What is "selling out"?
January 16, 2004 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Calling all artist-types! How do YOU define the term "selling out?"
posted by ferociouskitty to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When making money eclipses creative concerns on a given project. But not before then. It's good to make money off of your work, and even to channel your efforts into areas that you know are more lucrative than others (for instance, doing essays and creative nonfiction instead of endlessly unfinished novels), as long as market appeal isn't the driving force.

Like, if Smashmouth do indeed write songs purely for eventual use in commercials (and I'll bet American money that they do), they have sold out. But if the Flaming Lips appear in bunny suits in an HP commercial, they have not, at least unless the follow-up disc to Yoshimi includes a song about the greatness of HP.
posted by COBRA! at 1:22 PM on January 16, 2004

you just got a sponsorhip deal?
posted by andrew cooke at 1:24 PM on January 16, 2004

i think you should also add to COBRA!'s recipe something along the lines of remaining true to whatever ideals you were pushing before you got money (it's a little odd to see (ex-)anarchists complaining about copyright abuse, for example).
posted by andrew cooke at 1:28 PM on January 16, 2004

Here's a pretty interesting Dave Eggers rant about the concept of selling out. Weirdly, he also invokes the Flaming Lips.
posted by COBRA! at 1:32 PM on January 16, 2004

hum "mull of kintyre".
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:44 PM on January 16, 2004

Personally, I think it really depends on what you're talking about, and I tend to find the term extremely overused. A musician/artist who does his/her own work for artistic/personal/whatever reasons is not selling out if they also do commercial work to pay the bills. It stands to reason that something you're doing for a client will not have the same creative concerns as something you're doing for yourself.
posted by biscotti at 1:45 PM on January 16, 2004

I'm going with Potter Stewart on this one. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.
posted by Skot at 1:49 PM on January 16, 2004

As long as you're doing something that engages you and into which you throw all your energy, you haven't sold out, even if it is hugely profitable and even if you chose it partly or wholly because it is hugely profitable. As long as you are being the best you can be at whatever you choose to do, you can laugh at anyone who calls you a sellout.

If you're phoning it in, yet still raking in the cash, then you've sold out.

It's not wrong to change your mind (i.e. your ideals). In fact, it's healthy to do it once in a while.
posted by kindall at 1:49 PM on January 16, 2004

If you wake up in the middle of the night, stare at the ceiling and think to yourself "Have I sold out?"...you have.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:54 PM on January 16, 2004

The moment when one stops enjoying their craft.
posted by Dick Paris at 1:56 PM on January 16, 2004

The moment you accept anything of value (money, services, applause) for something you created.
posted by mischief at 1:57 PM on January 16, 2004

Even your own personal satisfaction, mischief?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:19 PM on January 16, 2004

I don't believe in the concept of selling out. I just think it's a way for an audience to write off an artist's creative output without considering it.

Not coincidentally, I think Dave Eggers is right on the mark.
posted by rocketman at 2:41 PM on January 16, 2004

I guess you sell out when you change the content of a given creative project in hopes that it will be more profitable. But this whole concept is sort of problematic in that it's hard for me to believe that anyone would create something with absolutely no regard for what other people would think of it. It seems like, if only on a subconcious level, it's impossible to create something without some hope for some level of acceptance by other people. It seems impossible not to sell out in some sense, at some point in your life. Do I like the word some? Yes.
posted by sklero at 2:44 PM on January 16, 2004

Salvador Dali: Sell out.

Bikini Kill: Not sell outs.

You: Probably somewhere in that grey middle ground...

For example, take...

Kurt Cobain: Kind of a sell out, but not really, because he thought better of it and died.

It's all pretty meaningless in the end, though. But hey, what isn't?
posted by kaibutsu at 2:49 PM on January 16, 2004

Jeff Koons.
posted by machaus at 2:57 PM on January 16, 2004

However, Bikini Kill: Sellouts?
(Not that NOFX can talk... everyone's a goddamn sell out.)
posted by Jimbob at 3:02 PM on January 16, 2004

To expand on what rocketman sez, I think "selling out" is one of the most bogus, and unexamined, formulations in the English vernacular.

