Kanye West’s Personal Turmoil Isn’t Your Entertainment
Kanye West's campaign rally in Charleston devolved into spectacle, followed by a series of alarming tweets. This is a moment to reflect, not ridicule.
Image via Getty/Kevin Winter
When Kanye West announced an upcoming album at the top of July, many fans suspected that a spectacle was soon to follow, and that’s exactly what’s been happening. On Monday night, he wrote a slew of alarming tweets that punctuated an already busy month, including claims that his wife Kim Kardashian-West and mother-in-law Kris Jenner tried to “lock me up because I cried about saving my daughters life yesterday.”
His tweets followed a pair of TMZ reports that his family and friends believe “he’s in desperate need of professional help and is in the middle of a serious bipolar episode, but he won’t listen to them.”
Earlier this month, Kanye reinvigorated his presidential “campaign” with a Forbes interview that didn’t just underscore how underqualified he is for public office, but how unhealthy he is. He asserted that his campaign would have the “framework of Wakanda” and that he was running with the “Birthday Party, because when we win, it’s everybody’s birthday.” The musings sounded typical of a manic episode.
His first campaign rally in Charleston also devolved into spectacle. During the roughly hour-long rally, he advocated for pro-life rights by tearfully bringing up previous abortion qualms surrounding both his own and his daughter North West’s births. He alienated many of the attendees by asserting that Harriet Tubman “never actually freed the slaves; she just had them work for other white people."
The 42-year-old has been creating media circuses for over 15 years. He knows his name courts headlines, and he takes advantage of it whenever he wants buzz for a new endeavor. But that cycle has descended into a new level of danger. It’s more evident than ever that he is unwell, but too many people are still regarding the moment as mere publicity for his upcoming DONDA album. On Monday night, a Twitter account gushed, “Kanye rants are back and album on Friday… You love to see it,” under Kanye’s admission that Kim attempted to “bring him a doctor,” exemplifying a dehumanizing insensitivity to his plight.
The coalescence of Kanye’s natural attention-seeking habits with his bipolar disorder is once again resulting in a hysteria that should make everyone rethink how they consider his actions. Right now, he needs help, not ridiculing or egging on. He may not be willing to get that assistance for himself, but he still deserves more dignity from us than to commentate his downfall.
Those angry at his recent comments should be just as upset with anyone who is currently enabling him. Anyone who is interviewing him in this state or still attempting to legitimize his campaign is being exploitative. And gawkers who joked about Sunday’s rally and Monday’s tweets are being insensitive.
At the same time, anyone attempting to coddle him or absolve all of his comments because of the episodes is trivializing mental illness. His Tubman comments follow a pattern of irresponsible statements that he’s never apologized for, including “racism is a dated concept” and “slavery was a choice.” Chalking all of these statements up to mental illness allows him to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without critique. Perhaps that’s part of why he surmised in 2018 that he “cannot be on meds and make Watch the Throne-level or Dark Fantasy-level music.” He knows his stans will defend whatever he does.
Contrary to the idea that he can’t be held responsible for his comments, Kanye previously told David Letterman on My Guest Needs No Introduction that his mania experience is a “ramp-up” that “expresses your personality more.” He also said, “When you’re in this state, you’re hyper-paranoid about everything. Everything’s a conspiracy. You feel the government is putting chips in your head. You feel you’re being recorded. You feel all these things.”
His Forbes interview, in which he declared impending COVID-19 vaccines as “the mark of the beast,” displayed some of this paranoia. At his rally, he exhibited several of the Mayo Clinic’s symptoms of the mania his family now worries he’s suffering from: an exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence, racing thoughts, distractibility, and poor decision-making (by starting the campaign in the first place). His tearful, uncalled-for admission that “I almost killed my daughter” should have been a sign to end the event or at least cut the livestream, but his team let the show go on, and the audience continued to watch the trainwreck.
There’s a stigma around armchair diagnosis, but given his family’s worries, his own admissions, and his recent conduct, it seems like Kanye is indeed unwell at the moment. Many people dealing with bipolar disorder experience their manic bouts within their personal circle, while Kanye has the fame to have his moment in front of the whole world. But that doesn’t mean we should treat the two circumstances any differently. This is our chance to exercise the mental health awareness we incessantly tweet about.
People suffering from their own mental health battles could very well be triggered by watching others joke about his behavior or project their ableism through him. Mental health stigmas already lead too many people to be silent about their struggles and cope with them in self-destructive ways. There are many people alone and depressed during quarantine, and trivializing their plight through Kanye is the last thing that needs to happen.
Pop culture is the springboard for vital social discussions. Instead of simply categorizing this situation as another episode of The Kanye Show—or using it as a chance to dunk on him on Twitter—we’d be better served discussing the insensitivity of making a spectacle of someone who is likely unwell. This doesn’t mean that he should be excused for his comments, but he can be held accountable for them in a tangible way.
His famous friends like Chance the Rapper could do their part by refusing to dignify his campaign, and fans need to rethink plans of attending his future rallies. He didn’t even sign up for the South Carolina ballot and has missed several application deadlines. It’s clear that this campaign is a rudderless exploit, as far as politics go. Anyone attending future events is admitting that they don’t care about his well-being. They just came to gawk, which says as much about them as it does him.
By feeding the circus, we fuel the drama, and we have to own our complicity when things go left. People experiencing mania are dangerous to themselves and others. How will we feel if something unfortunate happens and we were trivializing the situation all along? Do we extend the sympathy we’ve shown Kanye to other people in our lives? This is a moment to reflect, not ridicule.
Beyond the fact that no one deserves to have their mental lows gawked at and exploited as a pastime, there are also marginalized groups that don’t deserve to be subjected to his comments. We’re still in a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting Black people. Protesters and organizers are advocating against the carceral state all over the country.
While some American men have the relative privilege to joke around about a Kanye presidency, there are many women, undocumented people, and members of the LGBTQIA community for whom the election is a literal fight for their lives. For them, the attention has to be on progress, not his ill-fated campaign or tweets.
Through his tweets and foray into the political arena, Kanye has exhibited just how much the country has to change about how we regard mental health issues.