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Kanye West and Candace Owens are characters in the ongoing melodrama orbiting Trump’s political world. We need to talk about how the MAGA weaponizes kayfabe.
We’re going to be talking about Kanye West’s rebrand as a right-wing, free speech culture warrior in tomorrow’s long-form article (the related podcast episode is scheduled to come out on Sunday morning). Here are some terms and information we think you’ll find useful ahead of time.
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We need to talk about the term “kayfabe”.
Kayfabe is the language that professional wrestling uses to communicate things that people "outside the business" aren't supposed to hear or understand. It's a holdover from the days when wrestling was a common and popular carnival attraction, where "Kay Fabe" was said to be carny slang for "keep quiet". It was often used so as not to alert the person being conned out of their hard-earned cash that the fix was in.
A wrestler breaking kayfabe during an event would be likened to an actor breaking character on camera. For years, it just didn't happen. Wrestlers "protected the business" by maintaining their characters outside of the ring, sometimes going to outlandish lengths to convince (or work) the fans. Good guys, who were referred to as babyfaces, or "faces", wouldn't associate with bad guys, known as "heels", in public, for fear of the fans seeing them and realizing that the epic battle they had just witnessed was less than legitimate. One scandalous example of breaking character that rocked the wrestling world in 1987 comes to us from the AP, which stated:
The wrestlers, known professionally as Hacksaw and Iron Sheik and portrayed as arch-enemies in the ring, were arrested Tuesday on the Garden State Parkway by a trooper who said he saw Hacksaw drinking beer and stopped their car.
The trooper also checked luggage in the car and found three grams of cocaine in bags belonging to Iron Sheik, police said.
Hacksaw and the Iron Sheik were sworn enemies in the ring. Worse than their arrest (or the illicit drugs) for many fans was the lifting of that veil and seeing the two as apparent friends.
In the 1990s, due to a series of scandals, the rise of the internet, the increasing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts events and a sense that things were getting stale, wrestling began to market itself as "sports entertainment". This rebrand led the presenters to finally admit that, yes, the fights are staged, but the melodramas leading up to those fights still generally adhere to the old rules. Some storylines, or "angles", do occassionaly acknowledge the staged nature of the business. This is known as "breaking kayfabe,” and it’s done to convince the fans that this what they’re seeing is actually happening. However, a good rule of thumb is "if you see it on TV, it's a work". It was scripted ahead of time. There have been very few exceptions to this maxim over the years. One such case was chronicled by the New York Times here:
Hart was one of those who did not speak, but in 1997 he accepted a job with the rival World Championship Wrestling organization, and McMahon asked him to lose his title to Shawn Michaels. Hart, irritated with Michaels, refused to do so in Montreal, in his home country; McMahon conspired to ring the bell prematurely, awarding the win to Michaels.
Feeling betrayed, Hart went backstage and knocked out McMahon. Hart called Meltzer shortly thereafter; the incident became one of wrestling’s most enduring melodramas.
So what is Donald Trump’s connection to the professional wrestling business?
Back when the company was known as the World Wrestling Federation, Donald Trump hosted Wrestlemania IV in 1988 at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. Trump has participated in many angles over the years for WWF, but it was a mutually beneficial relationship. Trump got plenty of free publicity for hosting these events. The WWF got a prime venue. Trump was also inducted into the WWE "Hall of Fame" in 2013.
It does appear that somewhere along the way, the Don and Vince became personal friends. This helps explain why Linda McMahon was appointed the head of the Small Business Administration in the Trump administration. The McMahons were also major donors to both of Trump's Presidential campaigns.
Remember that viral meme of Trump bodyslamming CNN that got a lot of attention in 2017? It came from one of Trump’s WWE performances. He’s known all about kayfabe for a very long time.
What's Kanye West's connection to Donald Trump?
On December 13, 2016, Kanye West made a pilgrimage to Trump Tower to visit President-Elect Donald Trump.
“We’ve been friends for a long time,” Trump told reporters at the time. “We discussed life.”
West also visited the White House in 2018, where he offered the following statement of support for Trump:
All we really have is today. We just have today. Over and over and over again. Hero's journey. And Trump is on his hero's journey right now and he might not think he would have a crazy motherf****r like Kanye West's support and best believe, we are going to make America great.
In 2020, West announced a presidential run, although it was widely seen as an attempt to draw votes away from Joe Biden.
Because a variety of allies and supporters of President Trump are working on the ground to advance his campaign, many Democrats view his candidacy as a dirty trick by Republicans, a notion Mr. West has rejected. Still, in a year in which the president is working to undermine confidence in the election, Mr. West’s candidacy is one more point of uncertainty. And many Republicans, including Mr. Trump, appear confident he will siphon votes from Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, though his appeal could be blunted by some of his conservative positions.
Kanye’s recent offensive statements are reprehensible, but they don’t change the fact that he’s a character in the ongoing melodrama orbiting Trump’s policial world. Candace Owens is serving as some degree of adviser to West in the process, despite her denials.
Here’s the most succinct summary of the Kanye and Candace adventures of late that you’re going to find.
What’s Parler again? In case you forgot, here’s a rundown from MarketWatch:
Parler is an alternative social media platform that is popular among conservatives. Founded in 2018, Parler is marketed as “the premier global free speech platform.”
Parler bears some resemblance to Twitter TWTR, -4.75%, where users can create posts called “parleys” within a character limit. Parler users can also follow other users and engage with them in the comments section.
In reality though, Parler is on life support. It’s a virtual ghost town.
Writing on her old blog in 2015, Owens wrote:
In many ways, (and yes I am aware this is going to come off as arrogant), I feel that I am the female Kanye West. I totally understood him during his speech at the VMAS this year when he said “I feel like I had to die so other artist’s could have an opinion”. It’s true. Kanye West died that night that he jumped up on stage and took that mic from Taylor Swift. It was considered a steep no-no for an artist to speak out against the same system that propelled him to fame, but to do so while offending America’s sweetheart?
That was political suicide.
Quite the statement. Candace Owens, who believed stealing a mic from a white lady on an award stage was “political suicide” in 2015, would like you to know that anti-Semitism isn’t anti-Semitism in 2022.
We can safely call Candace a villain in all this. Since we’re dealing with the “female Kanye West,” maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised.
More on this topic tomorrow. Stay tuned…