EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Kanye West shook up social media on Saturday when he announced a presidential run on Twitter.
In between timelines filled with fireworks, Black Lives Matter posts, and patriotic gear, people are wondering whether West’s announcement is true or another publicity stunt orchestrated by the rapper and fashion designer.
Discourse on West as a candidate underscores the intersection of celebrity and political spectacle that has captured the zeitgeist.
But is it a stunt?
According to Forbes, West has yet to register with the Federal Elections Committee — which all candidates must do.
The FEC currently has one registered 2020 presidential candidate named Kanye West that was filed in August 2015. The statement of candidacy reveals the following:
Name of Candidate: Kanye Deez Nutz West
Name of Committee: Back Dat Azz Up Committee
Other authorized committees registered include, “Get Crunk Committee.”
In addition to FEC registration, West missed the deadline to register as an independent in states like Texas, New Mexico, New York, and more.
The Washington Post reports that if West won the popular vote, many votes would not count. More than thirty states require write-in candidates (like West would be) to pre-register and most unregistered votes join an “all others” category.
West has a long history of executing publicity stunts to drive attention prior to the release of an album.
One of West’s most controversial moments was in 2018 when he declared slavery was a choice a few weeks before the release of his album “Ye.”
“I think everything Kanye does is built around the idea of spectacle,” says Dr. Richard Pineda, political science professor at UTEP tells KTSM 9 News.
“His persona is very much built around spectacle, and I think it was the original foray into American politics — with President Trump and his support of ‘Make America Great Again’ — that he realized the spectacle would carry over into another area.”
West visited the White House in 2018 where he discussed being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder (West’s physician claims he was sleep-deprived) and alternative universes (West says there are infinite amounts). Not long after his visit to the White House, West said he was being used to disseminate messages he did not believe in and was stepping away from politics.
A 2019 article published in the journal of Historical and Social Research on mechanisms of celebrity and social esteem sheds light on the American interest in celebrity and political theatre.
Celebrities like West amass a great deal of power in the influence their social status has. West’s success as a streetwear designer is rooted on his social prestige and the theatricality that goes into the delivery.
For many, West’s emotive outbursts are part of his appeal (think back to when he interrupted Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards or when he declared President George W. H. Bush “doesn’t care about Black people.”)
Displays of emotion, argues scholar Antoine Lillti, adds social (and therefore political) clout to both the public sphere and the Internet. This emotional dimension has been amplified in American politics as celebrities, politicians, and many in between go on Twitter for all things politics.
Dr. Pineda says the West’s notion of spectacle is interesting at this particular moment because the idea of West running — and potentially winning — the presidency is outrageous in the same vein that then-candidate Trump’s run seemed outlandish in 2016.
“I think that this is a manufactured spectacle as West is really good at knowing how to get as much free media as possible,” says Dr. Pineda.