On Thursday night Saturday Night Live released a promo for their season premiere featuring musical guest Kanye West, who appeared wearing his controversial MAGA hat and a “Free (Larry) Hoover” sweatshirt. He reportedly snagged the slot after Ariana Grande had to cancel, which works out swimmingly for him because he’s dropping a new album, “Yandhi,” on the same Saturday and has already gone on some press stunts, like showing up unannounced at The Fader's offices on Thursday morning.
In the video West stares at the camera defiantly while host Adam Driver and cast-member Keenan Thompson ask him what he’s cooking up. Thompson says, “uh oh, Kanye got that look. Oh he’s definitely going to do something!” He doesn't respond, unflinchingly holding that recalcitrant gaze.
West’s guest appearance feels like a nauseatingly transparent ratings stunt that sells out the millions of fans still reeling from his commitment to his MAGA shtick. Back in April, after backlash to his initial photo wearing the infamous red hat and his bluster on TMZ where he implied slavery was a choice, West continued to wear the hat to support Trump as a close friend, though distancing himself from his policies. His wife Kim Kardashian West said on Jimmy Kimmel Live that he doesn’t watch the news, “he’s not political,” and “he doesn’t really dig deep into what’s going on.”
For a show historically associated with liberal politics that aims to offer some level of incisive commentary on our culture, having MAGA Kanye on as a guest is remarkably tone deaf and out of step with the times. West has yet to provide any redeeming explanation of his behavior—on Thursday at The Fader he said he “put positive energy into the hat”— and every time he tries to explain where his head’s at he just comes off like a dude who doesn’t read.
By giving him this prime time opportunity to promote his new album, SNL is allowing him to pretend there is something behind all the smoke and mirrors. And placing him next to Keenan Thompson came across to me as a misguided attempt to give West a co-sign from a person of color, when that doesn’t actually reflect his fractured relationship with the black community. Not to mention it seems pretty obvious West is interested in stirring more controversy every chance he gets. On Thursday he also told The Fader's employees (literal journalists) that he would’ve rather had disgraced comedian and admitted sexual harasser Louis CK host the show.
SNL is no stranger to controversial hosts. In 2015 they allowed then presidential-candidate Trump to host. The cast reportedly could hear protests outside the building during the table read. Afterward cast member Taran Killum told NPR, “I am embarrassed upon reflection, just because of how everyone was right.”
Come election time when iconic characters from both sides of the aisle turn political sketches into mini-franchises, it’s common for even the most bashed candidates to make an appearance. But at least political candidates have a platform, are at least moderately informed on the news, and stand for a relatively consistent set of beliefs, however heinous their opponents may think those beliefs are.
To shoot a promo wearing a MAGA hat as someone who by his own wife’s account doesn’t follow current events and can’t offer a compelling symbiosis of their own ideas is literally ignorant. It’s not something that should be rewarded by one of the biggest platforms in the country. And if the shtick is that we all know he seems out of touch with reality, shouldn’t we re-examine why our society is so comfortable ogling at the idea of a “genius” gone mad? (Especially when that person is a fallen black icon and when they have bipolar disorder.) These are questions a show like SNL, theoretically, should be grappling with.
But in their sketch following West’s initial MAGA controversy, the joke was, tellingly, that no one can stop talking about the latest development of his meltdown to save their life. (In a nod to the film A Quiet Place, a group was hiding from monsters in a forest and each person who broke silence to talk about Kanye was taken.) Instead of a more biting commentary that incorporated how deeply insulting and divisive West’s statements had been, they simply skimmed the surface, taking note of his power as an attention grabber. Their invitation to West at this political moment, MAGA-hat and all, demonstrates the same impulse: he’s just a ratings boom, nothing to be taken seriously. But presumably SNL wants us to to take them seriously, which is why they should realize this is not a joke.
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