Kanye West is a confrontational artist who refuses to rest on his laurels. His anti-mainstream music has ironically catapulted him to superstardom, and has turned him into a household name. Most people respect West’s artistry, even if they don’t exactly enjoy his music. However, few people respect West’s public persona. Conventional wisdom deems West an arrogant, self-absorbed artist, and a bully who only looks out for himself. After he infamously interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the VMAs, President Obama called West a “jackass.” But in earnest, Yeezy could actually be a positive role model for celebrities and non-celebrities alike.
Putting aside West’s artistic innovation for a moment, the rapper deserves credit for the way he conducts himself in public. As a celebrity who receives constant attention, his biggest obstacle is the paparazzi. A recent encounter caused West to plead no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge against a photographer. Below is a clip from The Talk in which the hosts blast West for reacting the way he did.
There’s a fine line between freedom of speech and invasion of personal space, and when a photographer can profit off of West’s picture while simultaneously spewing any insult he or she thinks of, West’s reaction is telling. Obviously West's violent reaction is over the top and unnecessary as the hosts of The Talk point out, but there's only so much instigation a celebrity can handle before he or she snaps. I don't applaud West's violence here, but I do think he shines a light on the tense relationship between celebrity and paparazzo. His trend-setting refusal to simply “let it go” and smile for the camera is significant, even if he should express his frustration with the press in more productive, less violent ways. We must ask ourselves what we would do if photographers followed us around 24/7 in an attempt to capitalize on our moments of weakness.
Moreover, West is politically and culturally engaged, and doesn’t shy away from expressing his beliefs. After the Bush Administration’s botched efforts to respond to Hurricane Katrina, for instance, West publicly announced that, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” He received backlash for speaking out, as the video below demonstrates, but his controversial opinion highlights the inequities between black and white and rich and poor in 21st century America. West tells it like it is, and in an era where public figures lie to the masses in an attempt to be likable and appealing, West’s honesty is refreshing and worthy of emulation.
Finally, despite what many detractors claim, West is humble enough to take responsibility for his wrongdoings. After the Taylor Swift incident at the VMAs, for example, West was attacked by nearly everyone in the country for being an aggressive bully. Below is a video of West on The Tonight Show in which he apologizes for the incident and claims his behavior was irrational and inappropriate. In the video, West comes across as a self-aware individual who is man enough to take responsibility for his mistakes.
Regardless of whether or not Swift deserved the award (I think many of us will admit that Beyoncé did have the better video), West shouldn't have acted the way he did, and he acknowledges this fact himself. West shows that mistakes and poor decisions are inevitable, and that there's nothing wrong with owning up to them with an apology. We've all encountered individuals who continue to make excuses for their poor behavior, and West's humility to admit wrongdoing sends an important message to young children and adults.
This is not to say that West is without fault and deserves to be the next president. However, his brutal honesty, unmatched confidence, and passionate defiance make him an easy target, and as a result, he’s unfairly become the straw man in most debates. When public figures refuse to conform, they’re often met with resistance, and West is no different. This is unfortunate, and like the many great men and women before him, West is completely misunderstood by the mass public.
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