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The Kanye West konundrum

  • 26 February 2016

It seems not a week goes by that rapper, entrepreneur and fledgling fashion designer Kanye West isn't in the news.

Over the past few weeks alone, West disparaged Taylor Swift not once but twice, announced that 'white publications' had no right to write about black music, tweeted in support of alleged serial rapist Bill Cosby and casually requested Mark Zuckerberg throw a lazy US$1billion his way to cover a spiralling debt.  

Even as I write this I'm conscious that a rare example of self-effacement — 'My number one enemy has been my ego ... there is only one thrown [sic] and that's God's ... ' — will be cancelled out before too long. (And there it is: news of an expletive-peppered rant attributed to West arrives as if on cue.)

Of course, West isn't alone in being loud and opinionated. If looking for outrageous statements, you could transpose West's name with any number of controversial figures, such as Donald Trump, Mark Latham, Alan Jones — or acerbic UK communist Katie Hopkins, who, you may remember, wrote that she'd happily 'use gunships to stop migrants'.

Yet West somehow hovers above even this weirdly exalted company; cocooned in his celebrity bubble kicking back with wife (and leading brand in her own right) Kim Kardashian. Depending on your perspective, West is either the gift that just keeps giving or the twit who just keeps tweeting.

But here's what's got me baffled. How has someone like West managed to flourish in a time in which online shaming has become the norm? 

After all, as UK journalist and author Jon Ronson discovered while researching his 2013 book So You've Been Publicly Shamed, when it comes to social media, the crime rarely matches the vitriol it provokes. Ronson's star case in point was Justine Sacco, the then 30-year-old New Yorker who, in 2013, paid dearly for a misaimed, if clearly stupid, tweet about Africa and Aids.

By contrast, the one tag West can't shake off no matter the amount of self-aggrandisement and posturing is 'genius'.

We can debate whether or not West is a 'person of high intellect or talent that's rare', but as journalist Tom Barnes argues at mic.com, West certainly fits the definition proffered by Arthur Koestler in his 1964 book The Act of Creation: 'The principal mark of a genius is not perfection, but originality'.

As Barnes writes, on West's 'almost purposefully flawed and unfinished' 2013 album Yeezus he 'opened