Talking about it? Judging it? Critiquing it? Studying it? Or simply dismissing it?
Whether we like it or not, Kanye West has managed, once again to grip the attention of the entire world, as millions await his upcoming album, scramble to view the banned album cover, and view the full-length version of his feature film short, “Runaway.”
Kanye’s been called everything from “genius” to “possessed.” What do you think?
What I see
A demonized image of a black man holding what appears to be a 40 oz. beer bottle. Is the black man really as evil as he appears, or is this simply our own personification/interpretation of his image? Also, is there room to consider the cause of his appearance — i.e. the substance in the bottle, a circumstance not shown in this image, etc.?
He seems to be lying down, and mounting him is what appears to be a demonized image of a white woman (Kanye later clarified that this image represents a “phoenix”), with no arms, wings, and a tail. Again, is this another play on our perception?
The sexual tension and positioning within the piece cannot be ignored, which calls to mind folklore regarding the succubus and the incubus — demons which play on the sexual fantasies and weaknesses of men and women in a ploy to capture their souls. Symbolically, this calls to mind a few ploys, centered around sex and sexuality, that have been (and still are) utilized to capture/destroy/distort/capitalize upon the heart and soul of our culture, our men, and our women.
In addition, the overall style of the piece is reminiscent of the style utilized by Jacob Lawrence — it’s simplistic and includes basic color compilations, but conveys a resounding message that can be interpreted in any number of ways given a person’s experiences and perceptions.
Certainly, as African-Americans, we have demonized and generalized white men and women in our minds, and in our communities.
Certainly, as African-Americans, we have been subject to demonization, and struggle with the internalization of those demonized images and perceptions as actual representations of who we are, what we deserve, and what we expect of ourselves and of one another.
So, why — when faced with these images, have so many failed to recognize them? Why — when faced with these images, have so many quickly dismissed them as “demonic” or indications that Kanye has “gone crazy?”
Is it because this is the quick and easy thing to do? Or, is it because viewing these images externally through someone else’s interpretation causes a discomfort within ourselves that we are not yet ready and willing to confront?