“Famous”: The Passion of Kanye West
by Guy Walker
“Self-attachment is the first sign of madness, but it is because man is attached to himself that he accepts error as truth, lies as reality, violence and ugliness as beauty and justice.” Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization
by Guy Walker
Kanye West’s new music video for “Famous” was a non-event. Actually, it was an awful 8 minute episode of pubescent vagary. The soporific post-coitus scenery of famous people with their clothes off, the illusory novelty of seeing a politician’s naked wrinkly body, or Taylor Swift’s elusive belly button, lacks the shock value that it so desperately craves. He’s mimicking what every young boy does when they’re first stepping into the shallows of internet porn, as they look up pictures of Britney Spears with photoshopped bare tits, as they jerk off into a dirty sock, looking behind their shoulder to make sure mom isn’t walking in to check what all the padded smacking is in the middle of the night. Kanye uses the banal and dreary antics of sex, celebrity, and scandal to cobble up some hermetic perversion, like the chubby kid in film school who decided to make amateur soft-porn instead.
But I’m not saying anything new. Nobody liked it. The narcissism is obvious. The lack of artistry is obvious. The plagiarism is obvious. Kanye said he was directly inspired by Vincent Desiderio’s painting “Sleep.” This is incorrect. Being directly inspired to this extent is nothing more than stealing an artist’s original idea and posturing it as your own interpretation of it, as something more deep and enigmatic. He directly lifted the composition and concept from Desiderio and glued in the bodies of people we recognize. Art has this weird brutish tendency that says it’s okay to plagiarize as long as you say you plagiarized it. It praises this, in fact. Because it allows other oleaginous Calabasas illiterates to repeat to their doleful friends, “Oh, it was inspired by Desiderio’s painting ‘Sleep,’” and sound like they know what the fuck they’re talking about. “Desiderio” rolls off the tongue like butter on a horse dick in the scalding summer heat. You can hear Javier Bardem whisper “Desiderio, mi amor” into your ear, the moist titillation of rosebud and jasmine filling up your underwear. You can see Kanye in a moss-laden forest somewhere, screaming “Desiderio! I like art! Desiderio! Now I’m smart! Desiderio! Smell my fart!” and then scamper off to steal some bird eggs and tell his friends that Kim just laid them.
Of course it’s a pity that all the fuss and attention is directed at Kanye, because “Sleep” is a phenomenal original work of art, and “Famous” is cornfed tabloid fuckery. Comparing “Famous” to “Sleep” is like claiming “Babe” is a film adaptation of Orwell’s Animal Farm—we are all sadder and more cynical for seeing the former.
But as an artist, what did Kanye actually create? He obviously didn’t sculpt the waxen effigies of all the celebrities. He didn’t do the filming with a shitty camcorder. He didn’t come up with the original concept. We can give him the benefit of the doubt and say he wrote the lyrics, with all his grand Rimbaudian paean:
Bam bam, bam bam
Bam bam dilla, bam bam
Let me see you act up in this motherfucker
‘Ey what a bam bam
Bam bam dilla, bam bam
How you feelin’, how you feelin’, how you feelin’ in this motherfucker, god damn…
And on and on until you want to kill squirrels, eat pinecones, dress in those silver heatsheets, anything to take your mind off his scabrous hell of dick and meatloaf.
So what actually makes this Kanye’s video? He did after all admit it was merely a “comment on fame,” a lonely grunt in the whirlwind of theater, a shrug of troglodytic humor amongst the 7 billion handicapped tribe dragging themselves up the moor of mortality. Or is he playing a practical joke? After all, when Marcel Duchamp bought a urinal from a New York plumbing supplier and turned it upside down and signed it “R. MUTT 1917,” he was playing a Dadaist prank on the entire art world, exposing it for its appetence for sham. And every non-artist bought the bullshit, and began the conceptual revolution in the art world: Damien Hirst glued diamonds onto a human skull, Tracey Emin displayed her messy bed, Joseph Kosuth set a chair next to a photograph of a chair next to a dictionary’s definition of a chair, Piero Manzoni canned 90 tins of his own shit (and sold them for the price of gold). And Kanye West created the film to his song “Famous.”
In Either/Or, Kierkegaard says the original sin of everything is boredom. God was bored of empty space so he created the world. He was bored of algae and flies so he created Adam. He was bored with Adam so he created Eve, then the apple, then tits and lust and hunger and war. We were bored with Africa so we went to Europe, then the New World, then the moon, and now Mars. We’re bored of sobriety. Bored of whiskey. Bored of coke and strippers and love. Pop stars are known to have about three years of fame before we all get bored of them. Fortunately for Kanye, he’s not a pop star; he’s Pablo. He’s Andy Warhol. He called the wax artist for the video his Jesus, which makes him God.
For these few years of ephemeral misery, there is Kanye to show us the way forward. From the bright empyrean gates, the massive gold clouds continue to swell, overwhelming the heavens. The cloistered cum-encrusted bedsheets mummifying Bill Cosby, who giggles rudely as he humps Rihanna’s leg. Donald Trump is of course on all fours, Kanye tossing his salad, his glossy face covered in damp Cheeto dust, the moist triumph dripping down his neck. Everyone wheezes in the heavy air, Kim’s ass continuing to swell, larger than the clouds—finally, she is just one enormous ass, chomping on everything around her, smacking on the food of other bodies, all that hunger for the world. The celebrities disappear one by one, down the hatch. Taylor Swift croaks “What did I do?” as Kim’s ass gobbles her up. Soon, her ass has eaten everything. No clouds, no forests, no whales or fish or mountains. There are no more planets, no more stars. Just one stagnant black hole, her greased-up buttocks waiting in the infinity of empty space.