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Kanye, Gosha and the failure of cancel culture

Excluded from the industry, the two disgraced creatives teamed up

Kanye, Gosha and the failure of cancel culture Excluded from the industry, the two disgraced creatives teamed up

If there is a master of theatricality in the musical-creative industrial complex, it is Kanye West, or Ye as the case may be. More than a musical artist, Ye is a kind of natural phenomenon (or a calamity) in the sense that one can look at him with admiration or concern, one can judge him as grandiose or destructive, but the judgments that one holds against him do not affect his work - it is his work, rather, that bends and moves things around him.  This made Ye immune to the erasure that many had wished on him and that would have befallen anyone else if he had paraded "White Lives Matter" T-shirts, declared Nazi sympathies and bullied a universally admired journalist in the industry on social media. Not even getting caught in decidedly indecent attitudes in the middle of Venice prevented him from being welcomed as a king in exile in many fashionable salons in London, Milan or Paris: yet another application of that fashion rule of cool that if you possess a certain charisma and power of attraction, you are somehow immune to the consequences of your words or actions. And so, after a year of craziness and extravagance, here we are with the release of the new album, Vultures, and the rather shocking announcement that its cover was created by Gosha Rubchinskiy who, at the same time, was also named as Yeezy's new Head of Design. Needless to recall the sensational debacle that plunged Rubchinskiy into infamy, when his conversations with an underage boy from whom the Russian designer asked for déshabillé photos under the pretext of street casting were leaked. As pointed out by an Instagram user, Kanye seems to have created a kind of "disgraced artist union," breaking the mechanisms of cancel culture and making us wonder: was it really cancel culture that brought them together?

Regardless of how one feels about the concept of cancel culture and its methods of summary justice (assuming one can speak of "its methods" as if it were an institution), it must be admitted that the dynamics of public erasure are so politically and morally polarized as to feed a binary mentality of the type «with us or against us». After the shitstorm hits, one becomes an outcast: it is only a matter of time that enough outcasts get together and start a club of their own. This is what happened with Gosha Rubchinskiy - whose case, however, is far more serious since it involves potentially criminal charges on which the law will then have the final say. Since they are both "canceled" artists their union sounds a natural thing and in some ways overshadows the serious stain on the Russian designer's reputation. In this sense, the cancellation had some effect as Kanye is no longer invited to fashion week shows and official events but it did not have the desired effect in the sense that, behind closed doors, the fashion industry elite do not show that they have that much of a problem with hanging out with West. Which shows the very limits of cancel culture: you can ostracize someone only up to a certain point, but beyond that point, in the private dimension, collective outrage cannot suffice to do justice and basically leaves things where they were before.

What then to do with Kanye West and his new Head of Design? Strangely enough, you can't cancel someone twice, and so, having overcome the impasse of the first "excommunication," Kanye found himself free to do as he saw fit. Indeed, many proponents of cancel culture complain that their purposes often end up running up against the public's short memory - which seriously questions both the effectiveness of their idealism and the quality of their methods but not the rightness of their cause. Of course, the case is specific to Kanye West: some cancellations are truly without return (think Armie Hammer or Kevin Spacey) but the monumentality of Kanye's influence on contemporary culture suggests that, indeed, while it is difficult for many to separate art from artist there is a huge segment of the public that already does so independently.

Which leads us to question whether the method by which disapproval is expressed and social justice distributed is really something healthy and functional or a valid model of behavior to be pursued. In the face of these contradictions, however, it must be admitted that the psychology of the masses moves quite independently of the logic of the idealists: however correct and conclusive the accusations levelled against West may be, cancelling him is not a solution and does not allow anyone, either him or the public, to process the feelings caused by his many controversial outings, both literal and metaphorical. Denial in the absolute sense, in short, is not the way. We will have to live with Kanye and Gosha and, without endorsing or justifying their behaviors, find a new way to confront them and open an honest dialogue about the controversies that does not stop at mere scandal. At this point, erasing it and becoming indignant is tantamount to closing our eyes to the persistence of a phenomenon that, no matter what we want, exists period. Figuring out how to do this without sacrificing one's principles is the real challenge we should be talking about.