Kanye West Is Mr. Rogers
For more than 30 years on American television, every Mister Rogers' Neighborhood show ended with a variation of this message. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a documentary that does not defy the mystery man, Mr. Rogers, off-camera, but instead focuses more on the simplicity of his message and the impact it continues to have for generations.
It is interesting to rediscover Mr. Rogers’ artistic process of developing a simplistic 30-minute television show targeted towards children ages 2-5 (but labeled as "all ages" by PBS) to discuss complex and worldly issues. The personal relationship Mr. Rogers had to his program would impact the parents of children, as well as other artists building careers based on the simple notion of learning and growing.
Cleverly, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood takes place in the idea of a home, as well as the fantastical world of the “Neighborhood of Make Believe,” which gives viewers a feeling of comfort and safety — a world open to receiving information and new ideas about the complexities of real life issues. In this manner, he makes it clear that there is no distinction between all of us as human beings, and reminds us to take pride in each of our individual uniquenesses.
This artistic process is similar to the visual language of celebrated creative, Virgil Abloh. His visual language uses common typefaces to develop a new language, which is translated via "text language.” This has allowed people to discover hybrid metaphors between common objects and experiences we deal with on a daily basis. For example, printing the word, "SCULPTURE" on a purse challenges the definition of sculpture in the viewer's mind and therefore creates a relationship with art and the idea of an everyday object such as a purse. This new language of written text messages on objects reminds us of our innate instinct to use quotation marks when unsure about something or when we want to expand the definition of a noun. In comparison, Mr. Rogers uses the tactic of reduction when explaining complex topics, in order to create a more comforting narrative that is more digestible to others. While doing so, he slightly questions topics such as “war’" and “competition” similar to the way that Virgil Abloh questions everyday objects.
In the hip-hop music industry, we identify the infamous music producer and former Co-President of Columbia Records, Rick Rubin, as a spiritual figure that preaches about the lesson of “reduction.” By reducing elements of the musical process and diminishing the superfluous, the listener is able to be transported into a more expanded environment and better understand the true essence of the craft.
A true master of this approach in the fine art world is David Hammons. Although he is not known specifically for creating a style of artwork, he is notable for the way he approaches ideals. A common reaction to his work is the way the viewer can create his/her own space by interpreting his gestures and symbols that relate to a culture. His thoughtful mark-making responds to stereotypes that culture itself creates. As an example, his 1993 piece, In The Hood displays the portion of fabric that crowns a hooded pullover sweatshirt, with its obvious function to keep one's head warm. The stereotype of this article of clothing is that it can be a “mask" to hide identity within criminal activity. The execution of this art piece is similar to the way scary films or cartoons portray the hood of a Grim Reaper, while the hood itself is freely floating away from the wall when displayed. The brilliance of this piece is not the actual piece, it is the discovery of the issues that people have dealt with, without screaming it literally.
Similar in level of artistry is the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood program, where Mr. Rogers does not directly come at the viewer by questioning their views on assassination, for example. He simply educates with enough information so that the viewer can realize issues with oneself and come to his own reflections on society.
That seems to be the phrase of 2018 — political figures turning groups of people away based on their physical appearance and genetic ties, musicians openly discussing topics of mental health, to millennials as a whole documenting their uniqueness in magnifying their flaws and labeling their identities on their own terms.
According to the television programming industry, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was primarily thought to be a failure, yet became one of the longest running television shows in history. What could be the factors that kept the attention of the viewing public for so long? Perhaps it was the consistency of every show, the welcoming feeling of acceptance into a community? Or maybe it was the idea of coming home to unwind and being open to accepting new ideals for both children and adults?
A common teaching tool is music and song, and in Mr. Rogers' case, he was a master at creating jingles that encouraged acceptance. These jingles invited the viewer to feel even closer to “The Neighborhood,” while communicating various topics and emotions through clever and simple lyrics. Music's primary function is to discuss ideas and unify the masses, after all, “music is the universal language.” Similarly, both Kanye West’s Ye album and Frank Rogers' jingles both reflected confessions of their personal lives that they chose to invite the public to witness for themselves. Mr. Rogers found that imagination, puppetry, and song were his best forms of communication from childhood to adulthood. Both Mr. Rogers and Kanye's extensive approaches created space for viewers and listeners to enter and participate in the conversation, while broadening their perspectives.
Many times, Kanye has compared himself to the great Walt Disney. While some might think it is due to his financial sustainability — it is not. Mr. West is heavily influenced by Mr. Disney's approach to targeting those who are filled with belief and imagination. Naturally, those traits are most alive and thriving within children, but Kanye West, Walt Disney, and Frank Rogers own a creative process in which they are able to ignite the belief and imagination of adults, young and old. After all, everybody was once a kid. Kanye West’s Ye album and overall summer 2018 campaign manifests a confessional, sharing version of Kanye. Confident in his own uniqueness, his album is a proclamation of conflict amongst universal cohesiveness. Kanye made his Twitter comeback through short, uplifting statements — curiously different than the cocky Kanye that we have grown up with.
Hype of his highly anticipated Ye album grew more and more because of messages that seemed like a positive progression from West. Leaked sources claimed that the sound was reminiscent of his debut album, The College Dropout, with soulful samples and clever lyricism that the hip-hop community has been eager for, for years. You can even say that they expected not only the sound of the "old Kanye" but also the image of him wearing a pink polo and Louis Vuitton backpack. To our great surprise, we were turned upside down when Kanye paraded his political stance and exercised his vocal awareness, but it was different than what we expected.
The Ye album suddenly shifted to questioning popular media's validation of Kanye's impact due to his political views. Like many times in his career, we questioned his ability to control the understanding of expectation by his fans and realize that the genius in him knows there is always a greater goal in mind. Leading up to the release of Ye, he made it known that he had conversations with the President of the United States and even spoke on a popular tabloid news outlet to state his opinions. West used Donald Trump to shift expectation, especially since he is a symbol representing the polar opposite of what we expect the "old Kanye" to have a relationship with. From failed expectation to an uncomfortable feeling of rage and fear, people questioned their own selves since it is in our primary instinct to give more energy to fear than hope.
When the world finally listened to Ye, we were welcomed with Kanye's inner thoughts covering topics of mental health (Kanye having bipolar disorder), family life, and escaping old fears, which then allowed for us to be more open and accepting. Like in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, every episode starts with “Mr. Rogers Talks About…” and states a new topic, leading the viewer into the comfort of his home and then later leads to the “Neighborhood of Make Believe.” Here, the viewer is both challenged and nurtured into topics that reflect the real world in order to discover something new, which is perhaps the most invaluable gift that Mr. Rogers has given us. Once the viewer finds a relationship with the subject and interprets it in his/her own way, Mr. Rogers secures them with a jingle and concluding reminder to "believe in one's unique self with their special gifts.” Amazingly, Kanye once said in a 2013 interview, "If you're a Kanye West fan, you're not a fan of me, you're a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself.”
Prior to creating his own television show, Frank Rogers was practicing to become an ordained minister when he realized his calling was to make a larger impact by using television as a tool. It is obvious that his values and attention to morality are portrayed in his television show for the greater good. If Kanye West has a relationship to Mr. Rogers, what does that make Kanye?