Pop Culture, Theory & Essay

Kanye West And Our Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Narcissism

(The Champ’s latest at Complex Magazine on the irony of us criticizing Kanye for being narcissistic.)

Of all his questionable behavior—his consistently disturbing lyrics about women, his co-opting the Confederate flag, his introducing us to Big Sean, etc.—the narcissism seems to bother most of us the most. Everything he now does—the interviews he allows, the woman he proposes to, the clothes he wears, the music he creates, even the child he produces—is seen through this lens. This obsession with himself and his image is our most concrete evidence that Kanye West no longer represents anybody, and this bothers us. We think we lost Kanye. To himself. But we’re wrong. Kanye West never stopped representing us. He’s just representing a part of us we don’t necessarily want represented.

I have a little under 1400 Facebook friends. Of these, I’ve met (maybe) 30 percent in person. And (maybe) 30 percent of that 30 percent are people I’d actually consider friends. I also have 14,000 Facebook fans I’ll never meet, and 11,000 Twitter followers I wouldn’t know if they were sitting on my living room couch. Yet, I seem to care very much about what these anonymous people think of me. It’s not uncommon for me to spend three minutes editing a tweet it only took three seconds to type, and 30 more minutes thinking I should have typed something else. I feel good when even my most mundane status messages are liked by people I’ve never met, and even better if those people happen to be people I consider “cool.” I try very hard to say the type of “witty” and “insightful” things that make it seem like I’m not trying very hard, with the hope that people I don’t know appreciate it so much that they share it with people they don’t know.

What is remarkable about what I’m saying is the fact that nothing I’m saying is remarkable. I may have more friends, fans, and followers than most (I certainly have fewer than some!) but my behavior is not abnormal. We’re all A&Rs of our own personal brands now, and part of maintaining that brand is soliciting acknowledgement from strangers. And part of soliciting acknowledgement from strangers is being hyperconscious of your image. We know which angles give us the most flattering pictures, and we’re annoyed when we get tagged in a photo without our permission because we can’t fathom letting people know what we really look like. We’re more meticulous about the image we want to project than we are about actually wanting our person to match our persona.

We are undeniably and unambiguously narcissistic.

I’m far from the first person to notice any of this. The editors of Oxford University Press just chose “selfie” as 2013’s “word of the year.” If that’s not a sure sign of humanity-wide narcissism, I don’t know what is. In fact, some psychologists believe we are living through a full-fledged narcissism epidemic. In “Narcissism: The Malady of Me” the New York Times’ Benedict Carey writes that narcissism has become so common that behavioral scientists are reconsidering the definition—and this was published three years ago. Before Twitter became ubiquitous. And before the Pope got on Instagram.

With our generally accepted narcissism comes an implied code of conduct. This code of conduct has one rule. It is okay to be narcissistic. Necessary even. The only condition is that you just can’t admit that you care about your image as much as you care about your image. Kanye West has no such pretense. He has no rules. He is exceedingly, almost maddeningly transparent about how much he cares about how he is perceived. And about the importance of acknowledgement. And about his image. The only difference between his narcissism and our narcissism is that he doesn’t pretend it doesn’t exist. He acknowledges it. Embraces it. Swims in it. Fucks it. He’s too [insert adjective here] to be as self-conscious as we are about admitting to it. Naturally, he fell in love with the only woman who matches his translucence.

(Read the rest at Complex)

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • 321mena123

    Um no. There is nothing wrong with caring about your image. There is something wrong about throwing a tantrum when others choose to ignore you or not share in your feelings of your own perceived greatness.

    • Jahmar

      EXACTLY!! Ye tries too hard. Which some people (read: me) find annoying af.

      There’s something incredibly off-putting about a grown man acting all butt hurt bc everyone isn’t praising him and his beloved leather jogging pant

  • Val

    Great piece, Champ. You’re right about both Kanye and the rest of us. I see it everyday on facebook. I have a ton of friends who fill up my feed with photos of themselves. I have one friend who takes the same selfie of himself, usually with different baseball caps on, almost every day. Lol.

    I think it’s the fault of the baby boomer generation. They are an incredibly self centered bunch and they raised most of us and run most things now.

    • Yonnie

      Val, is this your friend? http://instagram.com/mrpimpgoodgame#

      • Val

        Lol! This guy has my friend beat. At least my friend changes his shirt. Wow.

    • Sahel

      Sahel is a breath of fresh air is’nt he. All grey everything

  • JuiceCrewAllStar

    We’re all narcissistic, Kanye’s just the first to admit it.

  • Discolored Nigerian

    No sir! There is narcissicism and then there is Kanyeism, which is narcissism to the nth power! He is just super doopa annoying, thinking that he is waxing philosophy when it’s just regurgitated shit he stays serving! Conclusion, he needs to occupy all the seats in an Olympic stadium.

  • proper light skinned

    I’m not gon lie, I didn’t finish reading at complex…

    but have ya’ll seen the video for bound 2?

    just where in n*ggerdom does that concept make sense?

    i like it better when he doesn’t speak.

  • Freebird

    Naw. Dude aint that important to me. I dont identify with him or being a narcissist. Now egotistical….that’s me all day.

  • Epsilonicus

    Welcome to America. Become great but don’t tell anyone you are great. Especially if you are Black and great.

  • Epsilonicus

    Welcome to America. You can be great but don’t tell anyone, especially if you are Black.

  • ED

    “The only difference between his narcissism and our narcissism is that he doesn’t pretend it doesn’t exist.”

    That’s a HUGE difference. That right there is humility. He may not be that way in his personal life, but that’s the way he presents himself to the public.

  • CamCamtheGreat

    This was great. I related to this wholeheartedly and the comparison was spot-on. We are Kanye and Kanye is us, because he is of us.