Ethics over entertainment: What it took to bring down Ye


Josie Case

The termination of the Yeezy shoe line, a long standing partnership between Adidas and Kanye West, definitively signaled to the world that West’s anti-Semitic comments would not be tolerated.

Gretchen Highberger, Copy Editor

What Happened? 

His Instagram followers number 18.4 million. His brand partnerships have been valued at 220 million dollars. His music records have earned him 24 Grammy awards. Ye, better known as Kanye West, is undoubtedly one of the most influential pop culture figures of the past two decades. 

However, in the past few weeks, West further abused his influence by promoting hate speech, causing a furor of media coverage and partnership losses. 

West’s fall started with his “White Lives Matter” shirt at Paris Fashion Week. Then followed a tweet reading, “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE”. The tweet, which has since been taken down by Twitter for violation of community standards, prompted the suspension of West’s account.  

West’s hate speech resulted in him being dropped by nearly every company he previously partnered with. Balenciaga, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Adidas and Gap have all severed ties, while many more groups and individuals have publicly condemned West’s comments. 

While these dropped partnerships help prevent the further spread of West’s anti-semitism, irreversable damage has already been done. 

In Los Angeles, a banner reading “Kanye is right about the Jews” was flown on a 405 Freeway overpass while demonstrators performed Nazi salutes. This very literal sign erased all doubt that West’s speech was the cause of increased hatred and intolerance. 

To some extent, controversy is an essential part of many celebrities’ manufactured image. When celebrities do something controversial, they are tweeted about, written about in opinion columns and discussed on podcasts. This bitter, angry content reaches an audience beyond their consistent fan base. 

For years, West has been entangled in controversy to the point where it seems to be a part of his brand. Senior Jacob Cox has followed West’s music and controversies for years, and believes West’s success to both his musical talent and his extensive publicity. “While he is famous from his music alone, his controversy has sent him to an upper echelon of music infamy,” he said. Yet, even though West’s fame partially stems from his infamy, Cox notes that “he [West] always sells albums and clothing no matter how much drama he has caused.” 

Consumers are aware of how a celebrities’ image can be manufactured and manipulated in a negative light in order to gain more attention. Controversy becomes a form of entertainment, whether that be reading through the comment section of an Instagram post or discussing the latest Hollywood gossip over lunch. 

However, West’s actions should have never been tolerated for the sake of public entertainment. His past is littered with inappropriate and offensive behavior, from releasing a video depicting Pete Davidson being buried alive to interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV VMAs. While these events drew much criticism, they ultimately amplified West’s cultural presence through the extensive media coverage he received. 

To those who attribute West’s actions to mental illness: mental illness is not entertainment. To those who can see that West is racist, sexist and anti-semitic, yet continue to give him an audience: intolerance and hatred are not entertainment. West’s comments should not be given a platform, and they should certainly not be made into a public spectacle, despite the fact that this may be West’s goal. 

While the public has taken to social media to condemn West’s actions, the most decisive actions have come from companies like Adidas and Balenciaga. 

Usually, companies change based on public opinion; however, in this case, public opinion also changed based on company decisions. Company decisions to cut ties were made to distance the brand from the anger directed at West from the public. These company decisions, however, also signaled to the public to respond to West in a more severe, grave manner. 

Because the public tolerated West’s controversy in the name of entertainment for so long, even empowering him through support of his brands, it became hard to take his platform away. Followers of popular culture bought into West’s image, built his fame and influence to such a high degree that West’s power became irrevocable. 

If companies had not taken the responsible path of terminating West’s partnerships, it is doubtful that public perception of West would have been as negatively impacted as it was. 

What happens next? 

After the recent succession of events, followers of pop culture are left wondering what the appropriate response to West’s actions is. Compared to international companies, the power of the individual to reduce West’s platform seems small. 

One way to quickly reduce West’s influence is to stop giving him the attention he wants. Stop following his social media accounts, stop asking friends and family if they’ve heard his latest controversial statement and stop spreading his messages like gossip. 

However, as tempting as completely ignoring West may sound, limiting the spread of West’s hate speech is not enough; conversations about the underlying problems must be held. As with any situation of intolerance, ignoring the issue doesn’t solve anything; in fact, it often exacerbates the problem by preventing constructive dialogue. 

Another point of conflict regards the streaming of West’s music. 

West’s songs are frequently played at sporting events. Texas A&M recently announced they will not be using West’s song, “POWER,” as the football walkout song. After review, Brigham Young University will also drop the song “POWER” from all sporting events, ending a decade-old tradition. The University of Texas at Austin’s student government is calling for a ban on West’s music at UT sporting events. 

PV has traditionally played POWER during the warm up period before varsity football games. There are currently no plans to change that for next season. 

As announcer, PV teacher Zach Miller is in charge of selecting most songs that play over the Spartan Stadium Speakers. “At football, the music I select are songs that I hear played at other sporting events (River Bandits, Iowa Hawkeyes, etc),” he said. “If I’m playing a song that I am not familiar with, I will look up the lyrics before playing it to ensure that there is no profanity or inappropriate language.” 

If the songs played at Spartan Stadium are chosen based on those played at the collegiate or professional level, then “POWER” should be dropped from the list to reflect the number of high-profile teams that have stopped playing the song. 

Senior Colin LeMoine believes that while ending the use of Kanye West songs at sporting events reflects well on the character of the school, it has the unfortunate consequence of also ending traditions. He also believes that any changes to PV’s playlist should come in response to the local community’s wishes. “I feel PV should ask people around the area and come to a consensus with the general public. That way the school can provide for the community’s wants,” he said. 

Changing out “POWER” for a song by a different artist shows respect to those who have been impacted by West’s hate speech by not forcing them to listen to West’s music. However, it would also be unethical to take away an individual’s choice to listen to West privately by removing his music from streaming services. 

Kanye’s music itself does not contain anti-semietic lyrics, as Spotify CEO Daniel Ek noted, making it hard to justify taking it down, especially considering his critical acclaim. 

“It’s really just his music, and his music doesn’t violate our policy,” Ek said. Ek expressed that West’s recent comments were “just awful comments”, and would have warranted removal from Spotify had they been expressed on the platform via podcast or other recording. 

Cox agrees that West’s music should remain available for streaming. “I feel it is acceptable to separate the art from the artist, as has been done several times in the past for other artists like Chris Brown. I feel it would be unjust if an artist’s music was now taken down just because it is Ye”. 

Allowing individuals to choose to listen to West’s music or not while forgoing playing his songs at sporting events strikes a balance between appreciating West’s art but not condoning his abhorrent comments. 

How long these combative measures will last remains to be seen. Even if his former companies never partner with him again, and stadiums never go back to playing his music, West will probably still have plenty of people willing to work with and support him once this news cycle dies down. 

Cox is certain West will rebound. “I believe he will recover, as he has a passionate fan base that will continue to support him. Whether he deserves this support or not is up for debate,” he said. “I truly hope that he finds some sort of peace and receives the help he deserves.” 

That West and all others who spread hate speech become tolerant and embrace equality is something we can all hope for. Until then, the public must choose ethics over entertainment and discuss controversies in a productive and beneficial way.