Separating celebrities from their views

Photo by Casey Gomez

If you have seen me wearing headphones on campus this month, chances are that I was listening to the new Kanye West song “Ghost Town”. The song is beautiful, bringing together West, Kid Cudi and rap newcomer 070 Shake. In it, Kanye laments his draining quest for fame and acceptance, addresses his history with substance abuse and paints a harrowing picture of a bipolar sufferer’s emotional turmoil. In short, “Ghost Town” is a jam.

I, being the kind-hearted herald of hard-hitting hits that I am, felt the need to share this song with everyone. And more than once, my enthusiasm was met with sighs of frustration.

“Do you think I’d give Kanye West a stream?” they ask incredulously. “Do you think I’d ever support Kanye West again?”

They have a valid point. Kanye’s behavior in recent weeks has given the public more than enough reason to denounce him. He came out in support of Donald Trump — GASP — and said some unfathomably ignorant statements about the history of slavery in the United States.

But should that make “Ghost Town” any less enjoyable? The very thought of Donald Trump throws me into an internal fit of rage, and I won’t even touch on the problems with his view on slavery. Should these personal views held by the artist taint the work he creates?

More than once, I’ve blared Ted Nugent’s “Strangehold” through my car speakers. I’ve watched the films of D.W. Griffith. I think the original Roseanne was a good show.

These are all artefacts created by people that I fundamentally disagree with. Ignoring the context of their sources, they are indisputably significant works of art.

Some of the greatest artists in history have suffered through tremendous mental and personal demons. It is my opinion that, in dealing with these demons, artists are able to better commit the essence of the human condition to their particular medium. At the same time, dealing with these issues can lead to irrational behavior and warped worldviews. We shouldn’t look to them for comfort, inspiration or meaningful political discourse. We should look at their art.

Obviously, watching Woody Allen films today can feel a bit strange. Mr. Huxtable’s patient and caring demeanor in The Cosby Show has aged poorly. XXXTentacion made good music, but he was also a festering pile of human waste.If anyone was to say “Jon, I will never watch anything starring Bill Cosby. I will never watch a Woody Allen film. I will never listen to XXX.” I would respect their decision and admire their resolve. Their work can be hard to swallow given the context of their personal actions and views. These men are monsters.

Kanye West isn’t a rapist, or a pedophile or an abuser. Kanye West publicly expressed views that many reasonable people see as misguided. This is the same man that blurted out “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” while trying to raise money for Katrina relief on live TV. If you previously looked at Kanye West as a reasonable beacon of mental integrity, you haven’t been paying attention.

Whether you agree with Kanye or not, dismissing his entire body of work because of his political views is no better than telling him to “Shut up and dribble.”