David Brooks alerts us to the fact that a congressman said something rude at a presidential speech, and a musician interrupted an awards show. “This isn’t the death of the West,” he reassures us. Good to know! But what is it? Why, it’s the death of all that is good and humble in this world, and the subsequent rise of “expressive individualism.” At some point between 1945 and today, we have crossed “a sort of narcissism line.”
I’d like to know more about this line. Did we all walk across it together? Were we too self-obsessed to notice? Poor Ta-Nehisi Coates is so far over the line that he can’t even see it. “It’s virtually impossible to be a black person,” he contends, “and believe that Americans were somehow more humble in the past .”
This may be the product of blinkered, post-1945 reasoning, but it seems to me that West’s sideshow and Wilson’s outburst together signify… nothing. There is nothing telling, interesting, or indicative about two men acting out at a couple of awkwardly staged performances. The way millions of people react to them, on the other hand, matters very much. And if you’re like David Brooks, you’ll see the attacks on West and Wilson as a collective outcry against the vulgar monstrosity that is our culture. If you’re like me, you’ll see this reaction as a collective insistence on deference to authority, a pathetic inability to tolerate the meekest of incivilities. Either way, whatever it might mean when 270 representatives spend valuable time excoriating a single man for a two-word declarative statement, it probably doesn’t have much to do with the triumph of individualism over conformity.
Photograph of Kanye West and Taylor Swift by Christopher Polk/Getty Images.