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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Column: Kanye West vs. a culture of pride-shaming

Pride isn’t a bad thing, and Kanye is trying to teach us that. But are we ready to listen?

Jack Flemming

March 19, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

There comes a time in every music columnist’s journey when he or she has to discuss Kanye West. The industry’s most divisive, yet interesting, figure evokes strong opinions from just about anyone. You either love Kanye West, or you hate him.

I love Kanye West.

It’s not because of his Midas-esque ability to turn every musical project he works on into gold. It’s not because he’s undisputedly the most important producer of our generation, either. It’s because in a hateful, pride-shaming society, he stands alone in defiance.

The reverse ideals our culture holds on pride has astounded me for years. As a child, you’re told to do your best and to be proud of your work. Then, at some point, a stipulation is thrown onto the end: Be proud of your work, but don’t let other people know how proud you are, or else you’ll be a egotistical monster.

For example, if a stranger approaches me after this piece publishes and tells me how much they liked it, they would expect a fair amount of self-deprecation from me before I accepted any praise. I can’t outwardly praise my own work, or else I’d come off as excessively prideful and arrogant. Trust me, I’ve dealt with the repercussions of this mindset my entire life, so much so that I’m often afraid to publicly brag about the pieces I write. We’re taught that pride is arrogance, and at some point we’ve all conformed to this ridiculous ideal.

But Kanye has done no such thing.

Throughout his entire career, Kanye continues to produce brilliant albums, pieces of music that no one but he would ever be able to create. He constantly pushes the envelope and creatively challenges his listeners, and he knows it. Kanye knows how good his albums are, and he’s not afraid to acknowledge how important he is to the music industry. To me, that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Yet our society continues to attack him on all fronts. There are legitimate claims to racial connotations as the cause, but that’s an argument for another column. For whatever reason, despite knowing how good Kanye is, we refuse to allow him to show any self-awareness of his talents.

But the hateful, condemning words of his thick-jowled critics do nothing to deter Kanye from being proud of his work. He replaces the alleged arrogance with ambition. When he’s not making another groundbreaking album, he’s dipping his feet into the world of fashion. When he’s not planning an ambitious and innovative stadium tour, he’s busy raising a family.

Every time the cruel, cold-hearted media point and laugh at Kanye’s ambition, he proves them wrong by succeeding even more. Instead of recognizing his success, our society sits back, calls names and writes him off as an egomaniac.

But if achieving success and being open about it is the mark of an egomaniac, then our society has reached a dark place. Sure, Kanye has made some ambitious claims in terms of comparisons to cultural icons such as Michael Jackson or Martin Luther King Jr., but every time, he works painstakingly hard to explain himself to a culture that’s either unwilling or unready to listen.

Our pride-shaming society has produced role models with the same backward ideals: self-deprecating conformists who are afraid to be openly proud of their success because of fear of judgment. But anyone who refuses to be proud of their work is no role model of mine.

Kanye is a true role model. Through his actions, he teaches that it’s OK to be proud of what you accomplish, and you should celebrate success in a world that often is rooting against you.

It’s time to rid ourselves of the notion that pride is wrong, and Kanye West is leading the charge.

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Article comments

March 19, 2014 at 1:57 a.m.

Any Syler: Well said, Jack. This was a great OpEd. It is infuriating to see the media, and general public, line out expectations of cultural superstars, to break them down and seldom acknowledge exactly how talented they are. Pop culture has definitely been designed to build one up to knock them down. It's refreshing, and important, to have someone like Kanye in our public media.

March 19, 2014 at noon

Robbie B.: Nice article. They love you when your dead, and hate you when your alive.

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