Kanye West, Donald Trump and the Darwin Awards
There should be an equivalent of the Darwin Awards for those politicians who are basically compromising democratic evolution
You’ll have heard of the Darwin Awards, I’m sure, the accolades given to people who have killed themselves by doing something so unbelievably dumb that our overriding emotion is not sympathy, but gratitude that there’s no chance they can pass on their genes.
As the website describes it: "In the spirit of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival."
The awards can be traced back to Usenet groups in 1985, but they really took wing with the launch of the official website by Wendy Northcutt in 1993.
Northcutt was a graduate in molecular biology from the University of California, Berkeley, who later moved on to study neurobiology at Stanford University, doing research into cancer.
It says something about the different natures of academia and the internet that she gave all that up to concentrate on the Darwin Awards books and website. Clearly, curing the sometimes terminal disease of cancer is not as lucrative as making fun of the always terminal disease of stupidity.
To give an idea of what level of stupidity we’re talking about here, one of last year’s awards was given (posthumously, natch) to a 47-year-old Japanese man named Tedzu. Clad in street clothes, Tedzu died trying to climb the 3,776m volcanic summit that is Mt Fuji while livestreaming an episode of his life — the final episode, as it turned out — to which he gave the jolly title Let’s Go to Snowy Mt Fuji.
I mention this story because, while basically freezing to death, Tedzu refused to put gloves on so he could still use his smartphone. An actual extract from the video: "Hands are numb … but must operate smartphone." Smartphones, increasingly, play a role in the stupid things people do.
I was reminded of the Darwin Awards by the announcement on the weekend that rapper Kanye West plans to run for the presidency of the United States of America. Yes, I typed out the full name of the country, because its poor citizens need all the gravitas they can get.
The place has become a laughing stock — and I paused here to research the etymology of that term. Its origins are unclear, though it has been in use since at least the 16th century. The most pleasing theory is the (sadly unprovable) one that it refers to the act of putting people in stocks and throwing rotten fruit at them.
It might not seem a proportional response to the deadly drones the US has lobbed at non-Americans over the years, but hurling an overripe tomato at President Donald Trump’s supercilious mug would, I’m sure, cause a lot of people a lot of joy.
West announced his presidency to his 29.6-million followers on Twitter on July 5, the day after the popular US holiday celebrating the country’s almost total independence from peace since 1776. The occasion is characterised by firework displays, to simulate the childish terror of non-American kids being bombed, and cooking chunks of meat over a fire, a homage to napalm victories of the past.
Kanye’s tweet read, in full: "We must now realise the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States! #2020VISION."
Well, I say in full, but actually I’ve omitted the obligatory emoji of the US flag, the Twitter echo of those obscenely ubiquitous flags Americans display everywhere, in what I assume is some sort of mandatory, Stalinist show of patriotism and militarised fetishism.
I don’t think it’s worth debating whether West would be a better president than Trump, given that his smartphone on 12% battery life would be a better president than Trump. But it is worth discussing why the idea of West as leader of the heavily mortgaged world previously known as free is a perfectly feasible one — as is the sad and bloated reality of Trump.
To give winners of the Darwin Awards some credit, at least they paid the ultimate price for the stupid things they did and had the decency to both serve as a cautionary tale and die. But why isn’t there a version of the awards for politicians who say incredibly stupid things?
There appears to be very little accountability, which is why people such as Trump and West can aspire to governing countries without having any actual experience of politics. Political acumen has stopped being the ability to make a country work, and is now the ability to get away with stuff.
There should be a Darwin Awards for politicians who say or do stupid stuff, and the prize should be getting fired. I’m not even talking about the common or garden lies and spin that characterise most of the drivel we’re subjected to. If your job description includes looking after the wellbeing of people, which is basically what politics is, then you need to be able to show a certain empathy.
Take the immortal words of Dan Plato, the mayor of the cave that is Cape Town. He claimed that Bulelani Qholani — who was evicted from his shack while naked, and violently wrestled to the ground — had taken off his clothes as a tactic to make the City of Cape Town look bad. (Plato also told MPs: "I’ve got a lot of black friends," prompting journalist Lester Kiewit to wonderingly point out that "Dan Plato, a black man, doesn’t consider himself black.")
Or take the response of Trump to Bubba Wallace (no, his name has not been changed to protect his identity), the only black Nascar driver. He found a noose hanging in his garage at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama (no, the name of the "Superspeedway" has not been changed to protect its identity), and understandably thought it was a racist threat.
News agency AFP helpfully informs those of us born after 1999 that the noose is "a symbol of lynchings in the American South".
For more context, Nascar, which is basically an automotive version of a fashion ramp, with cars driving round and round at high speed for the sole purpose, it appears, of showing off the brands they’re wearing, has just banned the display of Confederate symbols at its events.
The FBI concluded that the noose was not the result of a hate crime, but had been hanging in the garage for months. This does smack a little of a white supremacist saying: "What, this swastika tattoo? Oh no, I’ve had it for ages."
But Trump, of course, ignoring the actual historical condition of the US today — aka Black Lives Matter — demanded that Wallace say sorry for being triggered.
"Has Bubba Wallace apologised to all of those great Nascar drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out the whole thing was just another HOAX?" he tweeted.
These are not the most egregious of the terrible things politicians have said — not by any stretch of the imagination. I would contend, however, that their remarks indicate a dearth of humanity, of empathy, of just basic kindness. Much like the people whose stupidity qualifies them for the Darwin Awards, these politicians need to be cut out of the political gene pool on the basis that they’re compromising democratic evolution. If you have a disdain for people, you shouldn’t be in the business of safeguarding their welfare.
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