Just because your heroes got rich and scared doesn't mean you have to
On Kanye West, Chick-Fil-A, Christianity, the New York Times, Bernie Sanders, Carlos Maza, and being "Too Far Left"
You really have to guard yourself against the euphoria of the potential.
Reader, I must confess something to you. In addition to stanning Taylor Swift, I also stan Kanye West. Both cancelable offenses, I know. And also both well-known facts about me for the last ten years to be honest. But while Swift is quietly rehabilitating her image, West seems more loudly disinterested in the politics of celebrity, especially image. After Kanye’s 2016 -2018 red-hatted public breakdown, I got unfollowed by a few of the closest people in my life because I defended some of his takes. So by proxy, if I’m still a Kanye fan after all that I’ve gotta also be a fan of everything he’s ever said and must defend him from whatever position detractors interpret him to be in, reasonable or not. I am not Kanye West, so I can’t speak for him, nor would I ever want to. I’m still a fan; a fan that’s still of the opinion that like Kanye said, if you’re a fan of him, you’re a fan of yourself. At what point does unconditional positive self-esteem become narcissistic?
Kanye’s been my favorite artist since at least 2007 when for Christmas, one year, my aunt bought me the Wal-Mart-purchased clean version of his classic album Graduation. I had distinctly asked for the clean version so that my parents would be cool with me listening to it. Immediately after opening it, I remember my cousin sitting there on Christmas day exclaim, “Fuck the clean version!”
And he was right! Fuck the clean version. The MP3s from the ripped CD still haunt my iCloud Music Library with their now unnecessary censorship. I can’t seem to shake them. Apart from that, in hindsight, it seems ironic since West has never been one for censorship, clearly, but my preacher parents asked that I listen to the clean versions, so I obliged. Now, my parents (who did not vote for Trump in 2016, to be precise) can’t get enough of his latest effort, Jesus Is King and Sunday Service’s Jesus Is Born.
Evangelical Christian Americans are inexplicably fused with the current president; it’s the image and brand he’s created for himself. But if you’ve ever read the source material for their faith, you’d have zero idea as to why they’d support him. Sometimes though, it just boils down to something like God’s will anointed Trump as our leader and Romans 13 says that government officials are anointed by God and to obey the laws of the land. Even when just a few sentences later in Romans it says:
9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
In a nation where some of the most influential people are sex abusers and decorated murderers, where we’re systemically incarcerating black and brown people and drone striking our enemies, does American law worketh ill to our neighbor? Is there any love that is being fulfilled in the law? Are we treating others the way we would like to be treated?
I try not to write much on Kanye because as much as I love him, it’s both cliché and lame to be white-presenting and talk about how much you love Kanye. The last time I wrote about Kanye West was in 2016 about his video for “Wolves.” This piece I was especially proud of at the time when I found out it was used as homework material for a high school class in which I used to be a student. Nevertheless, being a Kanye fan is bad for my image. #Canceled. However, being white doesn’t stop Spotify’s Dissect podcast from being a white-hosted podcast about interpreting exclusively black artists, or my preferred lyrical analysis podcast Watching The Throne about Kanye West, though white guys also host that one. Like, of course, the most popular Kanye-centric podcast is hosted by white guys, but also, of course, I listen to it.
They’re often woefully ill-equipped to tackle some of the subject matter in Kanye’s music and could use a guest or two. Still, I liked their latest episode on the song “Closed on Sunday,” the most successful single from Kanye’s gospel-heavy Jesus Is King. While so many are dismissing or intentionally misinterpreting Kanye’s antics, I appreciated a measured approach from people without a vested interest in the Bible merely trying to understand what “Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-Fil-A” might even mean.
