On one of the great issues of the day, Kanye West has long made his position clear: Celebrity lives matter. He’s said that famous people are “treated like blacks were in the ’60s, having no rights.” He’s railed against how it “is OK to treat celebrities like zoo animals.” He’s vowed “to raise the respect level for celebrities so that my daughter can live a more normal life.”
The rapper says his new video, for “Famous,” is “a comment on fame.” It’s basically nine minutes of night-vision camera leering over sleeping naked bodies made to uncannily resemble—ready?— Taylor Swift, Bill Cosby, Caitlyn Jenner, Amber Rose, Ray J, Kim Kardashian, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Donald Trump, Anna Wintour, George W. Bush, and, yes, Kanye West. Watching it, you think of leaked sex tapes and the violation they represent. You think of how celebrities are the foremost victims and beneficiaries of voyeurism. You think of how famous people are, well, people. You think of tattoos and implants and hairpieces and snoring. You think, perhaps most of all, of West’s reputation as a jackass.
It’s up for debate whether the “Famous” video successfully critiques the exploitation of celebrities, but it’s not up for debate that the video partakes in that exploitation. As others have pointed out, West has created the ultimate piece of clickbait, inspiring the online content world to immediately churn out headlines about NSFW Taylor Swift and naked Donald Trump and Chris Brown sleeping next to the pop star he beat up. So West is profiting off his and his peers’ titillation appeal while also bolstering the industry built around that appeal. If this makes for a subversion, it’s one that has the obvious potential to backfire by inspiring more celebrity-impersonator nudity. The best-case scenario would be that viewers get so creeped out by the video that they reform their gawking habits—dubious, right?