In the early history of the universe, things were so hot and dense that three of the four fundamental forces were unified as a single force. This lasted for an inconceivably tiny period of time — less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second — which physicists refer to as the Grand Unification Epoch.
Just like the early universe, the times we live in are hot and dense. Forces we previously thought we could separate have become inextricably entwined. Things are so volatile that a short duration can feel like an entire epoch. And absolutely everything is radioactive.
I’m talking, of course, about Kanye West.
In the last two weeks, West has gone to spectacular lengths to alienate his fans by repeatedly expressing his admiration for President Donald Trump as well as showing off his signed “Make America Great Again” hat and declaring on TMZ that slavery was a “choice.”
In doing so, West has stretched thin every excuse that those fans — myself included — used to make for him, proving that you cannot separate the art from the artist nor separate an artist from their politics. Indeed, the Trump era has made clear that those two forces — art and politics — are in fact unified.
The relationship between art and politics has been a subject of controversy for ages. The poet Ezra Pound tarnished his reputation by vocally supporting fascism and Mussolini during the 1930s and 1940s. David Bowie flirted with Nazi iconography in the mid-1970s. Just this past January, Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, responded to a politically tinged skit aired during the Grammys by tweeting “Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it.”
The sentiment Haley expressed is a popular one. After all, music is a form of escapism for many. No one should worry about politics when they could be listening to their favorite song — right?
But music, like every form of art, stands for something. It appreciates certain aspects of the world while depreciating others, making implicit or explicit value statements as it does. So music is inevitably connected to politics.
West’s case is particularly stark because the things he stands for now seem so contradictory to the things he has stood for in the past. Once, he railed against racism and set himself against those in positions of authority. To see him align himself with a president who courts white supremacists is jarring, to say the least. But it also reveals the fault in viewing any entertainer’s work in an apolitical vacuum. Their actions in real life matter — and should have an impact on how we view their art.
Groves is a philosophy junior from Dallas. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @samgroves.