Kanye West is pathetic. Everybody agrees on this fact. After making a total ass of himself over and over again, and then showing the entire world what a dick he is by storming an awards stage, grabs the microphone from Taylor Swift, embarrasses a teenage girl, gets booed, thrown out, apologizes, and then retracts the apology when it finally sinks in that nobody likes him.
The jerk is a pathological narcissist.
I want to examine one of Kanye’s recent music videos, but before we get to that, let me preface it with a confession that I’ve been interested in the practice of semiotics for, well, almost 30 years. It started with the literature of Umberto Eco, a seriously highbrow Italian academic, sometimes novelist, and most likely the inspiration for Dan Brown’s character Professor Robert Langdon of the The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and The Lost Symbol novels. Those are all fun reads. But Umberto Eco is the real thing.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to lecture about semiotics. The only reason I’ve even mentioned the subject is that it opened up the world of the old masters for me. Haunting the great museums of Europe, the practice of cultural and pictorial semiotics helped me to read the paintings. Clues to the meanings of those masterpieces lie in a rich system of symbols, themes, and motifs that elude most modern viewers. It takes a knowledge of history and theology and mythology and folklore.
I bring this personal hobby to Kanye West’s music video for Power.
The video is meant to be a “moving” painting, and it’s very short, just over a minute. I think Kanye is musically talentless, that’s my opinion, but this video however, gives the viewer plenty to think about and has lots of symbols to decode. Credit the visual artist and filmmaker, Marco Brambilla, for what you see, not Kanye West.
The video starts off with a close-up of Kanye with glow-in-the-dark eyes. The message is that Kanye is “illuminated” from within, presumably with inner knowledge.
He stands between an infinite row of Ionic columns. In historical symbolism, the row of columns always represent the gateway to enlightenment and wisdom.
The next thing that catches the viewer’s eye is most probably that gigantic chain with Horus’ head as a pendant. Horus is an ancient Egyptian god, a symbol of royal power.
The entrance of the gateway of pillars is guarded by two horned albino girls holding staffs. Their features are very reminiscent of depictions of Isis and Hathor, goddesses of ancient Egypt. Isis was the mother of Horus and the goddess of motherhood, nature and magic. Hathor was the goddess of music, dance and fertility. Both Isis and Hathor were known to welcome and protect the dead during their journey to the afterlife, a concept that is particularly interesting in the context of the video.
The descending sword above Kanye’s head is probably a reference to the Sword of Damocles, a pretty widely known legend. The tale of the Sword epitomizes the constant danger faced by those in positions of power. Kanye stands there, in a state of impending doom, knowing he can be executed at any time. Right after we see the sword of Damocles, two figures appear attempting to stab him with daggers. The assassination will not happen by dagger, however, as two other figures leap out of nowhere holding swords to accomplish the “Killing of the King.”
Kanye, symbolizing himself as a Pharaoh, is standing at the border between eternal wisdom and the decadence of mundane life, represented in the foreground by lustful and gluttonous women. He is about to be executed under the watchful eyes of the goddesses, who will protect him in a rite of passage to immortality that promises to be a glorious awakening as a new being. In order to accomplish this, Kanye West needs to kill his old self and be ritualistically reborn.
WTF Kanye? I know you need an image makeover, you whiny little sissy, but this is just an ego trip. Feeling a little persecuted? Are we not worshipping you enough?
There’s an epidemic of cultural narcissism and I blame it on the youth and their parents. Let’s rewind the clock back to the 90’s. A whole generation is being raised on Jerry Springer-ish daytime talk shows, those intergalactic freak shows where guests reveled in their own bad behavior as they screamed in people’s faces, screamed at the audience, the audience screaming back . . .
Today that generation is watching reality shows like Jersey Shore, the new fountainhead of bad behavior. It’s no wonder these people have lost their manners. Look at what they’ve been watching. Everybody’s broken off into these petulant little Travis Bickle tribes where they walk the perimeter of their own damaged self-esteem, always on guard duty against any insult.
And it isn’t just that everybody seems so touchy, it’s that everybody is encouraged by the crap on television to be touchy. The image in the cultural mirror isn’t pretty.
I just want civility to return.
