Sunday, March 17, 2013

Everybody, Please Sell Out

It is 2013 and I believe it is now safe to grant everyone in the free world permission to officially Sell Out.  For countless decades the notion of even slightly compromising one's own artistic integrity for the almighty dollar - of letting one's noble ballad play over a commercial for douche, of letting one's persona be utilized to hawk products such as fast-food sandwiches, automobiles, tobacco products or ill-fitting and heinously overpriced clothing (stitched together by modern-day slaves) - was considered a damnable and shameful offense akin to fellating the Prince of Darkness on Good Friday.  Being deemed a "Sell Out" was usually followed by one's personage being referred to by any number of odious slurs and expletives and one's entire mystique and reputation unfixably shattered.

In the 21st century, this no longer applies, not simply because artistic integrity is as comically out-of-fashion as Dial-Up Modems and Voting Republican, but because things are too goddamn expensive, the artistic fields are flooded with self-confident hacks and YouTube has turned every ding-dong with a webcam into a virtual celebrity to trolls, frat guys, housewives and shut-ins.  It's about what sells, what's funny and what's disposable.  The great Bertolt Brecht once remarked, "Grub first, then ethics," but that statement can now be altered to the following: "Cashmere blankets, a sporty car with decent gas mileage, Netflix Instant, the latest Apple gadget, a stainless-steel refrigerator full of exotic fruits, the monthly cell, Internet and rent bills covered, then ethics."  You may certainly feel free to adjust the above entries to suit your eclectic preferences (vintage vinyl, a moped, a VIP pass to a strip club, neocortex-damaging club drugs, some purse with gold letters on it, etc.).

As delightful and eccentric as some of our most notorious cultural outcasts and rebels were, I cannot help but think if they were operating today they would need to have a Twitter and be active in promoting themselves, on late night TV trying to sell their cryptic novels, in ArtForum getting grilled about why they put green and pink together on the same canvas.  Henry David Thoreau would have been asked by H&R Block to do an ad for them.  Oscar Wilde would have to go on Piers Morgan's dimwitted program to promote some play and the two could debate matters pertaining to the U.K.; Wilde would be kicked off the program for saying something decidedly politically incorrect (and no doubt refer to Morgan as a bloated twat).  Lord Byron would be forced to make a fake apology on public television for wanting to fornicate with anything that walked; he would be harassed by the TMZ crew on a regular basis and routinely called a "pervert" and forced to hire a P.R. image clean-up team.  To make ends meet, individuals who shunned the spotlight and worked on their art in virtual anonymity would be forced by current cultural standards to at least make some kind of attempt to market themselves in one way or another.

Granted, some artists do shun the spotlight and avoid attention and are still quite good.  They resist labeling, they resist succumbing to pressures to conform, they exist in some kind of obscurist vacuum where a handful of "friends" know about them ... though even their friends are quick to dismiss and criticize and label them "kooky" and "perverse" if pressed.  In forty years time - perhaps after they cease to exist in human form - the materials of these individuals' lifetime pursuits can be "discovered," brought out, "appreciated" and sold and marketed for a lot of money ... ironically after they themselves no longer require any kind of income to live, eat, travel and so forth.  A dead artist is a valuable artist, but not to the artist him/herself.  Some brave souls have managed to maintain their artistic integrity and still have steady careers - David Lynch (who has directed commercials and TV shows ... but on his terms), John Waters (who is a wonderful spokesman for himself) and Richard D. James (who may or may not be making music using multiple monikers), to name but three - but largely this is a difficult field to maneuver around and requires its own unique form of self-preservation and ingenuity.

So instead of being broke and dead, there's a solution: dance the good dance for the masters.  Since the majority of individuals attempting art have minimal talent, sell off what talent can be sold.  You're a vacuous actress who photographs yourself making the same face over and over and over again?  You think you're Audrey Hepburn?  You have teeth like a horse, and at certain angles you look like a skeleton spray-painted with skin (three cheers for anorexia, right?).  But hey, if you think you're desirable, and someone wants to pay you to pose in a picture and grin goofily, TAKE IT.  Wrote one song of catchy brilliance and seventy five others of half-baked acoustic mumbling?  Find that one gem of a single and SELL IT TO ANY COMPANY THAT ASKS FOR IT.  Made some atrocious documentary about some country you visited for five minutes that features not one but ten children starving with bugs crawling into their eyes?  You're such a suburb-dwelling humanitarian!  MARKET THAT to the bleeding hearts with no brains.  Came up with some dumb-shit art project that involves you laying in bed with multiple people as a reflection of your inner torment and dissatisfaction with intimacy?  Hell yeah, sister, male genitalia is ugly: you HANG THOSE PRINTS UP.  You're a famous celebrity and don't make enough on your per-film salary (in the millions) and want to go to Japan and make even more money telling those trendy people to buy your cologne that bears no resemblance to your natural odor because they can't make a fragrance that smells like a closeted homosexual?  SPRAY THAT RIGHT IN THEIR FACES.

What I'm saying is that we have things to pay for, and those things can get pricey, and working behind a desk and using one's free time to slave over one's art as a spiritual release from the monotony of everyday survival can and should be avoided.  Even if you're rich from mind-boggling luck and meager talents God bestowed upon you, you can always be more rich. Take the payments offered to you, sell yourself as if you mean nothing, never stand up for your principles, never covet your most precious creations, don't use your natural gifts to form an admirable body of work.  If you have millions to spare, don't even begin to consider using that treasure trove to fund the visions of basement-dwellers with minds of gold and stardust.  You don't have to be Henry Darger anymore (hell, you don't even have to know who Henry Darger was).  You just have to smile, do what you're told and watch that bank account skyrocket.  No lasting talent, no problem, right?

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