Kanye West and the Age of the Uncontrollable

Kanye West and conservative commentator Candace Owens wear the controversial White Lives Matter shirts © ISM/Capital Pictures

“This is an unmanageable situation,” Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) announced around the 96th minute of the introductory foreword to the ninth collection of his clothing label Yeezy on Monday evening. He spoke in a theater like a sacristan. His community? A select group of magazine editors, stylists and various fellow designers.

“You can’t turn the music down,” he continued, referring to the show’s delay, his struggles with past collaborators and his mission to create a fashion moment “that you can’t ungoogle.” “It’s a divine thing,” he claimed in his White Lives Matter t-shirt and sparkly flip-flops. “A dream that is not possible without God’s help.” A children’s choir began to sing songs a cappella. A model shuffled onto a dim catwalk to walk between us, wrapped head-to-toe in a knitted all-in-one.

The vibe felt edgy, awkward, and pretty silly. Or at least I felt pretty stupid for even being on the show. What made me show up for a right-wing controversy who constantly talks about his “genius”? Shamefully, my FOMO was such that I couldn’t take being the one who wasn’t there.

There also seems to be great messianic energy in favor of it. And not just around the fashion shows. Right now you are nobody unless you are on a mission that commands effusive and unequivocal devotion. The story of Ye, a rapper who embarks on his journey in a cloak of white supremacy, was just one example in a long week of craziness. Elsewhere, the British Prime Minister tried to convince us that she cared about social justice as she sent the pound into the maelstrom, while Vladimir Putin’s global brinkmanship game puts us in the specter of nuclear attack. What the hell?

Unmanageability is the new world order. Nobody follows the rules. Policies and protocols are just so boring. We’ve reached the moment in our evolution where it seems people in power will just do whatever they want, no matter how bizarre, off-kilter, or misbehaved.

Failure to automatically correct extreme behavior is trending. It wasn’t that long ago that we witnessed the riot in the Capitol. Was that when, in this swarm of revolutionaries in raccoons, our collective sanity went out the window? From ridiculous to downright evil, in the months since we’ve seen a cavalcade of drama, from the Johnny Depp trial to the Harry Styles “Spitgate” scandal to the challenge of Elon Musk Wladimir Putin to a “Single Battle” duel. Toxic stories have grabbed the headlines for so long it feels like there’s no sane person behind the wheel anymore.

That we’re becoming more and more unpredictable was observed by critic Wesley Morris earlier this year when he responded to the Will Smith Oscars debacle in The New York Times. He claimed that one of the more damaging outcomes of Covid is not the virus that is “at its core”. . . off the body”. But how the pandemic ended up “taking us insane.”

Smith’s nagging behavior at the Dolby Theater, he argued, was a manifestation of a greater evil. We dissolve slowly and irrevocably, he suggested. “We were privy to all sorts of behaviors that we’d rather not see.”

Lewis R. Gordon is an American philosopher whose book Fear of Black Consciousness was released earlier this year. In 2018, he was interviewed for an article about Kanye in which he tried to explain the singer’s drive to right after a controversial interview the musician did on TMZ about the history of slavery. “It’s pretty clear that his psychological protection from vulnerability is to push himself to the level of a god,” Gordon said. “People who build a edifice of pleasing untruths for their own protection eventually lose touch with certain elements of truth.”

Power, fame and influence all come with expensive baggage. And while Gordon speaks specifically of the Black experience, his thinking reveals broader issues. Writing to Gordon this week, he told me: “I think West’s views are symptomatic of a broader crisis. . . The backlash against progressive efforts, particularly around race and gender, has been so brutal that there has been a return of the “exception” rule. The second is interracial, in which there are fewer people looking for political solutions to political problems; they seek “gods” instead. . . The lure of famous people with god complexes is that their “fame” will be transformed into their “divinity.” The greater mess is that there are people without fame who seek him through identification and projection (“touch the hem of his robe,” which has additional meaning in this week’s stupidity case).”

When we are in a place of weakness, we often protect ourselves by anchoring ourselves more firmly. And since everything is so polarized and angry, it’s easy for people to lose their heads. We’re also more prone to simple credos and slogans that make us feel empowered. As the world heats up and becomes more divisive, the messianic impulse has prevailed.

Like many others who have wielded power and influence, Kanye now finds himself on a tiny stage. And while his show felt dangerous in its megalomania and craziness, the world seemed just as “unmanageable” when I finally escaped outside.

Email Jo at jo.ellison@ft.com

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Adam Bradshaw

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