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 This obsession with himself and his image is our most concrete evidence that Kanye West no longer represents anybody, and this bothers us.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)

On Black Men, And Why We’re Not “Allowed” To Be Human

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I first became a fan of Louie CK four or five years ago. I’d heard of him before—and had even watched an episode or two of Lucky Louie—but I didn’t really pay him much attention until I started to notice that more and more writers and comedians I respected considered Louie to be a comedic genius. This sparked my interest, and after watching a couple of his stand-up routines, I realized they were right.

Perhaps the thing I enjoy most about Louie’s humor is his tendency to speak about taboo subjects and use taboo words. This in itself isn’t noteworthy. There are dozens of popular comics whose acts revolve around them touching on untouchables. But, while most of those comics incorporate this tactic for shock value, when Louie does it it seems to be to prove how absurd it is that anything would be deemed untouchable in the first place.

For instance, in one of his shows, he has a bit where he spends a few minutes talking about fellatio. I forgot exactly how it starts, but by the end of it he jokes that he’d suck an audience member’s d*ck. It was classic Louie—absurd, inappropriate, self-deprecating, and subversive—and the audience loved every minute of it. I did too, but I couldn’t help but to make a somewhat sobering observation: a Black comedian could never tell this joke. 

Actually, let me rephrase that. A Black comedian, a popular straight Black male comedian could in fact tell that joke. But, if he did—if a Chris Rock or a Kevin Hart told a man in the audience that he (paraphrasing) “probably has a beautiful d*ck and would like it in my mouth”—the hundreds of trillions of tweets, articles, posts, studies, and stories it would prompt would likely shut down the entire internet. There’d also be never-ending rumors about his sexuality, his HIV status, and his sanity.

The dynamic allowing Louie CK to go places that a Black comedian wouldn’t be able to go extends past comedy. In fact, that dynamic is a direct result of the (mostly true) idea that straight Black men aren’t expected or even “allowed” to be multi-faceted, to be fully free, to be, well, human without having their sexuality and even their Blackness questioned. If we don’t fit a certain hyper-hetero ideal, we’re not really men and not even really Black.

This is not a new observation. For years people have written, spoke, and even created art about the fact that African-American men are burdened with a suffocatingly rigid definition of who and what a man is supposed be. It’s also common to blame this on a combination of history, socialization, and sexual expectation. Basically, Black men are the way we are because society in general—and Black women specifically—expect us to be that way.

But, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how valid this is today. Yes, it’s true that there have been some very major historical influences on the way we’re supposed to be, and yes it’s still somewhat true that Black men who fall outside of the hyper-hetero ideal might be sexually shunned in a way that other races/cultures of American men may not have to deal with, but I wonder how much of this is self-induced. I think we (Black men) do it to ourselves more than anyone else does it to us. I think we’ve grown comfortable inside the shell. I think many of our problems in regards to being hyper-hetero are completely psychosomatic. I think we have a bit more leeway to be human than we want to believe, and I think there’s a bit of a mental and emotional safety net with not fighting against this expectation, as any crude, sexist, homophobic, racist, and just generally unprogressive act could be blamed on socialization. It may not quite be learned helplessness, but it isn’t far from it.

Also, I think some of us need to truly ask ourselves if we’re ready for that type of freedom. While an increased leeway to be who and what you want to be—as exhibited in Louie CK’s ability to tell a joke that a Black comedian couldn’t say—is one positive aspect of it, with more freedom comes more responsibility, with more responsibility comes more expectation, and with more expectation comes less leeway to make excuses. Basically, “You wanna be free? Fine. Now grow the f*ck up.”

I’d say be careful what you wish for, cause you just might get it, but I think we already got it. I just don’t know if we really want it.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)