The song seems simplistic and almost comical, where Kanye longs for time alone with Kim Kardashian-West and his family, but things take a turn during the breakdown verse:
Stand up for my home
Even if I take this walk alone
I bow down to the King upon the throne
My life is His, I'm no longer my own
I pray to God that He'll strengthen my hand
They will think twice steppin' onto my land
I draw the line, it's written in the sand
Try me and you will see that I ain't playin'
Now, back up off my family, move your hands
I got my weapons in the spirit's land
I, Jezebel don't even stand a chance
Jezebel don't even stand a chance
Focusing on the bit “I draw the line, it’s written in the sand,” Watching The Throne and Rap Genius’ annotation draws the connection to drawing lines in the sand and Jesus standing up for vulnerable people in society:
To draw a ‘line in the sand’ means to set a figurative boundary. The expression has been attributed to a story found in John 8:6-10, where the temple leaders approach Jesus Christ with an adulteress, asking him whether they should stone her for her sins:
So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
When Jesus defended the sex worker, he made clear that loving your neighbor meant loving everyone, both in policy and practice. From perception to punishment. It’s clear between the 13th Amendment to Gerrymandering to foreign policy to economics that America has not worked off the Golden Rule for a while now. The systems in place are designed to crush people into consumers; whole classes who exist simply to participate in an invisible economic diety. It’s not a game you’re forced to play unless you want to live or at least be comfortable and dignified in your life.
So why not be an ex-pat? Why not just pull a middle-aged Luke Skywalker and leave? What if when your neighbors reject you, the solution becomes isolation? You don’t need to depend on strangers or neighbors or your community and government for love when you make yourself an island… or in Kanye’s case, a dozen acres of land in Wyoming.
I bring up Kanye West because of the New York Times piece today on him and his effect on his new smalltown home of Cody, Wyoming.
The “failing” New York Times puts their writing behind a paywall, so if you can’t afford a subscription and maxed out your five free articles, I’ve cut out my favorite parts here. If you’re cord-cutting cable, you probably cut the cord on a physical newspaper a while ago, and I get it. You may not be getting establishment news at all, even though it’s institutionally more powerful and equipped to bring truth and justice when it wants to than I will ever be. Establishment journalists and media outlets have an advantage because they can afford to like, make good journalism happen. I get it. However, these big corporate entities seek to profit and grow, and as they grow, they start to fear showing their biases or losing advertisers. Should journalists be paid for their work? Absolutely. Should good journalism be luxury entertainment for those who can afford it? Should information a purchasable commodity? I’m not so sure.
I think everyone deserves free access to news sources and that news sources, especially online, should not stiff readers who want to learn. Journalism is expensive to produce, I know, and I’m not sure if I consider what I’m doing to be journalism yet, but it’s nevertheless costly, which is why I’m reader-supported. That makes me beholden not to advertisers, but to the audience that supports and believes in what I’m trying to do. I don’t want to lose touch with the people I love, or the communities of which I’m a member. I don’t want to become an ex-pat or an isolationist.
And it doesn’t seem like Kanye wants to either. It’s important to remember that Kanye West is among the billionaires affected by the “far-left” ’s whole “Billionaires should not exist” thing. Many criticize Kanye for getting too cozy with the Evangelical Elite, Lana Del Rey even called him “blonde and gone,” though I’m not sure he’s as out of touch with today’s youth than the headlines would suggest.
A distinction between West and billionaires actually running for president (and not just saying they are on the VMAs) is that Kanye’s in Wyoming hanging out in McDonald’s, talking to and hanging out with their underpaid employees along with the rest of Cody’s working class. He wants to bring his multi-billion dollar Yeezy to the US for manufacturing. He’s even shading the local higher-ups on his way to making his dreams a reality. Kanye’s not one to tolerate bullshit terribly well.
Microscopically, the newspaper in Cody is grappling with how to report on West, considering he’s not just a billionaire buying up land in their town, but a new member in their community. Still, his presence is reverberating within the community positively.
The Cody Enterprise, which publishes in print twice a week, has refrained from printing local gossip about Kanye, even though its building sits several lots down from the celebrity’s commercial property on Big Horn Avenue.
