Has Kanye West’s Lack of Sensitivity Permanently Hurt His Image?

Kanye West has continually proved to be one of the most controversial artists in today’s music business. West constantly finds himself under scrutiny by the public for shocking things he has said or done. Since his behavior is reoccurring, it came as no surprise when he made an offensive exclamation at his concert on Friday in Sydney, Australia. Every time West does something to shock his fans, he continues to build on his negative image. After enough negative press, this image could easily become the only way people see Kanye West.

At his concert in Sydney, Australia on Friday, September 12th, Kanye West reportedly refused to play a song until the entire audience was standing. According to the Daily Mail Australia, West said, “I can’t do this song until everybody stand up. Unless you got a handicap pass and you get special parking and s—t.” After that exclamation most people in the audience stood up, but once West noticed two people remained seated, he called them out. He refused to continue on with the show until he realized that one man had a prosthetic limb and the other was in a wheelchair.

Targeting these fans was highly inappropriate and disrespectful. They were not physically able to stand up, but regardless no artist should require that his fans get on their feet during a concert. Being a paying customer gives all concertgoers the right to stand or sit as they please. West defied norms that he should have been more mindful of in this situation. By defying these social norms, West made himself look bad, which in turn reflects poorly on his image.

Kanye West made similar comments just a few days earlier at his concert in Melbourne, Australia. During that show he said, “stand up unless y’all sitting down because y’all handicapped.” He received some negative feedback from this comment, but his fans did not really take notice until the incident in Sydney. In the past, West received criticism when he interrupted Taylor Swift during her speech at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009. West said that Beyoncé deserved to win the award for best female video instead of Swift. In a later interview, West tarnished his image even further by saying he had no regrets about dissing Taylor Swift during the MTV VMA’s.

A person’s image evolves through both direct and indirect experiences, in this case, a direct one with his audience. West appears to be more focused on his identity, who he wants to be, rather than addressing his image, who the public perceives him to be. Through social media reactions, West’s metaimage seems to result in the public not favoring him as an artist due to his behavior.

Through the Attribution Theory, West’s fans analyze his behavior in an attempt for them to better understand his intentions. West’s fans want to better understand why he said what he did so they can predict what he might say in the future. By using a combination of the behavior they have witnessed and the motive behind West’s words, his fans will try to decode West’s current and future rhetoric.

This is not the first time Kanye West has done something outrageous, and it certainly will not be the last. When artists and other people in the spotlight continually practice certain behavior, can we as viewers begin to predict their next move? Can we attribute their behaviors to an underlying motive?

– Hannah Rodgers, Kaitlyn Russell, Anna Joy Zima, Malia Swift, and Spencer Brenes

2 thoughts on “Has Kanye West’s Lack of Sensitivity Permanently Hurt His Image?

  1. Great example for many communication theories. Your focus on sensitivity and attribution theory is consistent as they both draw heavily from psychology. While that is important, as you know at least from COM 105 and perhaps other classes, our focus in COM is a bit more on social behaviors. In other words, what folks are reacting to is Kanye’s behavior. He may be insensitive or he may be a narcissist or he might be a psychopath or . . . . the behavior is the key. That is why our core skills are largely behavioral. Ideally you are cooperative as an attribute. But we focus on collaboration as a behavior. Ideally you are sensitive to others as an attribute but we focus on civility as a behavior. Why is this distinction important? We can more easily coach behaviors. We can more easily help people see patterns in their behaviors, etc. So if you want to help a CEO with her lack of strategic communication it may be a fun conversation to ask “why did you say that” or wonder if she’s a narcissist or insecure, but your focus as a coach is on behavior. “Your choice to use such a string of mild adjectives about our product could be interpreted as you are not fully behind it”

    So, Kanye, for many reasons would not be a good COM major despite the money and the creative gifts. Sad, as having a millionaire graduate would be handy. If you become a millionaire graduate, please keep in touch.

    • Dr. Olsen,

      Sorry for the delay and thanks for your feedback. Like you mentioned, understanding behavior as a COM major is so essential because it brings clarity to why people take certain actions. If we never fully understand someone’s behavior we can never begin to comprehend the motives behind their actions.

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