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Kanye, America's Most Mainstream Deviant

Kanye, America's Most Mainstream Deviant

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Published by Chloe Suazay
Digital Artifact #3. Self and Society, UCLA Ext.
Digital Artifact #3. Self and Society, UCLA Ext.

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Published by: Chloe Suazay on May 27, 2013
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05/27/2013

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KANYE WEST: AMERICA’S MOST MAINSTREAM DEVIANT In illustrating deviance, I would like to focus on the rapper Kanye West

. While we can all acknowledge that he doesn’t seem like the nicest or politest of folks - even President Obama was caught on tape calling Kanye a “jackass” - his rudeness and arrogance is part of a larger picture. This broader picture is that Kanye is what we could label a deviant, and not just in his disregard for manners. Deviance, as defined by Sandstrom et al, describes “acts or attributes that depart in an undesirable way from a group’s norms and evoke negative social reactions” (2013, 234). The two main ways in which Kanye is deviant are with his disregard for commonly accepted moral standards and with his political aggressiveness. Commonly accepted norms in our society involving morality include such beliefs that drug-dealing is a condemnable, illegitimate profession, hence why it was made illegal through the rule creation step described in the labeling theory of deviance. Our norms also include beliefs involving sexuality, typically that anything short of monogamous relationships between straight men and straight women are immoral. Kanye regularly declares his deviance outside of these norms, by talking about drugs, drug-dealing, and sexually explicit themes such as threesomes, adultery, porn stars, and strippers. In the song “We Don’t Care,” he celebrates “all my people that’s drug dealing just to get by, stack your money til it gets sky high... Throw your hands up in the sky and yell, we don’t care what people say!” In the song “Hell of a Life,” he talks about how he wants to be in a relationship with a bisexual porn star: “one day I’m gonna marry a porn star... nothing to hide, we both screwed the bridesmaid.” In his song “Addiction,” he describes a cheating scenario in which the girl has “a lover, so the lies, and the lust, is a rush” and declares his penchant for rule-breaking by saying, “Why is everything that’s supposed to be bad make me feel so good? Everything they told me not to is exactly what I would.” These are all examples of his routine flouting of social conventions regarding morality. According to the relativist view held by symbolic interactionists, Kanye’s standards of normalcy may be considered deviant by the greater society but perfectly acceptable in his subculture, because “definitions of right and wrong, as well as normalcy and abnormalcy, differ widely in various settings, cultures, and periods of history” (Sandstrom et al, 2013, 236). Thus, he talks frequently about sexual immorality and drug-dealing, because these are things that are prevalent in the street and welfare cultures in which he grew up. He discusses this social audience of his by rapping, “As a shorty I looked up to the dopeman, only adult man I knew that wasn’t a broke man... we claim other people kids on our income tax... it’s bad enough we on welfare.” It is also a commonly accepted norm in our society to not denounce the actions of our government, because it is considered unpatriotic, ignorant, and condemnable, as “Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the musical group, The Dixie Chicks, found out after her 2003 criticism of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq” (Sandstrom et al, 2013, 261). Despite this, political themes are the subject of almost all of Kanye’s raps,

upon one’s closer inspection beyond the catchy, radio-friendly hooks. He frequently criticizes our capitalistic consumer culture, with such lyrics as, “it seems we living the American Dream but the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem. The prettiest people do the ugliest things for the road to riches and diamond rings... We buy our way out of jail, but we can’t buy freedom. We’ll buy a lot of clothes but we don’t really need them, the things we buy to over up what’s inside cause they made us hate ourself and love they wealth.” He also criticizes the institutionalized racism that still exists in our country, magnifying the plight of the modern American black citizen with such lyrics as, “face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon, and at the airport they check all through my bag and tell me that it’s random”, suggesting that with any crime a black person (Jerome) will face a harsher sentence than the white boy who commits the same crime (Brandon), and that this discrimination and racial profiling is even faced by Kanye when he goes to the airport. He blames the white people who head the corporations for exploiting and essentially enslaving lower class blacks, with such lyrics as “drug dealers buy Jordans, crackheads buy crack, but the white man get paid off of all of that” and “your corporation... can’t control me, I know that we the new slaves.” His anti-patriotic messages go so far as to actually suggest we should move to China, because America fails to offer opportunities for even basic comforts: “All i want is a good home and a wife and children, and some food to feed them every night. After all is said and done, build a new route to China if they’ll have you. Who will survive in America? Who will survive in America?” This disregard for many of the social norms of our current society has led his characteristics of arrogance and rudeness to become his master status. He is always being called “an asshole or classless or deranged or various other adjectives that fill the comment sections of literally every article about him” (Garvey, 2013). However, rather than trying to avoid or resist deviant labeling in the attribution process, through such methods as normalization, neutralization, motive talk, or destigmatization, Kanye seems to actively pursue this label. He seems to embrace his deviant identity, making it a source of pride through tertiary deviance. As Sandstrom et al would say, he redefines his “deviant acts or attributes as normal, laudable, or virtuous” (2013, 253). I might actually agree with him on that. While some of his claims may be outrageous, and he could stand to be a little nicer, a lot of his points have validity and shed light on important issues in our country. As Sandstrom et al point out, “norm violations are not necessarily detrimental for society... clarifying moral boundaries, promoting social unity, and encouraging societies to change” (2013, 235). I am glad that Kanye actually has something to say and is not afraid to say it, even if his claims may be highly controversial and deviant. We need people who will bring attention to racial, economic, and socio-political issues that exist in our country today and help promote positive social change. This is why I’m a fan of Kanye’s deviance.

Garvey, Meaghan (2013). “Who Will Survive in America?” Huffington Post Entertainment. Retrieved May 25, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meaghangarvey/who-will-survive-in-ameri_1_b_3320679.html?&ncid=edlinkusaolp00000008 Sandstrom, Kent et al (2013). Symbols, Selves, and Social Reality: Fourth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

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