josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | april 2018
What is the line between artistic integrity and greed? When does it go from earning a living and the cost of doing business to "show me the money"? When does it become about how much you can make rather than what you want to make?
There are websites and radio programs and video shows out there that consist of what used to be called "radical" content, even in terms of pop culture radicalism. These sites now all have commercials and advertisers. Does this mean they have sold out to the man? Hell, my own content has sponsors and advertisers, so I must have sold out as well. Where is the line?
Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying an artist can't make money or even get filthy sleeping on a pile of money with many beautiful ladies rich without selling out. What I am saying is that when you make art for the purpose of making money, you are not an actual artist. If you can make true art and make money, that's the perfect balance, but that is rarely the case. Most writers, cartoonists, commercial artists, musicians, commentators, etc., have two styles they employ: one for themselves (art) and one for commercial interests (commerce/business). When the only thing you create is for the business interest then you have betrayed not only the art itself but yourself as well. If the art can make money while retaining pure artistry, that is the goal, not the other way around.
My content is not made with commerce in mind. I make nothing from this column. My videos? Bah, I have made like $29 in two years. The radio shows? I make nothing from them directly and only indirectly from a sponsorship deal and that is still far less than it costs to create and curate the content. I do these things because I have a voice I want to get out there, I have a point to get across, I have an idea I want to float, I have something funny to say, etc., but I would also like to eat now and then, too. At times the lines get blurred.
Was it selling out when William Burroughs did a Nike commercial near the end of his life? No, it was his only means of support. Despite changing American fiction, he was destitute and receiving next to nothing from all of the books and short stories he wrote. He had been left behind by the people whose lives he helped change. He had no other income, so who can begrudge an old man a way to feed himself and pay his rent?
Was it selling out when Harlan Ellison did a car commercial in the '70s? Again, not really. Ellison was at a point where he needed the money. George Carlin doing the 10-10-220 commercials in the 1990s? He was being raped by the IRS over his taxes and needed the money to stay out of prison. Notice I keep saying, “needed." When you are going to lose your house, have no way to feed yourself or are going to go to jail if you don't get the money, making something for the money is not selling out, it's survival. The lines are hazy.
Henry Rollins once ranted about punk and metal bands being called sellouts and his assertion was they were not, a point I agree with, in theory as demonstrated above. Rollins spoke of these bands that after 30 years of being in the trenches ask themselves “Why can't we have some comfort for our years of hard work?" I have no problem with that, however, I have a problem when it's bands that made their music rallying against the system and against corporate America and against the commercial establishment, which they now look to suckle from. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols unironically making commercials for butter is selling out. The Ramones music being used in cell phone commercials makes me sick. The Violent Femmes, the Buzzcocks and Iggy Pop to name a few more have all had their songs used (with permission) in commercials for superfluous products. At least we never heard the Dead Kennedys in an ad for Levi's. If not for Jello Biafra standing his ground (and getting sued by his former band mates) Levi's would have used "Holiday in Cambodia" as part of a jeans campaign. Biafra got sued for blocking the leaches attempts to sell the song; they claimed he was standing in their way of making a living from their music. Rather than make new music they simply wanted to cast aside integrity for the sake a quick buck. At least someone out there stands up for artistic integrity and does not cave when a dump truck full of money drives up to the house. Unlike Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They have sold out their creation in every way they can (and a few that should not have been possible even). They are not artists; they are businessmen. As soon as TMNT (the comic) started to get popular they said, "Who'll start the bidding?" Art made for commercial means is not art; it is a product. The line is opaque.
Even worse is a band like Metallica who went and changed their sound and style not out of musical evolution, but out of the want to get on the radio and get mainstream acceptance. They wanted to be a huge group and if that meant changing their style to radio-friendly sellout metal, so be it. They stopped caring about being musicians and decided they wanted to be rock stars. Back when their video for "One" first premiered on “Headbangers Ball," they said it was going to be their only music video ever and "if you ever see another video from Metallica, it means we sold out". As soon as I saw the video for "Enter Sandman," I screamed sellouts and they have done so every chance they get since then.
I also consider charging fans for autographs at conventions to be selling out. They have supported your work and they have purchased your magazine/DVD/videotape/photo/comic/toy or whatever and you want to charge them $25 to sign your name to it? Screw you. How dare you posit that your scribble is worth real money in this day and age? Guests at conventions should have a scarlet letter on their chests. I have never and will never pay for a signature, nor will I charge for one.
Merchandise like t-shirts and posters are not selling out in my book. That is part of promoting and that helps get your art out there. I will not rag on merchandising if it is done in moderation. Key word: moderation. When you only make the content as an undercover advertisement for the product then you are a salesman and not an artist (Logan Paul comes to mind here).
Now, to most people, I'm likely splitting hairs here, and some of you are going to call me out for accusing people like those above of selling out all the while having my own sponsor, but there is a big difference to what I am doing and what others are doing. I feel there is a line between being a sellout and being an artist and it's a very foggy area indeed but an area nonetheless. Remember even if you won't sell yourself out, there are always going to be people that are more then willing to sell you out for you. They come at you with smiles and outstretched hands and promises of taking you to wonderland, if you take them too. Watch who you get into deals with; don't let them dictate your art to you and for god's sake stay true to the art and not the commerce.
A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.