The scene would have been surreal even absent its plentiful cultural baggage: Three men clad head to toe in black, donning ski masks and face paint, lurking on the front steps of a nondescript mid-century home that just happened to have been dropped into the middle of an NFL stadium, surrounded by 40,000 rapt fans.
The maestro of this spectacle was Kanye West, arguably the modern era’s most accomplished provocateur. And although he was at the head of the porch-loitering troika as they premiered West’s long-awaited new album “Donda,” it was the other two who invited his most recent in an unbroken decade-plus of controversies: West flanked himself with collaborators DaBaby, the chart-topping rapper currently doing a penance tour for making flagrantly homophobic public comments, and Marilyn Manson, the Y2K-era shock rocker who was dropped by his record label this year after multiple women accused him of sexual assault and abuse.
Over the course of his nearly 20 years at the forefront of the popular culture, West has pushed buttons and earned the opprobrium of everyone from George W. Bush to Taylor Swift. He’s remade himself as a fashion designer, and dabbled in presidential politics both as a candidate himself and as a supporter of Donald Trump. His ability — or maybe just his willingness — to court controversy is a key part of his business model.
In this, the “Donda” event earned him yet another banner week. The Daily Beast’s blunt-force headline was representative: “Kanye West Brings Out a Homophobe and an Accused Rapist at DONDA Chicago Show.” Some critics called for Apple Music, which livestreamed the event, to be held “accountable.” British outlet the Independent refused to rate the record due to Manson’s involvement. (None of which, of course, prevented the album from racking up astounding streaming numbersfor its debut on August 29.)
In 2021, “Kanye West courts backlash” might be uncomfortably close to “dog bites man.” But this round of censure was telling not just of the man himself, but American cultural politics writ large. For West’s critics, the sins of DaBaby and Manson, serious as they might be, become almost secondary to West’s giving them — quite literally, in this case — a “platform.” By refusing to shun such figures, West has re-invented himself as a sort of impresario for the cancelled. And in placing himself next to Manson particularly, once the bête noire of mainstream American morality in his own right, West has illustrated exactly how much our cultural conversation about it has changed.
As maybe heavy metal’s last iconic public figure in the late 1990s, Manson’s combination of adolescent rage, provocative androgyny and Satanic shadowboxing earned him widespread protest from religious groups, the wary prohibition of concerned parents across middle America and even blame for the Columbine massacre. Today, such things register as kitsch — if they register at all. In 2021, the quickest way to gin up outrage isn’t to invoke taboo spiritual forces; it’s to flout liberal social norms in the manner in which West has become so skilled — whether through these most recent antics or his embrace of Donald Trump, whom he reportedly also invited to the event. (No word on whether the former president was asked to lay down a verse himself.)
To be “transgressive” in today’s mainstream pop culture — or at least to be perceived as such — is not to do something cancel-worthy, but to willingly align oneself with the cancelled. West’s bromance with Trump was a telling prelude to his current iteration. For all their differences, the quality that brought the two men together is a profound belief in the value of provocation for provocation’s sake. The substance of what is actually said is almost secondary to the reaction it earns.
That kind of trolling, and its attendant shaming, have been used to enforce cultural norms since antiquity. But West, once again, has produced a cultural innovation. By purposely stoking a controversy-by-proxy that almost obscures his accomplices’ original sins, he’s revealed the matryoshka-like nature of mainstream American cultural discourse — which in turn feeds an endless stream of tabloid, cable, and inevitably political controversies.
The Trump-West principle of controversy as an inherent good transfers to the company the latter now keeps. Whatever one thinks of him, it strains credulity to imagine West’s inclusion of Manson, for example, as an explicit endorsement of sexual violence. The intended message, rather, is one of defiance: West (or Trump) will not be proscribed in the company he keeps (or his speech) by the offense it might cause to a wider audience.
The gravity of that offense has grown much stronger in the nearly two decades since West launched his career, just as Manson’s mainstream popularity was waning. Homophobia, once endemic to mainstream rap music, is now largely taboo; one of the genre’s biggest stars is an out gay man. (West himself has been sharply critical of homophobia in rap culture; he removed another recent collaboration with DaBaby from streaming services in the wake of the latter rapper’s comments, which he himself addresses on “Donda” in a neat ouroboros of controversy.)
