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The Fall of Ye (and thoughts on Meta's metaverse)
Plus: Escape from Disney World, Halloween candy's ok, and let's all vote!
Me this past weekend in L.A. with Jon Gray of Ghetto Gastro as they launch their new cookbook, Black Power Kitchen.
In today’s newsletter (also in Puck but this version has the cool photo above), my thoughts on the billionaires shaping our world—one former (Ye), one current (Zuck)—but before we get to that, here are a few other things on my mind, starting with my brief time in DisneyWorld last week. I was speaking at the Blacks In Tech Conference, which I belatedly realized was at Disney’s Coronado Resort in Orlando.
I haven’t been to a Disney theme park in about 35 years, and a lot’s happened in my life since then. Like, for example, I’ve seen all four seasons of Westworld. So going to a park where the staff are all “cast members” and guests dress up in “character” sort of freaked me out, to say the least. The first thing I noticed as I checked in was the large number of defibrillator stations on the map. I pointed this out to a “cast member” who replied without missing a beat, “We’re not going to let anyone die on our watch, friend. This is Disney!” Magical, creepy, and committed all at once.
When I last wrote to you, I was just returning to the USA from several weeks of business in Europe. I know you know how I feel about the bread and wine and social contract over there (it’s better), so I won’t belabor that point. Instead, I want you to know about a documentary I saw at the Jackson Wild Media Festival. It’s called The Territory, and it’s a simultaneously tragic and uplifting story of the indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people and their fight to protect themselves and the Amazon from illegal settlements and development. Given the importance of the Amazon rainforest to our collective efforts to face the climate emergency, this is an urgent film, so keep an eye out for its wider availability.
Here are three other things I think you should check out.
First, as a child, I remember the fears about poisoned candies and razor blades in apples we might encounter during Halloween trick-or-treating. Those fears were never based on a single real world incident, and to this day, it’s all been media hype and political fear-mongering. In other words, you probably don’t have to worry about rainbow fentanyl in your kid’s candy haul.
Second, I’m gonna be spending this week reading Matt Levine’s full issue-length deep dive into crypto in Bloomberg Businessweek. Maybe we should start a longreads club someday to talk about it?
Third, I’m drowning in unsolicited texts from Democrats begging for money. I’m up to about 12 garbage texts per day. It’s enough to make you want to opt out of the entire political process, but that would be self-defeating. So here’s what I’m doing instead: putting together my own voting guide for the upcoming midterms. There’s lots of local races I need to educate myself about, including judges and ballot initiatives. I recommend When We All Vote as a one-stop resource to confirm your voting status, learn about early voting options, and help with your ballot research. Elections aren’t pop quizzes! Let’s treat them like take-home exams where talking with friends and doing shared research makes it more fun.
Now, back to our billionaire boys.
When It All Falls Down
Some thoughts on the artist formerly known as Kanye West. And Mark Zuckerberg, too.
I don’t like paying attention to Ye (formerly known as Kanye) for the same reason I don’t like paying attention to Donald Trump or Elon Musk or the guy who used to flash people on the streets when I was in college. Ye wants us to pay attention, and engages in sensational acts to maintain that attention.
People like Ye, in fact, are the embodiment of an attention economy on overdrive. It’s shock jocks plus TikToks, where value is measured in meme-ability. But now Ye has crossed one line too many in his lifetime of cumulative line-crossing. His relationships with Def Jam, JPMorgan Chase, CAA, Balenciaga, GAP, Vogue, and even TJ Maxx are dead. Skechers escorted him from the building last week. I just wish they put him in their wheelie shoes and rolled him out because that meme would have broken the internet. Athletes have left his Donda Sports agency. And then there is Adidas, the world’s second largest sportswear manufacturer, whose creative partnership with Kanye generated about $250 million in profits this year. Kanye’s decision to purposefully promote anti-semitism while in a lucrative relationship with the German company, founded by a literal Nazi war profiteer, had a predictable outcome: the deal is off.
We’ve been through this before: The Kanye tantrum, the hyper ego, the abusive language and behavior. In 2018 he said Black people in America being enslaved for 400 years “sounds like a choice.” In 2020 he boldly went where no self-respecting (or educated) Black man had gone before and attacked Harriet Tubman, saying, she “never actually freed the slaves,” and “she just had the slaves go work for other white people.” He also donned the MAGA cap and promoted former President Trump, saying he admired his “dragon energy.”
More recently, he wore a White Lives Matter shirt with Candace Owens, shipped boxes of the dumb attire to unhoused people on Los Angeles’ Skid Row, and announced his intention to buy her husband George Farmer’s depopulated “free speech” social media network, Parler. That t-shirt nod to white supremacism earned him a seat at Tucker Carlson’s corrupt table. We’ve heard of “level up” but can you “level down?” Carlson kept the Fox-friendly white nationalist parts but cut out the flagrantly anti-Semitic bits. Ye inflicted more pain on the family of George Floyd and every human being with a heart when he falsely claimed he wasn’t killed by Derek Chauvin’s brutality but rather fentanyl. On Friday he proved that apologies can be worse than the offense, saying, “I know what it feels to have a knee on my neck right now.”
We’ve heard the mental health excuses before, but I’ve known people with similar mental health diagnoses as Ye. Their struggles are real, but they don’t use their struggles to undermine civil rights movements and embolden hate groups in the process. They don’t have the attention of the world’s media during their meltdowns. They don’t benefit from the billions of dollars worth of business deals that Ye has enjoyed and because of that, they can’t even dream of accessing the quality healthcare Ye has access to. In other words, we know mental health is not an excuse.
But behind the latest round of outlandish and ugly outbursts, there is a hint of something like a business strategy. In September, Ye told Bloomberg he wants out of all his corporate relationships so that he can go independent and have direct access to the people, or a direct relationship with the consumer, without the pass-through infrastructure of a corporate layer. But his contracts at the time with GAP and Adidas prevented that clean break. In the recently published-then-pulled Drink Champs interview, Ye taunted his business partner. “I could say anti-Semitic things, and Adidas can’t drop me. Now what?” Well, we’ve seen now what. For Ye, he got out of his contracts. He got a little more free.
The consequences for others have been the opposite. Because of his cultural authority, Ye has given permission to the worst-behaving among us. His latest antics have emboldened disinformation campaigns, another trait he shares with Musk. I’ve seen it in the online comments sections and in the real world, including the people standing in a Nazi salute holding a banner that read “Kanye is right about the Jews” over Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. In Jacksonville on Saturday evening, “Kanye was right about the Jews” was projected across the TIAA Bank Field at the end of the sold-out Georgia-Florida game. Thanks to Ye, those subject to the abuses of white supremacy and anti-Semitism are less free.
The man who talks so much about opening schools in his mother’s name is unable to recognize the basic lesson that hurting others to get what you want is wrong. Even now, as he teases his return to business as an independent operator, I see his remaining fans saying, “Ye’s playing chess, not checkers” as if his behavior is to be celebrated and replicated because it might be good for his business. But nothing could be more ignorant or sick than sacrificing entire groups of people—Jewish people and Black people—as pawns in a game that’s only ever seemed to be about him.
You can read the rest of the full piece in Puck, where I lay out my thought’s on Meta’s metaverse. Spoiler alert: they are negative thoughts! Here’s a clip:
So he will engineer and pre-colonize a new land, “the metaverse,” and migrate his billions of users into this new world where he’ll be able to exert newfound controls and newfound taxes on all our newly monitored and manipulated behaviors. No thanks, dude.
Have a great week!