We Knew Ye Not
Portrait of a self-immolation
What do we do?
We are all trying to ask each other the question with our eyes, so that we won’t hurt the man we are asking it about. Our tiny Anglican parish has gathered together over coffee in the basement, preparing to conduct a serious meeting about sad business. So naturally, this would be one of the mornings when he decides to visit us.
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“If you’re gonna illegalize abortion, then you gotta set up the infrastructure for orphanages!”
Somehow or other, he has been inspired to launch into a rant, bits of which I only catch in fragments as they rise and fall down-table from me, but it somehow manages to involve abortion, orphanages, illegal immigrants, and drug testing (I think). And Catholics, on whom he is counting to fix everything somehow, because they’re “well organized.” Hitting his stride, he stands up and starts bending his knees to emphasize his points. My father keeps up a steady stream of “Mmmhm. Yeah. I think you’re probably right,” while my mother and I give each other desperate looks.
He first began attending because one of the women of the parish, out of the goodness of her soul, had seen him around and invited him to come in. He lives only a block or two away, so on a given week when he feels like attending, he walks himself over. He wears, quite literally, whatever he wants. Random articles of clothing hang about him in sedimentary layers. An utterly faded green sports jersey is a recurring favorite. This morning it’s paired with a Tide hoodie. The ensemble is usually completed with an N-95 mask. We aren’t sure if he feels a need to wear it for himself, or if it just hasn’t been made clear enough to him that the rest of us don’t care. At coffee hour, he pulls it down to reveal an unkempt brown beard and moustache, looking about as greasy as his hair.
He’s generally quiet and well-behaved for services, though. Today he even asked very politely if coffee was allowed in the sanctuary. My mother explained that this was generally discouraged. After service he always shakes the rector’s hand enthusiastically, earnestly calling him “Sir,” like he typically calls men above his status “Sir.”
I catch something about “my ex-wife” during a lull in the rant. I had always assumed he never married. Apparently, I was wrong. The woman who first invited him gently asks if he could remind her how his daughter’s name is spelled. “Is she going to college or something?” she asks. Instantly, “Nope, she ruined her life, just like me.”
Somewhere in the middle of things I hear him opine, to himself or someone or no one, “I ain’t got a friend in the world.”
We give my father more pleading looks. He answers us, sotto voce, “Wait five minutes.” By which he means in five minutes he’s going to get up and say, “Well, we’re going to have a meeting here…” at which point we will all hope and pray that this is actually what happens.
It turns out that he never has to do this. The man suddenly decides himself that it’s time to leave. On his way out, he pauses to take a selfie. He does this often, sometimes even in the sanctuary. But at least he’s quiet. And at least he’s leaving now.
“I’m in the Twilight Zone right now.” Thus Alex Jones, during last week’s InfoWars interview with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes. In this moment, it seemed that we were all Alex Jones, and Alex Jones was all of us. But behind-the-scenes footage suggests that the insanely plotted nearly-three hours were just that—plotted.
“I need to go into a store and get some form of a net,” Ye opines in the car on the way there. “And I have to get an actual yahoo. So I could show up with a net and yahoo.”
Presumably Ye actually meant “Yoo-hoo,” as in the chocolate beverage in a bottle he ended up procuring. This would have to do as a phonetic cousin for “Yahu” in the name Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister recently condemned Donald Trump’s choice to have lunch with Ye and Fuentes, saying that while he appreciated the former President’s various pro-Israel gestures, he believed this was a political misstep given both Fuentes and Ye’s very public anti-Semitism.
Ye looks sane enough in the car. But by the time he’s in the studio, he’s costumed up in a full gimp suit with a black mask that completely obscures his head, leaving only slits for his eyes. Having procured his fishing net and his bottle of Yoo-hoo, he then proceeds to turn them into a bit. The bottle didn’t play a very active role in the proceedings, but the net—or “Netan”—came to life in Ye’s hands.
“What you want, Netan?”
“Netan” answers in a high falsetto: “I’M GONNA SAY YOU’RE CRAZY! I’M GONNA TAKE YOUR FAMILY AWAY FROM YOU! WE’RE NOT DONE WITH YOU YET! YOU CANNOT CAUSE FREE THOUGHT! WE HAVE TO CONTROL THE HISTORY BOOKS, WE HAVE TO CONTROL THE BANKS, AND WE HAVE TO GO AND KILL PEOPLE! [unintelligible] HAHAHA!”
Ye performs this bit of prop comedy with his right hand, while his left hand fidgets on top of a Bible. The Bible sits there quietly throughout, sometimes closed, sometimes open, never read.
