I once dated a boy who was, by all accounts, a clinical narcissist. He had an uncanny way of taking any point of conversation and pivoting it back towards himself, sucking the attention his direction with the crushing gravitational force of a self-absorbed black hole. You could be talking about the chicken at Chez Panisse and he’d bring up a story about how he learned how to expertly roast birds with his grandmother. You’d mention your friend’s wedding in the Maldives and he’d talk about the sunburn he got last summer in the Hamptons. Or, even worse, you’d try to talk about something important and he’d ignore it altogether, steamrolling you with his utter lack of acknowledgment. As a narcissist, he was defined by an acute inability to comfortably exist in a world that was not his own. It was all him, all the time.
These are the same ruling principles by which Kanye West operates. Like no other person in the history of music, Kanye – a megalomaniac never above talking about himself in the third person while tooting his own horn — routinely says things that would make any PR lady cringe. Humility is not his forte.
“I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things.”
“… me as Kanye West, as the Michael Jordan of music…”
“I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period.”
He might be a talented producer and an entertaining performer, but as a person, he sucks. He’s the type of guy meant to be enjoyed from a distance on a large stage, not the type of guy you sit down for a meal with and have a measured discourse about the world.
That’s why when Kanye West tries to get all up in our business about things not pertaining to music, I get peeved. Go ahead and go on blast about your Grammys (which, brace yourself, the nominations air this coming Friday on CBS and will include a face-off between Kanye and Justin Timberlake, though we might prefer the ’97 Nicolas Cage and John Travolta version), your prolific rap game, how you’re changing the music industry. That’s fine. But don’t start talking about real cultural issues you pretend to know anything about.
Kanye recently offered this little nugget of Kanye truth:
“A lot of what the Kardashians do, I don’t think they get enough credit for. They prep America to accept interracial relationships.”
Look, man. I know you’re trying to give that sack of reality TV detritus you call your fiancé a purpose in this life, but come on, prepping America for interracial relationships? This isn’t 1967. As of 2010, there were 4.8 million interracial marriages in the United States. That’s about 1 in 12 – which arguably isn’t that many, but it’s enough to indicate that the groundwork for interracial comfort was laid long before Keeping Up with the Kardashians came on the air.
You don’t see David Bowie and Iman running around screaming about how they changed the world, do you? Or Heidi Klum and Seal? Or De Niro and Grace Hightower? Or Sidney Poitier and Joanna Shimkus? What about when Sammy Davis Jr. married May Britt back in 1960, something that got him booed off the stage of a Democratic Convention and a New York Times headline the next day reading “Delegates Boo Negro.”
Kanye’s relationship with Kim – and all the subsequent interracial Kardashian marriages – are far from avant-garde. If these people are pushing the cultural needle anywhere, it’s in teaching us that you don’t have to be a good, intelligent, or interesting person to make millions of dollars. So Kanye, go ahead and brag about your record sales, your sweet fashion gear, your Vogue-worthy future wife. But when it comes to your wider social impact beyond pop culture, put on your leather jogging pants and take a hike.