In Manson’s case, allegations of sexual assault are treated far more seriously today than in the era where Harvey Weinstein’s predations were whispered about as a morbid inside joke. But more relevant to West’s success as a provocateur than Americans’ decreasing tolerance for such speech and behavior is the ongoing debate over whether or not to shun the achievements of those who take part in it. As Armin Rosen wrote in The Bulwark of the musical collaboration between the three men in question, West has “gathered unto himself the cancelled in order to force people to reconcile artistic achievement with their own discomfort.” (One gets the sense that, given the opportunity, West would return the films of Woody Allen to wide release as well, simply in protest of anything being placed beyond the cultural pale.)
In that sense, his one-man campaign against “cancel culture” is reminiscent of that from one of the few equally famous avatars of unreformed masculinity: Joe Rogan, the podcaster whose interviews with decidedly canceled figures such as Alex Jones, Roseanne Barr and West himself have earned him a massively loyal fanbase that shares his unwillingness to publicly shun (or, alternatively, to hold accountable) such figures for their transgressions.
Ironically, this debate over how to deal with such transgressors is very much alive in the one thing about West’s album rollout that’s been somewhat obscured by the attendant controversy: the actual music. “Donda,” recorded amid West’s divorce from his mega-famous ex-wife Kim Kardashian, is a sprawling opus in which West acknowledges, yet still yearns for, the impossibly difficult path to redemption for his inner flaws and ill-thought-out actions alike. Messy as it may be, it’s West’s most fully realized and creative music in nearly a decade.
And it’s not just Manson and DaBaby who appear as musical props in West’s passion play. Buju Banton, a Jamaican reggae and dancehall star who gay rights groups have protested for homophobic lyrical content, appears on a track. Jay Electronica, who’s long engaged in a coy anti-Semitism in both his music and on social media, gets in a verse. West’s overall subtext is characteristically messianic: all have been canceled, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Yeezus.
To many (perhaps most) Americans, such absolution is not West’s to give. Hence the controversy: To those like the Independent reviewer who placed “Donda” beyond critical evaluation, the hard-won gains of the past two decades in holding figures like Manson accountable are too precious to risk “normalizing” their offenses by sharing one’s cultural platform with them, much less as part of one of the year’s biggest pop-cultural events. That places West on a nearly equal moral footing to his band of canceled men: He is, in the eyes of his critics, complicit — which makes him the modern successor to Manson’s circa-2001 public-enemy status.
West stands beyond the bounds of polite society, at least as it’s defined by many Americans, helplessly, painfully — and, yes, still occasionally transcendently — himself. He is the habitual line-stepper of our time par excellence, and that line has shifted undeniably, and in most cases admirably, when it comes to our behavioral and speech taboos.
But even more so, the American cultural conversation has shifted largely beyond consideration of unacceptable behavior per se to a debate over who might or might not condone it, the words we use to speak about it, and what to do with the work of those who commit it. By diving head-first into that conversation’s farthest deep end, Kanye has once again revealed the combination of cultural intuition and sheer recklessness that’s allowed him to largely own it for now nearly two decades.
Renzo to Head KCL's Centre for Politics, Philosophy and Law – Daily Nous
Massimo Renzo has been appointed as the new Yeoh Tiong Lay Chair and Director of the Yeoh Tiong Lay Centre for Politics, Philosophy and Law at King’s College London (KCL).
Professor Renzo, previously a professor of Politics, Law, and Philosophy at KCL and the acting director of the Yeoh Centre, was selected for the endowed chair and directorship following an open search to fill the position. He works in legal, moral and political philosophy, and has written on topics such as political authority, just war, humanitarian intervention, human rights, philosophy of criminal law, consent, and manipulation, among others. You can browse his writings here.
The Yeoh Centre was founded in 2014 with the aim of exploring “major issues in law and politics through the lens of philosophy.” Its previous director was John Tasioulas (Oxford). You can learn more about it here.
Politics Briefing: Quebec introduces legislation to ban pandemic-related protests near hospitals, other facilities – The Globe and Mail
Quebec’s Premier says he is taking a cautious approach to proceeding with legislation to outlaw COVID-19-related protests within 50 metres of hospitals, vaccination sites and testing centres, among other facilities.