Seriously, I’m not some hippy tie-dyed karma maitre d’ who’s trying to seat everybody in the no-conflict section. Day-to-day life can sometimes be combative. And as far as I’m concerned, the New Age goal of perpetual, smiling bliss is a far worse hell than anything that can be imagined by Quentin Tarantino sniffing paint fumes. I don’t want some vacant-headed, de-fanged Quaker land.
That’s not civility, that’s banality.
But it’s gotten so weird out there that people are turning inward, and in the process, forgetting that there are other human beings living on this pebble. That’s where civility and manners come in.
Civility, as in being civilized.
This is aimed squarely at those who are manners-challenged. I don’t care if you haven’t fulfilled your sappy little junior high school daydream about being the greatest person on earth. I don’t care when you try to justify your shittyness because your self-esteem got ruined when nobody paid attention to you and your silly antics on the diving board at the public pool.
I don’t care.
Every since those “Baby on Board” signs started appearing in the early 80’s, parents and society have turned normal healthy narcissism into a generation of pathological narcissism. That’s the unspoken child abuse, raising children to refuse to acknowledge the boundaries of the individual. It’s the smothering, doting, indulging, and excessive parenting that wants every child to be convinced they’re special, and by expectation, that they should be treated as such.
I’m talking about every parent who has decorated their child with a pink shirt that says “Princess” on the front.
Thanks. Now we get to deal with her rudeness every time we stop at Der Wienerschnitzel to get a chili cheese dog and a Pepsi.
Hey, it’s tough, folks. We all have dashed hopes. We all have figments of fabulous futures crushed by graduations, jobs, marriages, and real life. It’s tough waking up from a deep REM delirium starring you as the focal point of the universe to a reality in which you’re unpacking boxes of condiments. It sucks. But you know what? The world doesn’t care if you’re happy or not. And I don’t care. I just want you to take my order without feeling like I’m bothering you.
And don’t look for an escape hatch from the psychiatric community.
It’s not because you suffer from co-dependency, addictive personalities, inherited personality disorder, multiple personality learning disorder, no personality whatsoever disorder, or fetal membrane subcutaneous infectious submissive sexuality dislocator.
That’s a bunch of psychobabble to give people a bulletproof excuse when they feel unfulfilled. They use it like a club to ward off any personal responsibility for their lives. If you don’t like your shitty existence, then make an effort to Fitzcarraldo the boat over a jungle mountain and actually achieve what you want in life.
It is actually so popular in our music culture today that it seems normalized. The whole culture of Hip Hop is built on self-adoration. Some people confuse it with confidence.
How much of this narcissism is stepping past the music and blending into the listener?
Kanye West. The poster boy for pathological narcissism. He’s rude and disrespectful and feels slighted and insulted by anything he doesn’t agree with. He really does think he knows everything. He knows what’s best. If somebody doesn’t win an award, it’s not because somebody else was better, it’s just that people are too stupid to understand.
He is “illuminated” from within, and will have to take your mic away so he can explain it to us.
And if Chris Brown appears on your morning show to promote his new album, don’t you dare sacrilege his own personal church of “Me” by bringing up the subject of him beating his girlfriend to a pulp. He’s not about that right now. Right now, he’s about himself and trashing his dressing room and throwing around the C-word and the F-word, and selling degrading lyrics to your children.
I’m imagining Narcissus laying on the grass by the reflecting pool, in love with his own image.
There is pathological narcissism and there is a healthy narcissism.
Our images, especially those that appear in life and play important roles in our transformation, stay with us forever. You visit a gallery in the Mauritshuis Museum and see Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring, and then for a lifetime you dream of it as a measure of beauty. Unexpectedly it presents itself in a moment of thought or in a discussion, reminding you of its eternal presence.
This fragment of the myth suggests that we might continually shape our souls out of our narcissism by preserving and tending to the images that have come to us throughout our lives. This is the basis of art therapy or journal-keeping. Even blogging.
We make homes for certain images that have transformed us.
Certain photographs, old letters, an old piece of music on the radio, a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, a golden smudge of memory of our childhood, of our mother laughing beside a hedge in bloom, in the summer dusk.
Look into the pool of water.
Don’t see your reflection, but the depths of yourself behind the reflection.