But where the paper’s reporters have been circumspect, its columnists, letter-writers and commenters have flooded the Enterprise with their takes on the Kardashian-Wests. The conversation was kicked off by Doug Blough, a regular columnist for the paper, who worried that the celebrity couple would clog the town with “paparazzi, movie stars, directors and Victoria Secret runway models.”
“I’m sure you’re heard the hubbub and hoopla going around our little town this week,” he wrote in September. “If not, here’s a couple hints: He’s a famous, self-absorbed rapper who thinks homeboy Donald Trump is the cat’s meow, and she’s got a keester that knocks cans off grocery store shelves.”
The condemnation was swift. One letter-writer chastised the paper for allowing Mr. Blough to “make fun of a new family in our community,” saying she wanted her 75 cents back.
“We do not know the hearts of famous people or non-famous people moving to our town,” she wrote. “People who move here, do so because they are attracted to this way of life that we all hold dear. Mutual love for freedom, tolerance, nature and wide open spaces, draw us to Wyoming and keep us here.”
The piece, which is quite excellent and worth opening an incognito tab to read, goes on to speak on the potential of West’s presence in Wyoming. How he could, should he want to, turn the entire city around and make it economically prosperous or how racism might play into the vitriol against him. How there are several other billionaires with property in Wyoming, but only Kanye is in the small town’s public eye. He’s getting high school students to perform in his operas; he’s friendly with their mayor, while at the same time notoriously unstable and unreliable.
That being said, he’s winning the town over, even the biting columnists.
Kanye’s team was spotted cleaning up roadside trash, a win in any community. “We notice those little things,” said Tina Hoebelheinrich, the executive director of the Cody Chamber of Commerce. Actions like these mattered far more to the town than Kanye’s celebrity, she said.
Even Doug Blough, the newspaper columnist, announced that he had changed his mind. In a column about his end of year regrets, he listed the “Kanye-Kim column that drew a smattering of boos.” After he published the column, he wrote, the bowling league had given him a “unanimous ‘too mean; not funny’ thumbs-down” on his article.
More to the point, he wrote: “I’m actually becoming a Kanye fan and watched Kim on a talk show to see if she’d talk about Wyoming. Indeed she did.”
Everyone who hopes that Kanye will bring jobs to town is aware that they’re taking an emotional gamble, especially given how frequently he changes his mind. (A representative of Kanye reached out, he agreed to talk for this story, and then did not.) Mr. Klessens said that those gambles are always part of the business, but that it never gets easier.
“You have to really guard against the euphoria of the potential,” he said. “I’ve spent 32 years struggling with that problem. It’s really easy to get excited about good projects.”
It’s incredibly on-brand for a West rep to reach out about the story and then not follow up, haha, which is why we guard ourselves against the euphoria of potential! We may defend ourselves too much, however. It’s safer to implement incremental change over revolution.
Bernie Sanders’ revolution has not won over mainstream media or establishment politics, despite being the clear favorite for people who have voted in Iowa, New Hampshire, and now Nevada. “Look, I don’t tolerate bullshit terribly well,” he said to them, almost as if he was honest with his feelings instead of trying to pander. He goes on to say how bad he is at pandering, despite its effectiveness. In the second clip in this tweet, he answers a question on Trump’s emboldening of racism and talks about the “blame game” that can erupt from economic frustration and xenophobia.
Emotional authenticity, whatever that means or how it manifests, is key to winning the election in 2020. If there’s anything to learn from Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 (there’s a lot tho), it’s that pandering to vulnerable communities isn’t effective. Neither is framing yourself as the savior of vulnerable communities. The inverse off #ImWithHer is #NotMeUs.
