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MagazineWriting, Creativity & How-ToThe Art of Being a Sell Out

The Art of Being a Sell Out

Please, Someone, Show Me How

As a card-carrying member of Generation X, I distinctly remember the stigma associated with selling out. How could one not? The sentiment was everywhere, foaming from the lips of every artist and musician like a froth of anti-ambition. It was the plot of the film Reality Bites and the de facto ethos of those coming of age in the 90s. But what is selling out?

I looked it up. When it comes to music or art, “selling out” is adjusting creative work to appeal to a broader, commercial audience. For instance, if a musician changes their style to attract more listeners and make more money, longtime fans might criticize them as “selling out.”

It’s the old “I knew them before they were cool” trope from another angle. I’m not cool yet, but I am from Before, and I keenly remember being one of the few guys openly trying to sell out. I had what I thought was an enlightened take on the notion — it was less that I was selling out and more that others were buying in. But they weren’t buying in, try as I might. Sure, I could get gigs as a mid-market journalist, but that wasn’t writing as much as reporting.

Then there was Hollywood. I had some small breaks, but they only amounted to hairline fractures when breaking through in the biz.

But fast forward a couple of decades and a whole new generation is all about selling out, with no stigma, no shame (no shame generally), and smart think pieces about how it is economically necessary. Consider Bouree Lam’s piece in Refinery 29 — the title of which says it all: “Generation Sell Out: For Gen X, cashing in was a sin. But for millennials, what choice do we really have?” This was published in 2018. Old news. So, what’s happened in the intervening six years? Now, everyone is a creative, a maker, an influencer, or something else artist-adjacent, and the market is completely saturated. Also, get off my lawn.

What’s interesting to me is the preponderance of brands with which they work. Kids these days are plugging products. I don’t blame them. I had some product placement in Werewolf Serenade when I needed a local wine brand’s wine cave as a set, so the characters drink and even discuss the wine, which is slightly comic. 

Here’s an audio sample…

It’s not (too) glaring, and it’s a family-owned business, which is probably why I was able to make the deal at all. Ultimately, it was a community thing. Moreover, my co-star and I drank the wine in question, which was awesome. 🍷

If this is considered selling out, sign me up for more. I’ll write you a whole damn movie, and I’ll direct, star, and drink in it.

The Sell Out as a Major Motion Picture

“When an indie filmmaker desperate for funding agrees to incorporate product placement into his movie in exchange for wine, he uncorks a hilarious journey through the vineyards of compromise, creativity, and unexpected partnerships. The Wino — Rated R.”

Remember in 1994, when poet Allen Ginsberg sold his archive to Standford for a cool million? I do. It was 30 years ago this Summer. 

When he passed by our busking act in North Beach circa 95 with barely a glance, let alone a tip, my pal L. called Ginsberg a sell-out. Then, somehow, L. got the old Beat poet to come back and talk with me because I was a fan. The irony we had in the 90s was some good shit.

Sidebar: Here’s a satiric poem: 

I saw the best minds of my generation
destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical naked,
dragging themselves to the
Bank of America to make a seven-figure deposit.
— A. Gin$berg

Anyway, I’m peddling the new movie right now. As I talk to sales agents and distributors, it often comes up that I seem to have willfully and willingly sidestepped some commercial elements — like stars. They point out that my movie has no stars — only the dark night of the soul. 

I tried to get stars but ended up with a constellation of great actors instead. So there. I’m like  Andy Warhol; we’re making our own superstars. I know this is easier to do when you’re Andy Warhol and can count on everyone being famous for 15 minutes. I’m just trying to be famous to 15 people.

“During the hippie era people put down the idea of business.
‘Money is bad.’ And ‘working is bad.’ But making money is art. And working his art. And good business is the best art.”

Andy Warhol

The fact is, there’s a hiccup in my makeup that prevents me from being commercial or producing the kind of material that attracts commercial elements. I have artist DNA—it’s right next to the overabundance of Neanderthal genes and other genetic time bombs. 

It’s not that I won’t compromise — I AM compromised. Because, like you, I suspect, I still believe in art for art’s sake. And that it can pay. So we can make more of it. And that’s almost enough. Almost.

Daedalus Howell
Daedalus Howellhttps://dhowell.com
Welcome to one man's search for meaning through media making. Whether you're an active "creative," or an artist-adjacent culture serf, perhaps you will find my (mis)adventures in the screentrade, publishing, journalism and other arts edifying and inspiring — or at least mordantly humorous. More about me here.

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