“It’s never easy to say you cannot go on the street,” Premier François Legault told a news conference on Thursday, responding to a media question about why he had decided to proceed now with Bill 105.
The legislation, with details on prospective fines, was tabled Thursday by the province’s Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault in response to recent anti-vaccine protests outside such facilities.
“It’s not something that you can do every day. You have to be careful. We want to make sure that people will not win, trying to say that the law is unacceptable, and we cannot enforce it,” said Mr. Legault.
“We wanted to do it correctly and I think that also we need to have the support of all the other parties, and I think that it’s the right time.”
Provisions of the bill will cease to have effect when the public health emergency declared in March, 2020, ends.
More details on the legislation here.
This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.
TRUDEAU FACES CABINET CHALLENGES – Justin Trudeau will have to contend with the defeat of three female cabinet ministers as he crafts his senior leadership team in what’s expected to be a quick return to governing. Two senior government officials told The Globe and Mail Mr. Trudeau will outline his government’s next steps once Elections Canada has finalized the seat counts, which could be as early as Thursday. Story here.
QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT O’TOOLE LEADERSHIP – In the first public challenge to Erin O’Toole from within his own ranks, a member of the Conservative Party’s national council says the Tory Leader should face an accelerated leadership review for “betraying” members during the election campaign.
LIMITED DIVERSITY IN TORY CAUCUS – CBC has crunched the the numbers, and concluded that the vast majority of the MPs making up the new Conservative caucus — nearly 95 per cent — are white, even as the country’s racial makeup is diversifying. Before this election, 9 per cent of Tory MPs were BIPOC. Story here,
LPC CANDIDATE ACCUSED OF TAKING RIVAL PAMPHLET – A Calgary resident says he has doorbell security camera footage showing Liberal candidate George Chahal, the night before the election, approach his house in the Calgary Skyview riding and remove an opponent’s campaign flyer before replacing it with one of his own. He posted the footage to Facebook, which has now received thousands of views. Story here.
FORMER LPC CANDIDATE TO SERVE AS INDEPENDENT – Kevin Vuong, who won the Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York as a Liberal candidate, said he will serve as an Independent MP, days after his party said he will not sit as a member of the caucus. Story here.
TWITTER BERNIER BAN – Twitter restricted People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier’s account, preventing him from posting any new messages for 12 hours after he used the platform to encourage his supporters to “play dirty” with journalists covering his campaign. From CBC. Story here.
KENNEY FENDS OFF LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE – Jason Kenney appears to have quelled another challenge from within his own caucus. A non-confidence vote against the Alberta Premier was withdrawn on Wednesday, but he committed to an earlier-than-planned leadership review, to be held well in advance of Alberta’s 2023 general election. Don Braid of The Calgary Herald writes here on how Mr. Kenney survived this fight against his leadership.
NEW CHARGES AGAINST FORMER SNC-LAVALIN EXECS – SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and two of its former executives are facing new criminal charges related to a bridge contract in Montreal nearly 20 years ago, plunging the Canadian engineering giant into another legal maelstrom as it tries to rebuild its business after years of crisis. Story here.
FORD LOOKING FOR CHILDCARE DEAL – Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he wants to make a child-care deal with the federal government. The province has acknowledged it was in discussions with Ottawa about a potential agreement into the last hours before the federal election was called in August.
PRIME MINISTER’S DAY
“Private meetings,” according to an advisory from the Prime Minister’s Office.
No schedules released for party leaders.
Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on whether this is the end of majority governments in Canada: “But in Canada, for one reason or another, the grip of two-party politics has been broken – irrevocably, it seems. As a result, something else that is not supposed to happen under first past the post has been happening, with remarkable frequency: minority governments. This is not just the second straight federal election to produce a Parliament without a majority party: it is the fifth in the past seven, 11th in the past 22.”
Lawrence Martin (The Globe and Mail) on why, if any federal leader should be stepping down, it’s the likeable Jagmeet Singh: ‘Strange business, politics. While a bit short of a majority, Justin Trudeau wins a third successive election by a large margin in the seat count. Yet some critics say he should be put out to pasture. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh suffered a drubbing in the 2019 election, losing almost half his party’s seats. With much higher expectations, he did badly again in Monday’s vote, electing (pending mail-in vote counts) only one more member. Yet hardly anyone says a word.”
Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on why the knives are out for Erin O’Toole, but not Jagmeet Singh: “Theoretically, Mr. O’Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh should be in the same boat. Both failed to channel national frustration over a pandemic election call and turn it into material support; both delivered underwhelming results. But Mr. Singh, who led a campaign that saw the party claim 25 seats as of this writing – just one more than it held before – doesn’t appear to be in immediate jeopardy of losing his job. The saga of former NDP leader Tom Mulcair, who was turfed by his party when the NDP won 44 seats in 2015 (that is, about 75 per cent better than it did on Monday), offers an explanation for why.”
Jen Gerson (Maclean’s) on why Tories should not “do that stupid thing” they’re thinking of doing: “If you dump your affable, moderate, centrist leader at the first opportunity because he didn’t crack the 905 on his first try, and you replace him with someone who will chase Maxime Bernier’s vanishing social movement like a labradoodle running after the wheels of a mail truck, you will wind up confirming every extant fear and stereotype this crowd already holds about you and your party.”
Steve Paikin (TVO) on advice for Justin Trudeau, inspired by the political experiences of former Ontario premier Bill Davis: “I think if Davis were still alive, he’d tell the current Prime Minister: “A lot of people are underestimating you right now. They think you’re damaged because you called this snap election, and it didn’t work out as you’d hoped. Well, I’ve been there. My advice, Prime Minister, is to reach out. Be more collegial and less ideological and adversarial. Establish a good working relationship with your opponents.”
Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. It’s not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.
Japan’s ruling party puts legacy of Abenomics in focus.
Japan’s widening wealth gap has emerged as a key issue in a ruling party leadership contest that will decide who becomes the next prime minister, with candidates forced to reassess the legacy of former premier Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” policies.
Under Abenomics, a mix of expansionary fiscal and monetary policies and a growth strategy deployed by Abe in 2013, share prices and corporate profits boomed, but a government survey published earlier this year showed households hardly benefited.
Mindful of the flaws of Abenomics, frontrunners in the Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership race – vaccination minister Taro Kono and former foreign minister Fumio Kishida – have pledged to focus more on boosting household wealth.
“What’s important is to deliver the benefits of economic growth to a wider population,” Kishida said on Thursday. “We must create a virtual cycle of growth and distribution.”
But the candidates are thin on details over how to do this with Japan’s economic policy toolkit depleted by years of massive monetary and fiscal stimulus.
Kono calls for rewarding companies that boost wages with a cut in corporate tax, while Kishida wants to expand Japan’s middle class with targeted payouts to low-income households.
The winner of the LDP leadership vote on Sept. 29 is assured of becoming Japan’s next prime minister because of the party’s parliamentary majority. Two women – Sanae Takaichi, 60, a former internal affairs minister, and Seiko Noda, 61, a former minister for gender equality – are the other candidates in a four-way race.
Parliament is expected to convene on Oct. 4 to vote for a successor to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who announced his decision to quit less than a year after taking over from Abe.
A government survey, conducted once every five years and released in February, has drawn increasing attention to trends in inequality during Abe’s time.
Shigeto Nagai, head of Japan economics at Oxford Economics, said the survey revealed “the stark failure of Abenomics to boost household wealth through asset price growth.”
Average wealth among households fell by 3.5% from 2014 to 2019 with only the top 10% wealthiest enjoying an increase, according to a survey conducted once every five years.
Japanese households’ traditional aversion to risk meant they did not benefit from the stock market rally, with the balance of their financial assets down 8.1% in the five years from 2014, the survey showed.
“We think the new premier will need to consider the failures of Abenomics and recognize the myth that reflation policies relying on aggressive monetary easing will not solve all Japan’s problems without tackling endemic structural issues,” Nagai said.
Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda defended Abenomics and said the pandemic, not slow wage growth, was mainly to blame for sluggish consumption.
“Unlike in the United States and Europe, Japanese firms protected jobs even when the pandemic hit,” Kuroda said when asked why the trickle-down to households has been weak.
“Wage growth has been fairly modest, but that’s not the main reason consumption is weak,” he told a briefing on Wednesday. “As the pandemic subsides, consumption will likely strengthen.”
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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