Last Monday, Kanye West got up in the middle of a plane flight to perform a song from his new album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” for the passengers. Barely more than 24 hours later, that album received five stars from Rolling Stone magazine, and the clean version of almost every track leaked online. Any one of these facts in and of itself is interesting insofar as Kanye West is always, no matter what else can be said about him, interesting — but what I find more fascinating is the fact that I’d seen the plane flight performance, read the album review, and downloaded all the songs (please don’t arrest me) by 5 p.m. EST Tuesday evening.
YouTube, various illegal downloading programs and — of course — Twitter, make it possible for me to stalk people like Kanye (i.e., celebrities) with shocking efficiency. The Internet is godlike in its omnipotence, but unlike any god that humans believe in, it shares everything it knows with the world. Once something is online, it belongs to anyone who can download it, screencap it or copy and paste it — that includes anything from Kanye’s new album to that picture of you throwing up into your shoes that your roommate “hilariously” put on Facebook. (Sidenote: When you “delete” a picture from Facebook, it actually stays somewhere in the servers of Mark Zuckerberg’s creepy empire for up to five years. Fucking Harvard.)
It might seem like there’s no paper trail on the Internet, but really it’s just that all that clunky paper has become streamlined into pixels and bytes and impossible to put through a shredder. When my computer crashed last year (apparently, I wore out the hard drive from “too much use”), I managed to recover most of my work because I’d emailed papers to my teachers, and it was all right there in the archives of gmail. And think — even if I had deleted them, there’s no guarantee my professors would have cleaned out all their old students’ e-mails. As soon as you transfer something from the safety of your desktop to the wide world of the Internet, it effectively ceases to belong to you.
This can present problems for everyone from record companies, to that teacher in Georgia who got fired when the school found Facebook pictures of her drinking, to the American government (think WikiLeaks).
In Kanye’s case, the things he would most like to erase from his past — “Imma let you finish” springs to mind — live in eternity because of YouTube. On Tuesday night, he took to his Twitter to address that very issue:
“No more Bush questions … no more Taylor questions … no more relationship questions ….” Kanye tweeted, and then continued on a Twitter rant that devolved into some kind of borderline psychotic paranoia.
And his 1,578,402 followers watched it happen in real time. Because that’s the thing: The eternal memory of the Internet offers celebrities massive fame, as long as they agree to exist almost entirely online — albums downloaded from iTunes, music videos viewed on YouTube, sightings published on TMZ.com. And there becomes a point when you have to wonder if there’s any part of their person, or their sanity, that hasn’t been relinquished to the voracious chasm of the World Wide Web in exchange for that kind of twisted immortality. As Kanye tweeted, “Everything sounds like noise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EVERYTHING SOUNDS LIKE NOISE!!!!!!! I don’t trust anyone!”, I thought about how even though Zuckerberg might have all our photos, at least we still have our real lives to retreat to.
And, hoping that somewhere out there Cassius Clay ’14 was turning down the volume, I turned up my bootleg copy of “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”