisfied with the government. I guess being a college drop out really did hurt Kanye, because to hear the media tell it, his limited political awareness and inability to find more acceptable ways of articulating his feelings is going to determine the next president. And they have the nerve to criticize this guy for having a big head...

The funny thing is that Kanye will probably have a field day with this on his next album when he decides to criticize those who got his "celebrity" confused with his "credibility". It could have been worse though...Mike Jones would have slurred thought diamond and platinum encrusted teeth that George Bush don't care about black people and then repeated himself twice to punctuate his statement.

mr. wilson

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