“I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph. I am a proud non reader.”
At first look, these seem like the words of a idiot. But after closer inspection, Kanye West is so much more than just your average moronic individual.
Being a ‘fan’, wanting an ‘autograph’, that language means more today than it ever has done. We have more access to celebrities, more ways to stalk them, more insight into their lives and their comings and goings than any generation before us. We aren’t standing in the front row of a concert, waving a “marry me” banner and screaming ourselves hoarse. We’re looking up info on the internet, scouting out our celeb’s home on google maps, climbing the tree outside their window and whispering subliminal messages while they sleep, carefully crouching in that blind spot between the security cameras, to film our own foundation for a heavily iMovie edited fan fiction blog.
For a celebrity himself to talk about being a fan, wanting an autograph, being proud, is dangerous language to use. If Kanye believes one tenth of the things he says about himself, being the next Nelson Mandela, the next Steve Jobs, the next sliced bread, he must be aware that he has influence. Influence over young minds and actions alike. To make the idea of being a ‘fan’ of books into a joke is not only ignorant to the billion dollar industry he is bad mouthing, but also putting an idea into motion, that books are not cool, that reading is not worth pursuing or getting excited over.
Mid twenties, I’m past the age of infatuation with celebrities, and like any generation worth it’s salt, I like to think that even if I were a teen right now, the so called music of today would not be worth my adoration. Sorry, can anyone understand what Tinchy Stryder is saying? Can someone tell Justin Beiber to get a haircut? Don’t One Direction have homework to be getting on with?
But hyperbole aside, I’m not so far gone that I don’t remember what it felt like. I had massive posters of BSB and Boyzone on my wall, and was secretly sad when I found out Steven Gately was gay. (Like that was the main obstacle to us living happily ever after). I cut out pics of unlikely teen heart-throbs Evan and Jaron (anyone?!) and stuck them in clumsily drawn hearts. I religiously read articles and interviews in Shout and Cosmo girl, just in case I ever bumped into Craig David and could wow him with my knowledge that his favourite ice cream flavour is vanilla. (In case he wasn’t already aware.)
But nowadays, I fan girl in a different way. Lionel Shriver spoke at this years London book fair, and I got there an hour and a half early to save myself the best seat. I tweet authors obsessively, and get almost unbearably excited when they reply. If I had to write a list of the books I would love the autograph of? Let’s just say we would be here a while. Books have changed my life, have made me cry far more than any ex-boyfriend, have brought me to tears of uncontrollable laughter, and have taught me more about myself than any one person. I would be proud to cover my notebooks with “Mrs Elisheva Books”, heart-ing the i, and cutting out glossy pictures of libraries across the globe. Just try and stop me from stripping naked and hiding out in a book’s trailer for when the show finishes.
“I am a fan of books, I would most definitely want a books autograph. I am a proud reader.”
I don’t expect my opinion to make the youth of today run off to Foyles, and I’m sure that some of my childhood ‘heroes’ are also non readers, just like Kanye. You don’t have to be a bookworm to write or perform great music. Certainly not to write popular music. But the point is, I don’t know whether Ronan has a volume of short stories on his bedside cabinet. I’m not sure if the A1 boys like a bit of Bronte after a long day. They never lifted themselves off the 2D background of my bedroom walls to tell me. To make me less literate, to encourage me to learn less, to take less notice of better minds than my own.
Well done Kanye! you don’t read. Frankly, no one is surprised to learn that you’re not a Dickens fan, or even a Katie Price fan, with your almost agonisingly poor verbal and written skills. But you are self aware enough to know that people are listening to you, people are emulating you, for the same reason that I know that Aaron Carter’s middle name is Charles and he has a twin sister called Angel. You’re famous. And unlike many other celebrities who say they don’t want the responsibility of being a role model, you actively seek it out. It’s not just fame you’re after. “I got the answers, I understand culture, I am the nucleus.” Every word out of your mouth is another sound bite or bumper sticker for kids looking for guidance. You WANT to be a role model.
It’s an inescapable part of celebrity in this day and age that fame will almost inadvertently turn a person into a role model of sorts, whether positive or otherwise. But this kind of subtle propaganda against literacy and reading is in many ways more dangerous than any dry humping of a wrecking ball. Your average teenager might think Miley Cyrus is cool, but the furthest the adoration is likely to go is a bit of harmless twerking at a school disco. Fashions change, trends come and go, and teenage girls grow up and realise that without the help of an airbrush, they really don’t have the legs for it.
But a fatwa on books? On reading? On one of the fundamentals of any form of education?
Careful Kanye, or the next generation of easily swayed youth will be incapable of reading your mindless drivel to start wi… On second thoughts, as you were.