Jesus features rather prominently in the interview—or Christ, as Fuentes prefers to call the Lord when he repeats his signature line, “America first. Christ is Lord.” Fuentes delivers an extended disquisition on Jews and pedophilia at one point, which he suggests is somewhere in the Old Testament before semi-walking this back. He is calm and collected throughout, occasionally speaking but for most of the interview just quietly snickering at Ye’s antics. “Last time I was here, it was a no-fly list,” he recalls before the show starts. “And now here I’m with Ye.” He pauses to savor the moment, then leans back with a chuckle. “I’m like Forrest Gump.”
Ye’s relationship with Jesus is more complicated. After claiming that the Jews “wanna separate and confuse the Christians and make [them] afraid to stand next to each other,” he asserts that “a Christian can stand next to anyone. We can go visit R. Kelly in prison. We can go talk to Harvey Weinstein.”
“That’s what Jesus did,” Jones says.
“Yes!” Ye agrees. “Because Jesus can save everyone.”
Everyone, including Hitler—of course. The clips in which Ye professes his love for the dictator have been solemnly condemned and dissected by virtually every mainstream outlet, a consequence Ye surely foresaw and welcomed. Though some have puzzled over the fact that Ye further proceeded to profess his love for everyone else, even the “Zionists” who are trying to put him in jail and steal his assets.
In spite of oneself, one might wonder: What is this, really? Is this mania? Is this kayfabe? Is this a cry for help from a man who lost his family in public?
The answer, of course, is yes. If ever a man were walking proof that one could be completely mad while knowing exactly what one is doing, Ye is that man.
So Scott Adams suggests, in a lengthy video analysis that tends to self-importance, as Scott’s lengthy video analyses can do, but still makes some salient points. Whatever the cultural tipping point of the moment, Scott is always on hand to play the narrator in Chris Nolan’s The Prestige: “Are you watching closely?”
If we watch Ye closely, and not just 2022 “I love Hitler” Ye but the whole Ye, all the way back to 2005 “Bush doesn’t care about black people” Ye, Scott suggests we might notice a pattern. Ye’s rudeness to Bush is connected to his rudeness to Taylor Swift is connected to his gleeful odes to Hitler. And the common thread is more than mere manic depression, although that is one running thread in Ye’s life. But Ye is not just defined by his illness. He is also defined by his art. Observes Scott, “Rap, by its nature, is artists who are saying the most dangerous things that you’re specifically not supposed to say.” And so we see that at every turn, Ye has seized every chance to say the thing he is specifically not supposed to say. “He’s just showing you you can say everything you want to say. As long as you’re willing to pay for it with … everything.”
Ye himself seems to be telling us this, in his own way, in what might be the defining moment of the InfoWars interview:
Alex: Americans are tired of hearing that we’re Hitler, and that we did bad things when we defeated Hitler. And that’s my biggest…
Ye: Look, let’s not say his name anymore. Only say Christ’s name moving forward.
Alex: I agree. But I’m tired of hearing I’m a Nazi, because I’m not. But I think that by them falsely accusing people, some people are going to become Nazis.
Ye [pointing to himself]: I am. I am. Now what? I am.
Alex: You’re what?
Ye: I’m a Nazi, Ari Emanuel. Isn’t that what it said?
Alex: You’re doubling down.
Ye: Look, Alex, I love you, do not cut this rant off.
Alex: I’m not, you’re live.
Ye: Right here. Okay, so. We’re in America, we get our history stolen from us, and we’re all made…slaves, the Native Americans and the ones brought over on Jewish slave boats, right? And then, we’re so-called free, but we’re never free. And we’re Republican, but then we’re turned to Democrats at the MLK/JFK time, right? And we’re told we’re black, and they made songs that said say it loud, SAY IT LOUD! I’m black and I’m proud. SAY IT LOUD! I’m black and I’m proud. And then crack came, and then rappers started saying, “What’s up my n***a? I’m a n***a, you a n***a,” I said “Okay, I’m a n***a then. I’m a…wait a second, I thought n***a was bad a sec ago.” “Naw, n***a is fine. That’s what the Feds told us to call ourselves.” And then even Beyonce, we never thought she’d call herself a b***h, and then she said, “Hey, I’m a b***h, everyone says I’m a b***h.” OK, now our black women are b****s, so we’re b****s and n****s now, right? I’m a n***a, you a b***h, I’ve even said this in my raps. So I wake up and I look at my phone, and they say Ye is an anti-Semitic, so I said OK. Well, I’m an anti-Semitic. No, you said, you said I’m an anti-Semitic. Get it? You understand what I’m sayin’?
