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Keara HanlonMarch 23, 2022
Photo by John Shearer from IMDB.

We need to talk about the Kim and Kanye (sorry—“Ye”) drama. I know you think it’s stupid. They’re celebrities. They crave publicity. Any publicity. Their livelihoods depend on us keeping their names in our mouths as we consume their bizarrely public marital implosion, popcorn in hand.

Ye has been a wildcard for years. From his comments that slavery was a choice—for the people who were enslaved—to his failed presidential run, it comes as no surprise to anyone that his behavior following his split from Kim Kardashian has been, shall we say, erratic. His openness about past battles with mental illness suggests that this may be a factor in the way that he has handled the dissolution of his marriage, and we should be sensitive to that. As author Bassey Ikpi wrote of the rapper’s struggles with mental illness back in 2020, “Mental illness is not an excuse, but it is a reason.”

Ye was recently pulled from the Grammy’s performance line-up, despite being nominated for five awards, including Album of the Year, due to “concerning online behavior.” Although the Recording Academy did not cite specifics, this behavior could include anything from his recent use of a racial slur against Trevor Noah on Instagram, the release of the music video for his new song “Eazy,” which included imagery of a Pete Davidson look-alike being kidnapped and brutalized, or Ye’s very public ongoing harassment of ex-wife Kardashian in his supposed attempts to win her back.

Kardashian, for her part, made news last week for her completely out-of-touch career advice to women: “Get your f—king ass up and work.” Leaked texts also reveal that Kardashian’s new boyfriend Pete Davidson responded to Ye asking where Davidson was with, “In bed with your wife.”

I never said they were likable.

A situation which seems silly or stupid on the surface speaks to larger issues.

But in a segment for “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah made the case that this isn’t just about some celebrities clinging to relevance (even if that is part of it). “Two things can be true,” as Noah said. “Kim likes publicity. Kim is also being harassed.”

“It’s spun into a story that seems fully tabloid,” Noah argues. “But I think…deserves a little more awareness from the general public because it touches on something that is more sensitive and more serious than people would like to admit.” If one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful women cannot escape this, he asks, “then what chance do normal women have?”

Noah is asking us to look at what is really going on here. And our faith also calls us to take a step back and see through the nonsense to the whole person. Truly, what does it say about us as Catholics if our reaction to real pain—not simply hysterics—is to sit back and chuckle?

In the same vein, if Ye, one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world cannot get the mental health support he needs to deal with his break-up in a healthy, non-abusive way, what chance do normal people have?

Once again, a situation which seems silly or stupid on the surface speaks to larger issues.

Don’t Cancel, Care

Some statistics: According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.” Over the course of a year, this adds up to 10 million people facing abuse. Additionally, “1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.”

This isn’t just about Kim Kardashian. These are pervasive problems.

Some more statistics: The National Alliance on Mental Illness presents data that shows that “21% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2020.” That’s 52.9 million people. Over 57 percent of adults with a mental illness received no treatment in 2020 according to Mental Health America. Moreover, Mental Health America reveals that men are far less likely to seek treatment for mental illness due to societal norms, stigma, and a tendency to downplay their symptoms.

Again, this isn’t just about Ye either.

So where does that leave us?

The way Kardashian is being treated is wrong, and we should support her as she seeks security, safety and happiness away from her ex-husband.

Well, we could cancel Kanye. While some on the right claim that Kanye was canceled long ago for his aforementioned “free thoughts” on slavery and his support for President Trump, he remains a chart-topping artist with 48,521,252 monthly listeners on Spotify, has the fifth most appearances on Billboard’s Hot 100, 22 Grammys and five new Grammy nominations. We probably shouldn’t cancel him anyway, but even if we wanted to, how exactly would that happen?

Noah had a better suggestion:

 

As Catholics, we should have compassion for Ye’s plight with mental illness and pray that he seeks therapy and finds healing, both for his own sake and for the sake of his ex-wife and their four children. We should not continue to simply stand by devouring headlines that clearly delineate the spiral of a mentally ill man.

At the same time, we also need to support Kardashian in setting a healthy boundary for herself and her family as she tries to distance herself from Ye. Mental illness does not excuse abusive or harassing behavior, and we also should not stand by as Kardashian is harassed, no matter our feelings for her personally.

“You may not feel sorry for Kim…because she’s rich and famous, because of the way she dresses, because she appropriates Black culture, because she tells women they’re lazy, because she broke the internet and didn’t put it back together—whatever. You hate her, whatever,” Noah concedes. “But,” he continues. “What she’s going through is terrifying to watch and it shines a spotlight on what so many women go through when they choose to leave.”

The way Kardashian is being treated is wrong, and we should support her as she seeks security, safety and happiness away from her ex-husband.

This Isn’t About Celebrities

If our celebrity culture has anything to say about the lives of normal people, here it is sounding a warning. If we become numb to the suffering of others, even the Kims and Kanyes of the world who may seem beyond our sympathetic reach, we may also be numbing ourselves to the suffering of people in our own lives.

Ye can’t hear us call him a psycho, but our friends and family suffering silently from mental illness might.

That person who you brush off as being one for dramatics: what if they are really suffering? Could your friend with the perfect Instagram be dealing with abuse or harassment behind the screen? Are there people you know who are lashing out at others because of their own hidden mental health struggles?

This is where Noah really brings his point home. Growing up in an abusive household, Noah watched as time and time again people chastised his mother for “overreacting,” or asked what she might have done to cause the abuse she endured. Over and over again her pleas for help were ignored and brushed aside. Then one day Noah received a call that she’d been shot in the head and had been hospitalized.

Each time we blow off Kardashian’s harassment by saying, “she likes the attention” or “any publicity is good publicity,” we are playing into the same toxic behavior of ignoring survivors of abuse (something the church has had its own reckoning with) and blaming the victim. And while she may not see or hear us brushing off her harassment, the survivors of abuse in our own lives will take note.

The same is true of those who struggle with mental health issues: Ye can’t hear us call him a psycho, but our friends and family suffering silently from mental illness might.

They might be celebrities, but they are people, too. And the way we react to their suffering (not their surface-level bickering or whining but their genuine suffering) is indicative of a broader lack of awareness and empathy in the way we approach people in our own lives.

There’s plenty of compassion to go around. We shouldn’t be stingy with it.

If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit their website for more resources.

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