On a radio station targeted towards black people with music that most would consider connected to black culture, Clinton’s comments looked for all the world like a textbook attempt at pandering from a campaign that has long been accused by young black people of doing just that. The interviewers themselves responded immediately, questioning Clinton about pandering in a joking way. The response on social media was critical of Clinton, and echoed sentiments that have often been expressed on Twitter and Facebook before for previous campaign faux pas. But this particular incident provides a good case study on just what pandering is and the difficulties of making genuine intercultural and intergenerational political connections that seem to plague Clinton the most with young black voters.
When candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg found himself on The Breakfast Club, he took the opportunity to talk about Chick-Fil-A and the media’s frenzy surrounding some of their leadership’s positions on gay marriage. “I do not approve of their politics,” Buttigieg told the Breakfast Club, “but I kind of approve of their chicken.”
“If you’re turned off, as I am, by the political behavior of Chick-fil-A or their executives — if that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, so to speak, and you decide not to shop there, I’d certainly get it and I’d support that. But the reality is, we, I think, sometimes slip into a sort of virtue signaling in some cases where we’re not really being consistent. I mean, what about all the other places we get our chicken from?”
Whataboutism there at the end notwithstanding (but not irrelevant), I think Mayo Pete might have a point. I’ll have to get into Chick-Fil-A’s relationship with the LGBTQ+ community in another piece, but let me know if you’d like to see it!
Mainly, if you look at what CFA has done for the standards and conditions of the working class -- fast-food employees operating deep fryers and drive-thrus -- you may notice not just the higher quality of service received at their restaurants, but higher employee satisfaction as well. It’s a meme at this point. Chick-Fil-A pays better than its competitors, treats its employees better than its competitors, and is the only major fast-food chain that guarantees at least one day off from work company-wide. My tinfoil hat would call into question why the media is so intent on devaluing Chick-Fil-A’s impact on the fast-food industry, instead choosing to focus on their supposed hatred for the gay community. Still, I can digress until the cows come home.
Shortly after Trump’s election in 2016, Kanye was at his worst in terms of mental health and stability. His Pablo Tour was canceled, and soon after, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His frustration would manifest into rants in front of thousands over how he was by Obama’s, Beyoncé, Jay-Z’s, and Hillary Clinton’s rejection. But even at his most hurt and frustrated, he doesn’t want the message to be that he lacks respect for his detractors.
“In my opinion… now, don’t go try and diss Beyoncé, she is great. Taylor Swift is great. We are all great people. We are all equal. But sometimes we be playing the politics too much and forgetting who we are. Just to win. Fuck winning! Fuck looking cool!”
“It’s a new world, Hillary Clinton. It’s a new world. Feelings matter. ‘Cause guess what? Everybody in middle America felt a way. And they showed you how they felt. Feelings matter, bro. It’s a new world, Barack. It’s a new world, Jay-Z.
“I ain’t here to massage you with a fake truth, telling you that Hillary gonna win over and over and over. And you wake up, you still can’t believe it. You know why? ‘Cause you was lied to by Google. You was lied to by Mark Zuckerberg.”
Nearly four years later, and West’s sentiment seems to be shared by the majority of Democratic voters tired of the establishment, tired of virtue signaling instead of comprehensive policies that would affect everyone, not just the people you know or see on TV. His Zuckerberg comments predate the Cambridge Analytica scandal by nearly two years.
The mainstream media — CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the New York Times, to name a few — whose faces are composed of dozens of multimillionaires, are terrified right now. They realize that both sides of the binary American political spectrum are upset with them as journalists and wealthy people for positioning themselves as neutral, but are ultimately operating in favor of the establishment and maintenance of the status quo. The bias is showing everywhere, intentionally or not.
It seems like I have this habit of recommending smaller creators and influencers in these newsletters, so I’d like to dedicate this week to Carlos Maza, former host of Vox Media’s Strikethrough series. After a homophobic and racist harassment campaign launched against him that YouTube did woefully little about, he’s gone independent as a media critic. In his first video, “What The Hell is ‘Too Far Left,’” he talks about how mainstream media distinctly lacks socialists or labor reporters because why the hell would they? It’s not their world, and it’s their job to be as ‘neutral’ and ‘non-biased’ as possible. It doesn’t leave much room for feelings, and feelings are the things people use to detect danger and marry who they love and figure out how to vote.
