For awhile America was on a roll. Gay marriage was legalized nationwide. President Obama cried on national TV while revisiting the tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings. Kobe Bryant wrote an emotional poem to announce his retirement. When it comes to social progression and redefining men’s range of emotions, America was on a roll.
But only two months in, 2016 has proven to be a different kind of year with very different displays of masculinity. Save for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving, who was very open about flu-like symptoms from bed bugs that sidelined him during a recent game, what it means to be a man in this day and age is being challenged in ugly ways.
Donald Trump and Kanye West represent a caveman archetype that makes us all seem like wild animals regardless of race, sexuality, or any other demographic factor. And their repeated antics grab headline after headline. The media takes great joy in denouncing their outrageous behavior while simultaneously using it to drive page views. Trump and West represent an intellectual train wreck that no one can seem to turn away from.
When confronted with indifference or dissenting opinion, humility is completely absent. Gone are the days when West used his music as a platform to satirize hip hop culture and its obsession with cars, girls, and money. Though he’s still incredibly sonically talented, he has become the type of person he used to warn us about. And if you dare critique his music or recognize him as anything less than the modern day Pablo Picasso, he’ll assassinate your character via one of those infamous Twitter rants. Just ask legendary producer Bob Ezrin, who went on record to share his disdain for West and disapprove of his critical acclaim. In Ezrin’s defense, this is a man who did production work on Pink Floyd’s The Wall, an album that’s been celebrated as a sonic masterpiece for multiple decades. However, in true West fashion, he responded the way any man-child would: with a temper tantrum. He doesn’t know who Ezrin is. So instead of taking his medicine and letting dissenting public opinion exist (as it has the right to), he questioned Ezrin’s relevance and even brought his family into the mix. Just like an elementary school bully. If you insult his intelligence, he insults your shirt. Clearly an uneven match of wit and education.
Trump’s comfort in his ignorance has been widely documented since announcing his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. From his wacky foreign policy to his embrace of the “poorly educated”, his befuddling campaign has been a mix of unintentional comedy and heartbreaking revelations about American culture. Trump often takes a more physical approach against dissenting opinion. He encourages his supporters to assault protestors at his rallies. He pokes fun at reporters’ disabilities or physical appearances when they have anything other than praise to offer. He sat out of a Fox News debate just before the Iowa caucuses out of fear that moderator Megyn Kelly wouldn’t play nice. In an older Twitter confrontation with Modern Family writer Danny Zuker, Zuker took Trump to task after he made anti-China remarks. Zuker took the opportunity to remind Trump that his namesake clothing line was produced there. Trump responded by calling Zuker stupid, a lightweight, and a moron. He then went on to declare Modern Family, the multiple Emmy award-winning series, boring. His insults were on par with what some kid in the sandbox would’ve said to me if he didn’t like my sneakers.
In Trump’s and West’s worlds, it’s okay to make fun of people who don’t like you or enjoy your talent. It’s okay to yell, scream, and have public meltdowns. It’s okay to treat everyday life like public theater. It’s okay to utter filth without remorse. In their minds, they have confidence and they’re fighting for the right to be themselves. Trump wants to make America great again by abandoning political correctness. West wants to force people to appreciate his music and fashion sense whether they want to or not. Both behave like young children whose parents never told them no. They’re the kids in the grocery store screaming at their parents because they can’t have a candy bar. To them, being a man means pounding your chest and barreling through life like a tornado.
I’m sure most people with common sense know this, but they do not represent what it means to be a man. To be a man is to accept criticism and prove cynics wrong with your success. Quietly. To be a man is to embrace public dissent and challenge it by engaging in worthwhile discussion and debate. To be a man is to continually educate yourself. To be a man is to show compassion to others despite any differences you may have. To be a man is to exercise diplomacy, grace, and maturity.
Donald Trump and Kanye West, don’t ruin it for the rest of us.