Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes
Kanye’s music video for his song “Famous” strikes during an interesting political moment where racial tensions remain high, and simultaneously, the national conversation about rape culture is shifting. Nothing earth-shattering, but lately cracks in the faults aren’t hard to find. Basically, social justice is hitting its stride as more and more voices are feeling encouraged to enter conversations about social ills in the interest of finding ways that they can be demolished. Some voices miiiiight need a little fine-tuning, however.
OK, so: it takes a skilled critic trained with an eye for racism and misogyny, and often the combination of the two, to unpack the near-10-minute-long line-crosser (line-obliterator?) of a home video that Kanye West is trying to pass off as ‘art’. There’s an overwhelming amount of ickiness in the video to get righteously pissed about. But as much as I hated the whole thing (and completely agree with Lena Dunham’s analysis), I feel a little bit crazy about the whole situation. Why? Two words: Piers. Morgan.
Morgan--a wealthy, white male who is highly removed from general Kanye-dom and youth culture more broadly--wrote this bizarre article about how much he hated the “Famous” video, which basically devolved into a rant about Kim Kardashian’s feminism and the violated purity of the once noble Taylor Swift.
Wake up, America: wildly misguided paternalism has a name, and it rhymes with Shmears Florgan. He’s coming for your innocent white daughters! Run!
First of all, in his piece, Morgan chews out Kim K for associating herself with the video, criticizing her just as much if not more than her husband (and it’s *his* video, BTW) and takes it upon himself to make decisions about her feminism for her. So generous! He then briefly glosses over the fact that Rihanna and her abuser Chris Brown are positioned next to one another on the bed, and instead dives right into how awful it is that Taylor Swift was included without her consent--which, by the way, is a totally righteous thing to be up in arms over. But from his writing, it felt that Piers was more concerned with the damage done to Swift’s “wholesome” act of purity that she had groomed so well than he was with Swift’s physical or mental state. For Piers, it was hard not to feel like it wasn’t just devastating that multiple women were turned into wax dolls and positioned next to violent men; it was mostly devastating for him because a black man threatened the ‘innocence’ of a white woman whose purity is more important than her agency as a human being.
Ultimately, Kanye West should be heavily criticized for his commercialization of violence against women. Hiding behind the excuse of “it’s art so it’s ok” won’t get you very far when your art exists inside the jurisdiction and influence of the white supremacist, hetero-cis patriarchy (whatta fun mouthful) and does nothing concrete or self-aware in an effort to challenge that. Particularly after Kanye publicly defended Bill Cosby (whose figure was featured in the video) against allegations of sexual assault, it’s impossible not to read the “Famous” video as a demeaning response to increased vigilance against rape culture.
That being said, it’s not super cool of Piers Morgan to jump into the equation as the new feminist referee who decides whose trauma is more worthy of our attention and why. Maybe next time?