Facts may not care about your feelings, but we, as humans, can consider and digest both.
What I admire most about Maza’s new foray into independent YouTube media is that he’s openly learning as he goes. The production of his videos aren’t pristine yet, but it’s distinctly independent. His Patreon supporters are beginning to pay his bills and not a corporate entity, so he’s only indebted to them. He’s seized the means of production, himself, and created a public-facing brand of authenticity that for which he’ll more likely be held accountable.
So, are we going too far left or just coming full circle?
After Kanye’s TMZ meltdown in 2018, y’ know, the one with his infamous and oft-misquoted comments on slavery by the press, The Breakfast Club (the same radio show Clinton and Buttigieg were on) co-host Charlemagne Tha God met with him in Wyoming. There, a more calm and nuanced discussion on his political beliefs could be had, sans media. With the MAGA hat off, he expressed interest in pulling a blue lever, but one that convicted him emotionally, and Clinton didn’t do that for him (nor did he even vote).
CTG: “So maybe that’s what you like the idea of, not necessarily the idea of Donald Trump but the idea of an outsider infiltrating?”
West: “Yeah, I liked that it showed you anything is possible. It shows you that even like Virgil working at Louis Vuitton, Trump being in office, it’s a time for the unconventional. I’m not a traditional thinker. I’m a non-conformist. So that relates to the non-conformist in me part of me.
Now, you know, also I’m a producer. So, I like to segue things. I like to take Otis [Redding, referencing Kanye and Jay-Z’s song], chop it up, do it like this, so what’s the Ye version? The Ye version would be the Trump campaign and maybe Bernie Sanders principles. That would be my mix and stuff. But I think both have — y’know, I need it.”
Sometimes I wonder what would happen if Kanye West preached about Bernie Sanders's principles to his newfound White Evangelical Christian audience. The one that’s called to love their neighbor as themselves. What if the Church, the Media, the ‘Establishment’ didn’t capitalize on our shame, and instead of preying on fears and vulnerabilities, offered unabashed and unapologetic self-esteem? What if we were perceived ourselves and others as human beings and not consumers on Earth created to stimulate an economy? What if our democracy, journalism, and media reflected the independent thinkers we are?
You’d really have to guard yourself against the euphoria of the potential.
I know it's past visiting hours
But can I please give her these flowers?
The doctor don't wanna take procedures
He claim my heart can't take the anesthesia
It'll send her body into a seizure
That lil' thing by the hospital bed, it'll stop beepin'
Hey chick, I'm at a loss for words
What do you say at this time? Remember when I was 9?
Tell her everything gon' be fine, but I be lyin'
Her family cryin', they want her to live, and she tryin'
I'm arguin' like what kind of doctor can we fly in?
You know the best medicine go to people that's paid
If Magic Johnson got a cure for AIDS
And all the broke motherfuckers passed away
You telling me if my grandma was in the NBA
Right now she'd be okay? But since she
Was just a secretary, worked for the church for 35 years
Things 'sposed to stop right here
My grandfather tryin' to pull it together, he's strong
That's where I get my confidence from
I asked the nurse "Did you do the research?"
She asked me, "Can you sign some t-shirts?"
Bitch, is you smokin' reefer?
You don't see that we hurt? But still
I smile when roses come to see me
And I, can't wait for a sunny day (seeing it through your eyes)
Can't wait for the clouds to break
Tyler Scruggs is a writer, musician, and millennial swashbuckler navigating the digital frontier through internet content like this and love songs for your Zune. He brews his own coffee now and doesn’t feel it’s safe enough to go to the movies as much as he might like.
If you’d like to directly and meaningfully support the continuation of my writing and work, consider subscribing to unlock more journalism, music demos, interviews, and more.