Understanding “We Were Once A Fairytale”
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There’s nothing quite like a Spike Jonze joint staging the assisted suicide of Kanye West’s symbolic ego to spark lively debate. The first 10 minutes leading up to the final scene artfully expose the hoax of fame and celebritydom (is that even a word?) as the god-like presence of Kanye West collapses onto itself (something like the rise and fall of The Roman Empire — an inevitable and theatrical death). Stripped of false ornaments, the viewer follows Kanye as he drunkenly stumbles around “the club” failing miserably to make conversation with women in the thick of a surreal, dreamlike state. In light of the VMA spectacle, it comes as no surprise that Ye would invest in a project documenting an exorcism of his inner demons otherwise obscured from public view. Honestly, fans have to be willfully naive to buy into Ye’s neat and micromanaged persona. My prediction? Rather than use the film as an opportunity to critically examine the cult of celebrity that induces the self-destructive behavior and delusions of grandeur displayed throughout the short, folks will simply add fuel to fire by continuing to edify Ye (in the name of his “creative genius”). To put it plain: Kanye will ultimately have his ego stroked for a film precisely about the assassination of his ego. It actually reminds me of the paradoxical nature of the Nobel Peace Prize — a system that rewards an (already wealthy and powerful) individual based on their sustained acts of (or VAGUE “commitment to”) altruism (the practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others). The silent subtext: we can all practice peace…so long as there exists a secret, material incentive motivating all of our “unselfish” work. Similarly, once celebrities have reached a certain level of security in their career, they can put out vulnerable music offering an implicit critique of the decadent, self-indulgent lifestyle of “the rich and famous” without jeopardizing their stardom. I wonder if greater risk (of losing one’s “status”) would change Kanye and Drake’s music (if at all). In a certain sense, Kanye is restored as an altruistic hero by the end of the film. Can one ever truly kill their ego? It’s obviously not to be taken literally but nonetheless an important rhetorical question to raise. In truth, I’m significantly more intrigued by people’s reactions to Kanye than Kanye himself (although he truly is the case study that keeps on giving). With the ubiquity of joints like Drake’s “Fear” (“you know I spend money because spending time is hopeless / and know I pop bottles cuz I bottle my emotions / at least I put it all in the open”) Kanye’s “Welcome To Heartbreak” (“my friend showed me pictures of his kids / and all I could show him was pictures of my cribs / he said his daughter got a brand new report card / and all I got was a brand new sports car / where did I go wrong?”) and an influx in emo rap sponsored by the likes of Kid Cudi, it’s become quite clear that vulnerability (irregardless of it’s sincerity) is highly profitable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Drake and Kanye aren’t speaking earnestly about their “real” experiences but I find it ironic that their confessions ultimately contribute to ballooning their fame and success. It should go without saying that there are multiple, compounding factors that attribute to this phenomenon outside of Drake and Ye’s control. In fact, this is more of a challenge to all of us as listeners and consumers. If anything, 30 Rock’s season premiere reminded me (via Tracy Morgan’s brilliant parody) of how inescapably insulated celebrity life is. It makes sense then that Drake and Ye would write about their newly discovered existential crises that come with the territory of extreme wealth and power. I can only imagine the paralyzing paranoia and feelings of estrangement and isolation that the dissolution of privacy (compounded by pervasive surveillance) creates. I suppose I’m just perpetually fascinated by the sheer weight we give celebrities every move. And while I understand that this long winded entry only contributes to that swell, I figure the least I can do is think critically about popular culture (for those tempted to dismiss me as an uppity critic). In any case, I would love to know what all of your complex reactions are to this film and anything I have shared in this tangential post. With every blog entry, I simply hope to generate interesting dialogue that engages the music and art we experience everyday. We all have the ability (and agency) to talk back even if our audience is significantly smaller than that of Kanye.