Saturday, December 4, 2010

Culture, Kanye West and the New America

Every year we are witness to a lowering of standards of American culture by corporate media. Since the time of Elvis Presley, the bar for who gets to become the next cultural icon has been lowered in order to accommodate the shrinking intellect of the American public, the nadir of which was supposedly reached in the late 80’s.  Not so, if the maniac corporatist con men have to say anything about it.  Robert Hughes might have had it right in the 90’s when he said that “Reagan educated the public down to his level. He left his country a little stupider in 1988 than it had been in 1980.” and yet he did not foresee the levels to which the upcoming generations would stoop in the near future.  A future in which hip hop is the only tool seemingly available and effective enough to educate our overly medicated and apathetic school children. It is only natural and logical that “artists” like Kanye West* should be looked up to as the heroes of an eviscerated and neutered cultural dystopia as well as spokespeople for the masses of the brave new world in which we find ourselves today.
The fact that recently every sort of media is raving that Kanye West just released his new record, and this includes the supposedly “non-corporate and public supported” National Public Radio, constitutes nothing more that an almost “jaw-dropping fucking yawn”, in the words of the late Bill Hicks, a true cultural warrior, who used this phrase to describe how he felt about the release of Madonna’s Sex book.  To hear a critic on NPR’s Fresh Air turn giddy while reviewing the urban musings of Kanye West while comparing him to Elvis Presley, is as interesting and intellectually uplifting as watching a dog take a shit.  And to compare West with the likes of Elvis is nothing more than an exercise in artificial personality inflation and markup of West’s apparent worth in the context of an already over inflated celebrity bubble.
What we seem to forget is that most of the media personalities and pop culture icons presented to us on Tv, Radio, the internet and iPhones are carefully manufactured in corporate offices where ideas of the new image for the new teenager of the New America are being produced on a weekly basis in focus group style meetings or on the stages of low level television caricatures like American Idol.  As a result of this, American pop culture has become a transient form of entertainment in which content is judged by it’s intensity of emotion and glitz rather than by it’s merits and ability to withstand the test of time.  And it is precisely because of this transitory nature of today’s culture, with all its trends and fallacies, that we get inflated celebrities like Kanye West who’s apparent personality precedes his actual talent as a musician.
But what of the people that Kanye West’s music supposedly speaks to, the inner city kids, the rebellious teenager, the middle to upper class privileged children or (fill in whatever group you want here)?  Is it not ok to listen to his music and enjoy it as one would any other meaningful record? On this subject, the answer is yes.  West’s music has a right to be heard just as much as Bob Dylan’s, Michael Gira’s or Cannibal Corpse’s.  The distinction lies in the aftereffect when a lot of people tend to substitute their personalities with that of the most popular celebrity of the day.   The countless TV “reality” shows are a monument to this tendency. And the saddest outcome is the production of the kind of people that claim they listen to Kanye West’s music to find a sense of identity that are not dissimilar to those that believe that George Costanza is a philosopher and that television sit-coms espouse moral values.
This leaves us with the greatest dilemma of the new century, which is the realization that what we have learned in the end is that we have learned nothing. The corporate wheels keep grinding while the American consumer keeps consuming and we are left with people like Kanye West apparently ready to lead the New America to its ultimate demise in a fiery pit of mediocrity.

 *note - If you’re reading this article a few years or maybe just months down the road, just substitute the name Kanye West with whatever celebrity’s name you see on your screen or on the covers of “leading” pop culture magazines.