By Jonathon Van Maren
Scarcely a day goes by without more breaking news about Kanye West’s ongoing public meltdown. He is, as many have noted, a mentally ill man who appears intent on self-immolation by breaking every public taboo he can get his hands on. His manifest weakness has attracted the vultures, with alt-right figures such as Nick Fuentes accompanying him on an interview circuit that has included Alex Jones and Gavin McInnes. West’s anti-Semitic rants are so toxic that Jones and McInnes have been left sputtering. And of course, there is the constant proclamations of fondness for Adolf Hitler.
With all of that aside, however, I’d like to draw attention to one aspect of this sad spectacle that has escaped the attention of most (although both Michael Knowles of The Daily Wire and writer Bethel McGrew picked up on it): West’s lifelong struggle with pornography, the havoc that addiction has wreaked on his life, and the lesson for us all. West used to brag about his porn use, telling late night host Jimmy Kimmel that despite being being married to America’s reigning sex symbol, he still used Pornhub—and went on to describe his favorite categories. Everyone laughed, of course. Porn is poison, but in our culture, it is so normal it has become a punchline.
But as I noted in 2019, West soon changed his tune as he realized the extent to which porn had shaped his life. He admitted that his own porn use made him encourage his wife Kim Kardashian to pose for pornographic photo shoots and dress (more) provocatively, and that he was only just beginning to realize how—despite being one of the most powerful celebrities in the world with wealth running into the billions—pornography had shaped and controlled his life.
“Playboy was my gateway into full-on porn addiction,” he said. “My dad had a Playboy left out at age five and it’s affected almost every choice I made for the rest of my life—from age five till now having to kick the habit. And it just presents itself in the open like it’s okay. And I stand up and say, ‘No, it’s not okay.’”
At that point, West had been addicted to pornography for 37 years. From poverty to the heights of unfathomable fame, wealth, and cultural power, this addiction had shaped “almost every choice I made for the rest of my life.” And in a portion of one recent interview, he had a rare moment of clarity in which he stopped blaming the entertainment industry, the Jews, and his perceived enemies and laid out what had actually ruined his marriage, his family, and ultimately his life:
My security is the fact that I didn’t load up pornography last night, and I said this addiction is going to have to flee from me. You know, this addiction since I was five years old that destroyed my mom and my dad’s family, that destroyed my family. Like when I take full accountability for the destruction of my marriage, when I…I’ll point at the liberals and say, “You took my wife from me.” You know what took my wife from me? The fact that I was married to this beautiful person, but I felt like it wasn’t enough. I felt like I still needed to look at pornography in some way. I’d say to her “Well, stop making these images. Stop breaking the internet.” You know that original term comes from my ex-wife actually having a nude photo that I didn’t know about that someone used her and put her on a magazine. But there’s somewhere where she’s like “Well, if my husband is looking at this, I still want to be like the girls that are doing this.” And this becomes people reliving the traumas, pushing the addiction.
And there it is. It wasn’t the imaginary enemies that make up West’s paranoid anti-Semitic fever dreams that robbed him of his marriage and destroyed his family. It was pornography. And West, like so many others, first got addicted when he was in kindergarten—too young to have any idea what he was doing when he picked up that magazine first once, and then again, and then again—until the decades dragged on and he realized that the moment he laid eyes on those photographs was a fateful one that would dictate the course of his life. I’ve talked to young men who got addicted to porn at age five. West is an anomaly in almost every way, but this sad, torrid tale is a common one. It is the story of legions of young men enslaved to digital toxins being pumped directly into their minds daily. It is destroying their lives, too. Pornography sells a lie that millions bought into before they were even old enough to realize what they were looking at.
Consider what this story tells us about the raw power of pornography for a moment. A billionaire celebrity with a beautiful wife and beautiful children, the envy of millions worldwide, could not break free of a poisonous imitation of the real thing. Kanye West’s story is a cautionary tale in many, many ways. But one aspect of it—the one that began when he was just a little boy who was entitled to the protection of those around him—is the tale of a cultural evil that is rotting our culture from the inside out with such power that even those who seem to have it all struggle in its grip.