What’s a Sellout Anyway?

April 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm (Uncategorized)

What is a sellout? Someone who betrays their principles for material glory – money and fame. I’m reminded of a debate I attended many years ago as a leftist. The Trotskyist group I was a part of was debating  the New Democratic Party and the International Socialists. The NDPer’s best argument, he thought, against accusations the NDP would sell out the workers, was that at least the NDP might be able to do so. My group, and the IS were so small and insignificant, we wouldn’t even get the opportunity. Still makes me chuckle.

Regarding the world of entertainment though, it’s a little trickier. After all, it’s the music business.

Probably the most famous accusation of selling out was the bitter fan who yelled “Judas” at Dylan for switching to electric rock ‘n’ roll.  Dylan though has made a career of not meeting the expectations of his fans (a lower moment for me was when he allowed the Bank of Montreal to use “The Times they are a-changin” for one of its commercials).

So, Dylan’s recent appearance in China along with a government approved set-list brough howls of protest again. Maureen Dowd’s column Blowing in the Idiot Wind  is no surprise, although somewhat incoherent. Dowd claims Dylan is a sellout, then insists he never stood for anything, but ultimately concludes he is a sellout.  Dowd also claims that Dylan’s appearance though, tops even the Beyoncé/Mariah Carey/Nellie Furtado Gaddafi-fest and Elton John’s performance at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding.

I’ll admit to a fair bit of shock after seeing a commercial for XBox’s Kinnect program which used the Gang of Four’s “Natural’s not in It.”  To be fair, the Go4’s new record is not that super, and they’ll never make another record as good as Entertainment!, so perhaps this is how they can carry on.  Andy Gill also suggested that they’ve always been interested in consumer anxiety, and admitted that he and singer Jon King both like video games.

But what was it Joe Strummer said?

“Every gimmick hungry yob digging gold from rock ‘n’ roll
grabs the mike to tell us he’ll die before he’s sold
but I believe in this and it’s been tested by research
that he who fucks nuns will later join the church”

(Death or Glory)

In the case of Beyoncé, Nellie and all the rest who later shamefacedly donated the money to charity,  I’m a little less upset. After all, they’re not sellouts – they never stood for anything.

On the other hand, Howie Klein, the former president of Repirase reocrds and the animator of the  Down with Tyranny blog, (and unfailingly described as a “prominent leftist blogger”  – I wonder if you can get that on a business card?), argues “that for very, very wealthy pop stars to take part in this sort of thing makes me want to puke.” 

At the end of the day, what is being posited is an ethical capitalism. One in which we choose to reward the good capitalists and punish the bad. I recently watched the 2000 Swedish film Together. Set in 1975, the film deals with a commune and the changes it encounters after one member’s sister and her kids move in. After compromising on television (which does prompt two departures), meat and other “socialist” principles, members draw the line at Coca-Cola because it’s a multi-national corporation.

Is Starbucks really fundamentally worse that Tim Hortons?  

As Marx put it in Capital

If money according to Augier, “comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,” capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.

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