There hasn't been an "avant-garde" or bohemia in any real sense in at least forty years, so as far as I'm concerned, get what you can for what you do, sheeeeit.

BTW, Jeff Koons is incapable of "selling out" in any event, never having possessed anything resembling either talent or integrity.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:06 PM on January 16, 2004

There is, however, that phenomenon we've long known, but for which we didn't have a name until "jumping the shark." By this token, David Bowie should have given up right around the time he realized that by far the best track on each of his albums was the obligatory Iggy cover.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:09 PM on January 16, 2004

"selling out?": going against one's own ethics/values.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:10 PM on January 16, 2004

Swamp Dogg: Investor
posted by y2karl at 3:46 PM on January 16, 2004

sellout - word used by those who are dissapointed with their own lives, aimed towards other individuals who are far more rich than they themselves will ever be.
posted by bradth27 at 3:48 PM on January 16, 2004

Nah, bradth27, you can be a sell-out and still be poor. For instance, if you try to sell out but fail. It's definitely a state of mind, rather than an activity, as the verb would suggest it is.

Mick Jagger: Sell-out
Keith Richards: Not a sell-out
posted by Hildago at 3:50 PM on January 16, 2004

I am a writer.

To pay the bills, I am a copywriter. This, in essence makes me a "word whore," ie I write gushingly about whatever my employer wants even if I don't give a shit about it. Thankfully, my name does not appear underneath any of this crap that I write, but I consider myself a sell-out. That said, I consider myself a sell-out with integrity: I turn down work from companies I find repugnant (ie, x10.com and Herbalife). Perhaps it's a line in the sand, but I cling to it.

Strangely, I find it much easier to be a copywriter than a magazine editor. Magazines PRETEND to be all about editorial integrity, but at their core their controlled by advertisers. (Exceptions to the rule: Cook's, Harpers, and other non-advertisement based publications.) If you're going to be a sell-out, at least be honest about it.
posted by arielmeadow at 4:16 PM on January 16, 2004

What part of 'accept' don't you understand, DA? ;-P
posted by mischief at 4:42 PM on January 16, 2004

Sell out... sell out... If there is such a thing, I'd say... if you do something outside of your own sense of integrity, just for money. This is a wholly personal thing, everyone has their internal motivations - what a thing looks like on the outside has really no bearing on whether someone has 'sold out' or not.

Of course, as others have said, it's often used just as a way to dismiss a creative endeavor, and although money is so useful for, say, rent, food, etc., it's immediately EVIL in this context according to many. Ahhh, well.
posted by thunder at 6:50 PM on January 16, 2004

As a budding orchestral viola player, I was once asked to do some live shows with Louis Clark of Hooked on Classics fame. Dressed in white tux and with a mic clipped to my bridge, I played medleys of Top 40 classics scored for full orchestra plus rhythm section, while being caressed by laser lights, strobe effects and gallons of stage smoke. The capacity audience, who had paid up to £75 for their tickets, went wild.

I got paid less than musicians' union minimum for playing bastardised Mozart, Beethoven and Rimsky-Korsakov together with drum kit & guitars. For some reason, I don't play for a living anymore.
posted by cbrody at 7:07 PM on January 16, 2004

Well, when I was in art school selling out meant you chose the colors for your painting to match the client's couch.
posted by konolia at 7:23 PM on January 16, 2004

The moment you accept anything of value

Well, we've staked out one end of the bell curve...

It seems impossible not to sell out in some sense

...and there's the other.

Aim somewhere in the middle.
posted by ook at 8:23 PM on January 16, 2004

Eh. The whole concept of selling out annoys me-- it strikes me as some measure of envy held against someone who actually becomes successful.

