Kanye West is the Cassandra of our Troy

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, November 4, 2010 13:27 EDT
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Here is my working theory of Kanye West: Many years ago, he won the love of some ancient god that no one believes in anymore. When he rejected the affections of this god, he was cursed. Though he would continue to find fame and fortune, he would also be unable to resist a very specific situation. Whenever people gathered together and there was some elephant in the room composed of bullshit that everyone was dutifully ignoring, West would be compelled to open his mouth and say something, and in a style that implies he was the only one who didn’t realize that it wasn’t socially acceptable to speak truth right at this moment. And despite his truth-saying abilities, he would be shunned. Whatever he said would be blown way out of proportion, as if t was the most hurtful thing ever. He would be forced to retreat to Twitter and wonder aloud why he’s cursed in just this way.

In other words, it’s like Cassandra’s curse, except instead of being gifted/cursed with prophecy, he would be gifted/cursed with cutting through the crap. As a side bonus, his words would have the ability to make the target feel like they’ve just faced the most cutting thing anyone’s said about them, even though that feeling is completely ridiculous.

The most recent new story of a person pulled into the Kanye West Curse is former President Bush, who deftly avoided the complaints of millions of people after he left New Orleans to drown, but got all bent out of shape when Kanye West complained about him. So much so that he focused on that as the worst moment of his presidency.

Lauer quotes from Bush’s new book: “Five years later I can barely write those words without feeling disgust.” Lauer adds, “You go on: ‘I faced a lot of criticism as president. I didn’t like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low.’

President Bush responds: “Yeah. I still feel that way as you read those words. I felt ‘em when I heard ‘em, felt ‘em when I wrote ‘em, and I felt ‘em when I’m listening to ‘em.

Lauer: “You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your presidency?”

Bush: “Yes. My record was strong, I felt, when it came to race relations and giving people a chance. And it was a disgusting moment.”

To be somewhat fair to Bush, it’s factually true that he lied about weapons of mass destruction (and then joked about the con he pulled on the public), and that he cut taxes to benefit the rich. But why he left New Orleans to drown is purely a matter of conjecture—is it that he doesn’t care about black people, or that he doesn’t care about most people that aren’t his rich friends? But I humbly submit that either way, West’s main crime was speaking the truth. Most black people aren’t Bush’s rich friends; they are therefore a subcategory of the larger group of people that George Bush doesn’t care about, a group that also includes most people of all races and ethnic groups. All West said was Bush doesn’t care about black people. This doesn’t preclude Bush not caring about other people. There’s enough of Bush’s not giving a shit if you live or die to go around.
Here’s a transcript of what West actually said. You’ll find more evidence for my assertion that West is cursed, because Lisa de Moraes implies that he’s wildly out of control because he’s passionate about speaking the god’s honest truth. He accuses the media of being racist—true enough—and then accuses Bush of not caring about black people. That he didn’t take the time to note that Bush makes a few exceptions for his friends, or that he didn’t expand to point out the many, myriad groups of people Bush doesn’t care about doesn’t change a word of truth of what West was saying.

But even within these parameters, it’s amazing that Bush is going to let Kanye West say that he’s a racist stand out as the worst moment of his presidency. Not 9/11? Not the day it became clear his imperialist war on Iraq was south and he wasn’t showing his daddy who was the bigger man? Not when it was revealed that his administration promoted torture in direct violation of international and federal law? Not, you know, Hurricane Katrina itself? Not the day that his (amongst others) lackadaisical approach to regulating the finance industries sent out economy spiraling into a depression that bled out jobs from the economy?

I was far from the only one who found this amusing. SEK at Lawyers, Guns, and Money says:

According to the man himself, then, Bush placed more importance on whether people perceived him to be racist than what happened to actual black people in the city of New Orleans.

In short, he proved Kanye right.

Part of Kanye’s curse is that after everyone chills out a little, we all realize he was just saying what everyone was thinking, and we were unfair to leap all over him.

Ta-Nehisi Coates calls Bush thin-skinned, and says this:

I thought Kanye West’s comments were pretty silly, and typical of Kanye. It’s also typical of George Bush that implication that he’s a racist is worse then the implication that he sent thousands of people to their deaths on a lie.

I’d argue all that’s part of the curse—most of the public thinking West is silly and the target feeling like West criticizing you is the worst possible thing that can happen to you. Those Greek gods are wily motherfuckers when scorned.

Adam Serwer takes the long view:

[T]he left has accused Bush of being a war criminal for “legalizing” torture but he finds the implication that he’s indifferent to the suffering of African Americans far more offensive.

That said, West’s criticism of Bush was unfair. The response to Hurricane Katrina was a reflection of basic administrative incompetence and cronyism, not active racial animus.

I have to point out that this is a continuation of the West Curse. His accusation was that Bush’s animus wasn’t active, but passive. He “doesn’t care”. West wasn’t suggesting that Bush pushed the levies down or anything. And not caring about black people, I will restate, doesn’t preclude not caring about others. There’s a lot of not caring in Bush. Singling out black people was perhaps a little off the mark, since Bush does care about a handful of black people. But he was wound up. I’m not going to stomp him on a technicality.

After all this, I’m going to point out that Bush is far from the only example of the Kanye West Curse, of course. The incident involving Taylor Swift was way more famous, in fact, but it went down exactly the same way. Swift was getting some big, fat award when someone else obviously deserved it more, most people politely pretended not to see this, but West—in the thrall of an ancient curse—spoke up. And then everyone acted like he took a dump on the floor instead of just said what everyone was thinking at an inopportune moment. And then the target of the truth bomb proceeded to hold a major league grudge, and act like this is the worst thing that ever happened. Bush wrote it in his memoir, and Swift did the same, since her shitty little songs are her memoirs. And she titled it “Innocent”, which is obnoxious, and the lyrics are even worse, implying that West is a child. Apparently, part of the curse is having the target of your criticisms go on to demonstrate record-setting levels of butthurt.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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