[softly crooning] “Bring in the clowns…There will be clowns…”
Once again, it is easy to dismiss this as nothing but the disjointed rantings of a maniac. Certainly, it’s not less than the disjointed rantings of a maniac. But it’s something more, as well: It’s the slow death of Ye’s community, as seen through Ye’s glass, darkly. Death by what, though? By the Feds? By the Zionists? By the liberals? By crack? By porn? Ye is desperate to unravel the mystery—as desperate as he is terrified to look in the glass and see only one perpetrator staring back.
This was highlighted in an unusually perceptive Daily Wire segment by Michael Knowles, as he played back perhaps Ye’s most lucid moment of the entire interview:
My security is the fact that I didn’t load up pornography last night, and I said this addiction is going to have to flee from me. You know, this addiction since I was five years old that destroyed my mom and my dad’s family, that destroyed my family. Like when I take full accountability for the destruction of my marriage, when I…I’ll point at the liberals and say, “You took my wife from me.” You know what took my wife from me? The fact that I was married to this beautiful person, but I felt like it wasn't enough. I felt like I still needed to look at pornography in some way. I’d say to her “Well, stop making these images. Stop breaking the internet.” You know that original term comes from my ex-wife actually having a nude photo that I didn't know about that someone used her and put her on a magazine. But there’s somewhere where she’s like “Well, if my husband is looking at this, I still want to be like the girls that are doing this.” And this becomes people reliving the traumas, pushing the addiction.
Five years old. That was when Ye found his first Playboy magazine from his father’s collection. I have a friend who can tell a similar story, except that he became addicted to men, while Ye became addicted to women.
In this and other lucid moments, there is a strange kind of purity about Ye, an earnest quality that seems to be in the voice of a different man—not the masked Joker who is pushing all the buttons all at once just to see what blows up. But which of them is real? Will the real Ye please stand up?
For Tablet, rising black cultural critic Hubert Adjeh-Kontoh suggests that Ye might be a prophet—albeit a peculiarly sad, strange one:
In a roundabout way, I think West is actually grappling with the fact that he is an inadvertent self-appointed and corporate-certified spokesman for the Black male experience, a prophet’s mantle that he is probably unable to cast off—and has probably decided he doesn’t wish to cast off. There are probably people reading this who are thinking of and know the names of 10 to 20 writers that they think would do a better job of it than Kanye West, and who, like me, wonder why this mantle goes to a rapper who lives in LA as opposed to a dozen other people who are better suited for the job. Welcome to America.
I don’t think prophets are perfect, but I think they exist, and that West might be one. What I can glean from the visions he puts out are that he has seen the community that he has come from destroyed, and that he is surrounded on all sides by corruption. It’s a stark prophecy, but I don’t think it’s wrong.
And then there’s “the religion stuff,” as Scott Adams puts it. What about all that? Is that stuff real? Well, if that’s a put-on, it’s been his best act yet. “That’s a lot of work. I mean if that’s a trick, it’s a lot of work to put into a trick. No, I think he’s completely sincere about the religion stuff. Which suggests he’s sincere about creating a better world. He’s just doing it in a way we’ve never seen anybody do anything.”
Of course, sincerity isn’t an excuse for blasphemy—a word serious Christians should feel comfortable applying to Ye’s less lucid rants in Jesus’ name, if we take seriously the proposition that Jesus himself was Jewish, and that Jewish suffering is the suffering of a people particularly chosen and beloved by God.
But once we have named that particular blasphemy for what it is, we mustn’t think that our work among the blasphemous is done. Nor our work among the addicted, or the manic, or the divorced, or the lonely.
In the end, Ye will be remembered as he wants to be remembered, whatever he chooses for that to look like. Perhaps, as Scott Adams predicts, he will write himself a redemption arc yet. Or perhaps he will choose to go out in a blaze, fueled by a human torch. Perhaps, in the end, the end will come not with a bang but with a whimper.
Meanwhile, these words that he himself wrote are still true. He may have been deluded as he wrote them. He may still be deluded as he sings them. And still, out of the mouths of clowns, comes praise:
This ain’t ‘bout a dead religion
Jesus brought a revolution
All the captives are forgiven
Time to break down all the prisons
Every man, every woman
There is freedom from addiction
Jesus, You have my soul
Sunday Service on a roll
All my idols, let ‘em go
All the demons, let ‘em know
This a mission, not a show
This is my eternal soul
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