I suppose selling out, though, would be someone who creates a work for the sole purpose of making money, designed to cater to people who will give them money. This involves going against your own morals and standards of artistry, and yeah, if you start wondering if you've sold out, you probably have.

Though, I have nothing against an artist/musician/etcetera who happens to be able to turn something they love to do into a lucrative endeavor. I'd rather spend the rest of my life supporting myself on what I love doing, than some miserable two-bit job that leaves me starving in a turret just so I'm not considered a sell-out.
posted by precocious at 11:08 PM on January 16, 2004

Unless you can, hand-on-heart, do and say what your potential employer/sponsor wants, and know that it is what you would say yourself regardless of cash, you're a sell-out.

In other words you're a sell-out if you're not being true to yourself.

Hmmm... Nestle is going to pay me a big wad for their new KitKat campaign ... maybe I was a bit harsh on them for their African Babyfood crime-against-humanity, all of a sudden.

Joe Bloggs, the local roofer, wants an ad for the local paper. Is he a good guy? ... HOW much? (Who cares if he's a good guy and scams little old ladies?)

It's all about your own moral integrity.

Is capitalism against your principles?
Don't do work for your local supermarket, but do it for your local co-op. Reverse that and you're a sell-out to your own principles.*

Anytime you say something you don't believe for cash, or personal advantage: you're a sell-out. Anytime you betray your principles, beliefs or ethics for money or advantage, you're a sell-out.

*There's a get-out if it's the only way you can live, but not if that work is 'artistic': stacking shelves for the local capitalist-pig-Wal*Mart, if it's what you need to do to feed your family, is forgivable; using your talent to help them rape another small town wouldn't be. It's all about your 'voice'.

I reckon.
posted by Blue Stone at 4:20 AM on January 17, 2004

Clearly the idea of "selling-out" means very many different things to different people, so one would have diffiiculty navigating this course according to the (ever-conflicting, relatively arbitrary) criteria of others. My answer would be that when what you do feels wrong to you, then that is the point at which you've sold out. If I were wondering about this in myself, and for whatever reason did not feel that I had a reliable personal compass to follow, I would choose one person whom I admired, respected and trusted, and ask them to provide a guiding hand.
posted by taz at 5:49 AM on January 17, 2004

you all have two minutes to start humming before i send in the frog chorus.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:49 AM on January 17, 2004

You say 'sell out' like it's a BAD thing. ;-P
posted by mischief at 6:51 AM on January 17, 2004

Unless you can, hand-on-heart, do and say what your potential employer/sponsor wants, and know that it is what you would say yourself regardless of cash, you're a sell-out.

In other words you're a sell-out if you're not being true to yourself.

I disagree with this first bit, agree with the second.

I am a reporter at a small newspaper, where I make very little money. It's true, I accept money for my work. But this is what I love to do -- something I consider a calling, and something I am passionate about.

I can see two ways I could sell out at this. I could compromise my own integrity by altering a story to please an editor, publisher, advertiser, for unethical reasons (changing wording because an editor tells me that a sentence doesn't make sense is not unethical, and is a pretty good idea). I could also quit and take a better paying job doing just about anything. Teachers make more money than me -- and they get more vacation, better benefits, retirement plans, etc. I quit writing to become a teacher, I would be selling out because I would be giving up my dream for financial comfort.

On the other hand, I have friends who worry they may be selling out when they take high-paying jobs, and I don't think it has to be the case. Your career is just one part of your life, and for most people a job is how they pay the bills not a source of higher satisfaction. If you're one of those people -- if you express your creativity outside of work -- then I don't think you're a sellout by accepting a job that also helps you pay the bills.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:39 AM on January 17, 2004

a great quote from Jerry Garcia when asked about his 'new' line of neckwear was: "Hey, If Spike Lee can sell out, so can I."
posted by eastlakestandard at 3:55 PM on January 17, 2004

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