Let’s Have A Toast to the Assholes: Leave Kanye Alone….No Really

Google the search terms Kanye West + Asshole, and as you might imagine; you will get a surplus of returns. ¬†Kanye’s manic form of genius combined with a¬†decidedly¬†lax¬†brain to mouth filter has resulted in his name becoming almost synonymous with the insult in certain circles‚ÄĒamongst¬†Taylor Swift fans for instance.

With the recent¬†brouhaha¬†over the Matt Lauer interview and Bush’s claim that West’s infamous¬†black people gaff was the¬†worst moment of ¬†his¬†presidency (apparently worst than Katrina itself, the domestic economic meltdown, Wars in Iraq and¬†Afghanistan, Valerie Plame, Harriet Miers….I’ll stop in the interest of time), Kanye is back in the headlines again. ¬†And the coverage¬†ain’t good.

Lauer’s interview with West was at best poor journalism and at worst an intentional attempt to create another Kanye moment. ¬†You know Kanye moments: insulting the Commander and¬†Chief by implying he was a racist, interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV movie awards, as well a series of rants, interruptions, politically incorrect pop-offs, tantrums and most recently rogue tweets. ¬†Yet it’s these moments combined with leveraging the most creative musical brain in hip-hop to make hit after consecutive hit that makes Kanye both genius and walking spectacle.

He ¬†has been called the¬†villain,the asshole, the jerk, the douche bag but he is more accurately described as a man in progress. ¬†He occasionally back slides but this understandable for someone burden by an ego the size of the twitterverse. He is admittedly self-conscience and evidently a driven perfectionist‚ÄĒwho really does love his art. ¬†Over the years, Kanye has had a series of personal dramas play-out within the pages tabloids and on gossip blogs. ¬†Despite a life threatening car accident, the untimely and tragic loss of his mother, and a series of public break-ups, he has continued to be a prolific and evolving artist. ¬†I believe this is because he is driven first by a desire to create and is more conflicted and quite frankly limited in his ability to manage the fame.

Kanye is ¬†the modern Andy Warhol. ¬†Both aesthetically driven workaholics bound by an excess of personality, they have in common a vision to achieve wealth through their art ¬†and an unfettered desire to see their dreams manifest.¬†In another time, Kanye might be considered colorful or brash. ¬†However, with a 24-hour news cycle largely padded by entertainment news, he provides the ¬†perfect patsy for a world dominated by far less ingenious and productive assholes. ¬†So I’m saying: leave Kanye alone.

Admittedly, I¬†have a soft spot for Kanye. ¬†Okay its more than a soft spot. ¬†I date him in my mind and we are in love, but in the interest of a neutral analysis I have put that aside. ¬†Instead I have tried to speak to the madness at the heart of his genius or the genius at the heart of his madness‚ÄĒdepending on where you stand. ¬†Suffice it to say whether you love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion of Kanye.

If ¬†Kanye is anything, he is unapologetic. ¬†He is¬†unapologetically¬†Black, unapologetically brilliant, unapologetically flawed, and unapologetically wealthy. “Wake Up Mr. West”, said the late great Bernie Mac in the opening of the Kanye’s classic Late Registration album and I do mean; recall¬†Touch the Sky, Gold Digger, Diamonds From Sierra Leone. Wake up indeed and recently Kanye has woken up. ¬†Sure he is still brash, cocky, fashionable, and manic; yet he has managed to temper his special brand of swagga-dopeness with a swig of humble juice. ¬†He kind of apologized to the president, though he did refuse to perform on the Today show plaza in a return visit. ¬†With an album on the way perhaps this wasn’t the most expedient choice from marketing stand point, but it was aligned to his convictions and you cannot be mad at that.

Wherever¬†you stand, you have to respect Kanye for his what he is doing with music. ¬†I appreciate and salute him for his authenticity even in his most ungraceful moments. My only hope is that the tedium of fame that he both craves and despises does not stifle his creativity or leave him jaded¬†. ¬†I want Kanye to be his irrepressible¬†self. ¬†Hollywood is so celluloid that it is nice to see someone so¬†completely¬†themselves. ¬†Suffice it to say: Kanye I love you‚ÄĒflaws and all.

Media Culpa: Shirley Sherrod and the Politics of the Public Apology

It seems everyone and their momma is serving up a healthy slice of humble pie to Ms. Shirley Sherrod.¬† The apologies are coming¬†¬†fast, frequently, and¬†from on high‚ÄĒas even The POTUS expressed regret for what had to be¬†a demoralizing experience for Ms. Sherrod.¬†In the wake of the initial¬†firestorm and then¬†subsequent reframing, Sherrod has gone from private citizen, to public figure, to vilified public figure, finally arriving at redeemed public servant‚ÄĒall in less than 48 hours.

What is remarkable about this story‚ÄĒoutside of the real questions it raises about the progress of race relations in our country‚ÄĒis the speed in which it took hold in the common conscience, garnered largely¬†uniform opinion in the press and then in a matter of media moments was¬†squarely redefined.¬†It is also reframed the notion of the public apology, something we certainly associate with political and public officials‚ÄĒbut is so often tied to expressions of regret about personal transgressions, such as infidelity or misuse of campaign funds.

I had not even understood the original narrative in its entirety, before its authenticity was largely being refuted. A conservative activist posts a  video to YouTube of an official with the Department of Agriculture seemingly suggesting blatant racial bias against whites in her handling of farm aid cases.  Within a day the public and the media got a chance to see the speech in context and the narrative is reframed.

We learn the remarks were taken¬†from a speech in which¬†Sherrod¬†shows how she battled feelings of intolerance to arrive at a social justice oriented understanding of how poverty adversely¬†effects¬†quality of life and productivity¬†of all persons, regardless of race. She took this believe to form the guiding mission of her life: helping those regardless of race survive.¬† Accordingly. the once thought bigot becomes an exemplar¬†of racial transcendence for the nation‚ÄĒall within a matter of a few days.

When The President apologizes to a more or less private citizen for the rush to judgment of an entire nation; one cannot deny that these are new and different times.  Viral videos, social networking, the blogosphere, and really the entire world of new media has changed the game for the conventions of traditional journalism to be practiced.  The trust then verify journalistic model has been replaced by the the trust, publish react, and perhaps verify model.

It is important we try to negotiate the wild, wild west of web journalism in ways that incentivize fact checking, verification, and neutrality. It is equally important that we do not hide the motivations of those forming public opinion, but encourage transparency among thought leaders and political taste makers.

So what do we think? Does Ms. Sherrod deserve the full-court press and  public apology tour that the administration is encouraging or should she should simply retire from public life, after this insane incident and in the interim allow her evolved feelings about intolerance and injustice to become a teachable moment for the entire nation?

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