Kanye West’s Use of the Diatribe
Kanye West is a musical artist whose shocking public statements often remain in the news for weeks on end. Throughout the past six years of his extremely successful career, at least three of these public acts have received tireless media coverage both for their perceived offensiveness, and for their direct connection to larger societal issues. This project examines three statements: (1) West’s 2005 claim during Hurricane Katrina that “[President] George Bush doesn’t care about Black people;” (2) the moment in 2009 when West stormed the MTV Video Music Awards stage during singer Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech and grabbed her microphone, stating that he would let her finish, “but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time;” and (3) West’s 2010 appearance on NBC’s Today Show and the series of angry messages he posted to his Twitter page claiming that the interviewer, Matt Lauer, tried to “force” his answers. These statements are analyzed to determine whether West may have unwittingly employed the rhetorical method Theodore Windt describes as the diatribe. The paper concludes that West’s statements in 2005 and 2010 meet the criteria for the diatribe, using a shocking act or message to catalyze important discussion of major problems existing in society. However, West’s 2009 incident fails to meet the criteria, and cannot be categorized as a diatribe, but instead as simply an offensive act that provided no greater benefit to society. The process of these analyses may serve as a way to examine future celebrity statements to determine whether certain individuals are striving to elevate society or, through their offenses, may be adding to a cultural downfall.