On Monday night, Kanye West will be the featured performer on VH1’s Storytellers, the show that gets songwriters to perform in an intimate setting, in the hopes that they will open up to the audience and explain a bit about their creative process, or whatever else might be on their mind. For anyone acquainted with Kanye (who happens to write the most prolific celebrity blog on the web), you know you don’t need much to get him talking. The results are always uncensored and frequently entertaining. But what you won’t see on the show are a few choice comments that ended up on the cutting room floor, one or two in particular that should give any feminist pause.
In the excised footage (three hours of performance was edited down to a 90-minute show), not only did Kanye try to be an apologist for Bitch’s Douchebague du Jour, the partner-abusing singer Chris Brown (“can’t we give Chris a break?.. I know I make mistakes in life,” he told the audience”), he also seemed to give the increasingly odious O.J. Simpson a pass on his crimes, calling him “amazing,” and not in a bad way.
I should say that I am a fan of West’s music. I even find his off-stage personality and antics fascinating and even endearing for the most part, and I think he’s one of the more complicated and intriguing artists in hip-hop. And judging from remarks he made about Michael Phelps that did make it into the show, a charitable reading of his mental state might suggest that he was making a case for judging someone’s works separately from their personal imperfections.
But there’s a world of difference between, say, a continued affection for the music of James Brown and actually advocating that he be excused for the spousal abuse that seemed to plague his marriage. When an artist of Kanye’s popularity asks the audience to give Chris Brown a pass on what even he admits was an instance of domestic violence, he’s crossing the line from entertaining to harmful.
Disturbingly, most artists seem inclined to give Chris Brown a break, or at least seem worried enough about breaking some sort of rule of professional decorum that they can’t do the right thing and stand up for Rihanna in what seems to be an obvious case of right and wrong. It’s probably too late in the day to still hope that our celebrities will be more aware of their status as role models, but at this point I’d be happy if they’d just shut up.