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What’s Kanye West Going to Do with All His Free Time?

August 10, 2009

TBTS and others, including Kanye West himself, have thoroughly debunked the claim that West tried to anoint himself the new King of Pop after the death of Michael Jackson. Still, this incident seems to represent a breaking point for West, who pledged on his blog late last week that he was “done” trying to defend himself from unsourced, Internet-based rumors. So now the question becomes—what will Kanye do with all his free time?

The unorthodox rapper already has several events on his calendar, including a performance with Jay-Z and Rihanna on the debut episode of Jay Leno’s new show in the 10 p.m. time slot on NBC. But if West has truly “stopped chasing and buying into fame” and “refuses to talk to press or do TV or promotions of any sort”—other than Leno, it would seem—he’s going to have to find things to do.

My suggestion is that Kanye should build on the precedent he set in that now-infamous blog post that denounced the King of Pop rumors. If he’s not going to participate in the media circus, he should become a media critic. “College dropout” or not, after Kanye West leaves the daily grind of the infotainment machine (much lamer than our Entertation machine, by the way), he should strive to become our era’s answer to Marshall McLuhan.

West and McLuhan already share some interesting similarities:

1. Both have tried their hand at kooky inventions. McLuhan once tried to develop a product that removed all odor of urine from underpants and other garments (I couldn’t possibly make that one up, by the way). At Bonnaroo in 2008, it seemed that West had tried to develop a stage show that removed all the fun from the live music experience. Kanye’s efforts were much more successful than McLuhan’s.

2. Both have lost some degree of credibility within their original spheres of influence because of their wider recognition. McLuhan was arguably North America’s most famous academic in the 60s and 70s, but some of his scholarly colleagues looked down on him. The intellectual dishonesty probably didn’t help. Kanye West is a true pop star with wide crossover appeal, but he’s had several beefs with other hip-hop artists who seem to disdain West and his music. The pink sweaters probably didn’t help.

3. Both have interesting things to tell us about our culture, almost despite themselves. McLuhan’s notions of how communication technologies extend but alter our sensory and interpersonal experiences are pillars of critical media analysis and similar disciplines. With the advent of the Internet, McLuhan’s ideas of global interconnectivity (he coined the term “global village”) have proven even more prescient. As for Kanye West—have you read his full rant about fame and the media? It’s actually pretty brilliant. In all caps, he wrote, “FAME IS LIKE CIGARETTES WITH NO SURGEON GENERAL WARNING. IT DESTROYS MOST PEOPLE AS IT DID TO THE TRUE AND ONLY KING OF POP. WE EXPLOIT OURSELVES AND EAT OUR OWN EGOS ‘TILL THERE IS NOTHING LEFT.”

I’m under no illusion that West will stop “exploiting” himself anytime soon (though he could start by canceling that Leno gig), but he’s on to something here. How the Internet has fueled the gossip industry wildfire is a topic that begs for further analysis, and Kanye has the built-in name recognition necessary to make sure the truth reaches the masses.

So I’m in total agreement with Kanye West, our generation’s Marshall McLuhan. I want to see less of him, but I hope he fills that void with more of his insights and his fabulous tobacco-based similes. And please, Kanye, when you share your thoughts again, SHOUT ‘EM OUT LOUD.

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