Kanye West’s new video ‘Famous’ premiered yesterday and mostly everyone is confused – per the usual when it comes to Ye. The second time I watched the video, I began to engulf myself in the concepts and understandings of the video. The video focuses in on a large bed with celebrities (wax figures of celebrities figures) laying next to each other (based on American painter Vincent Desiderio), some exposed or some reserved, that have all had their hand in being the some of the most notorious headliners within celebrity culture – they’re infamously famous.
‘Famous’ is about the pervasive nature of paparazzi culture and voyeurism of celebrities within the overall celebrity culture frenzy we engage in within the media. The focus on these celebrities – especially in a vulnerable, often naked and exposed positioning – speaks to the sexualization and invasion of privacy around celebrities. The dehumanization factor that exists within this exploitation is the theme and basis for the fixating around these people and their personal stories and afflictions. It’s similar to the saying, “They either want to fuck you, kill you, or be you.”
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Kanye and Kim’s relationship and their individual lives have always been under a microscope. Although some would say they chose to be under a microscope in some regard, it doesn’t change the exploitation that exists as a field to find a career and maintain relevancy while also exposing yourself to the invasion of your personal livelihood. Specifically, Kim’s ass exposed and propped up is intentional to display what has made her famous, and what continues to solidify her power and fame (in addition to white palatability). Also, both of their ex’s make features in the video as well. Amber Rose lies right next to Ray J in the video, representing that their fame is tied to their seemingly more famous previous partners. Also representing how all four of their pasts follow them in any current relationship they’re in.
— Steve Hemmerstoffer (@stagueve) June 25, 2016
Rihanna and Chris Brown laying the bed represented their abusive relationship on display for the world to gawk at and insert their opinions into – also a read on the pervasive abuse and misogyny culture as an entry point for exploitation. Rihanna’s beaten, bloody face made headlines as a way to exploit Black women’s pain and experiences as a meal ticket and entertainment. Even today, no one values Rihanna’s story as a story of resilience and power, it’s completely ignored that she ever went through it while her sexualization, Barbadian Blackness, and drug usage are never ignored. Chris Brown’s abusive history is often ignored, coddled, forgiven, or exploited (often through the white, racist platforms) as a means to exacerbate other false news stories about him.
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Caitlyn Jenner (which was the biggest surprise feature to me) laying in the bed, topless and exposed represented the very public transition she went through to live her full truth. Personally, this concept of having Caitlyn topless could easily be read as transphobic because there is never a point that she needs to be naked to prove her womanhood nor does it need to be through Kanye’s lens which can be limited due to him being a straight, cisgender man. Especially when we contrast how Anna Wintour is completely covered through the whole video, assumably to show respect for her position of power in the world and because she’s an older cisgender straight white woman (a lot of identity power and privilege here). And Taylor Swift, the only other white woman in addition to Anna and Caitlyn, is fully topless but is right next to Kanye – signifying that her exposure and voyeurism of her fame is due to him. Her toplessness represents submission in relation to Kanye’s power. So, therefore, the exploitation and voyeurism of Caitlyn exists around her body because trans-ness is seen as foreign to our white supremacist patriarchal “normal”. Even in her whiteness, she is still being contrasted next to cisgender normality.
Bill Cosby, George Bush, and Donald Trump laying the bed clearly represented the pervasive nature around the scrutiny of their individual violence and harm-doing. Cosby for being a rapist and misogynist, Bush for never caring about Black people and also being a horrific person/ president, and Trump for being America’s favorite white supremacist. Their bodies are clearly not exposed in anyway that sexualizes them. They all lay there very stoic. This was intentional. Whether it be the fact that Donald Trump uses monopolies and white supremacist power to control media in his favor, or the fact that Bush utilized media to manipulate national tragedy and news, or the fact that Bill Cosby used his history in media to excuse his exposure of being a rapist – their positioning and inclusion were intentional and uncomfortable. Which, to Kanye’s point, is the game of fame.
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The scene in which there is over a minute long moment of listening to everyone breathe, sleep, snore, and exist while they laid in the bed represented the omnipresent nature of paparazzi and voyeurism within celebrity’s lives. We watch them breathe to entertain us or to affirm our hatred of them. We make them famous because we’re continuously invested in them regardless of how we feel about them, and that’s what Kanye’s ‘Famous’ video shows us.