Saturday, October 10, 2015

On Selling Out

In a recent post, Freddie Deboer wrote:
We have lived through a period of studied artistic populism that I have written far too much about already. An aspect of this change has been a persistent microgenre of essays arguing that “there’s no such thing as selling out.” Often packaged with the annoying (and flatly false) attitude that this argument is novel and daring, these essays appear with periodic frequency, reassuring their readers that the challenge of anti-commercialism is just one of the many artistic challenges that we can now safely discard. As is typical with arguments that tell capitalism what it wants to hear, there’s a fussy, desperate nature to these pieces; you can really feel the sweaty effort as people convince themselves that everything is already good. But look, they’re playing with house money, at this point. That there’s no such thing as selling out has risen to that rarefied territory of being an orthodoxy that represents itself as apostasy, and people believe it, and will go on believing it, and they daily slap on more paper mache to that creation. There’s no such thing as authenticity, don’t you know.
I'm a little older than Freddie, but enough to remember a time when populism was anathema to creativity or integrity. In a lot of ways, the model of success has changed for the better. Artists have more resources than they did fifteen, twenty, or even five years ago. The start on an indie, move to a major label and hope you aren't forced to sacrifice  your integrity doesn't really exist as a business model anymore, but music has managed to become even more homogenized. The "elitism is bad" (meaning racist, sexist, etc.) trope is a fairly new one, in my world at least. Although I agree that the idea that pop music, in no small way dominated by women and people of color, is "commerce," while real music, mostly created by white men with acoustic guitars, is art is problematic, it's become unacceptable to even suggest that some things are objectively better than others. (To the point that even I feel obligated to -- groan -- check my own musical privilege. Mmm. Lots of white guys with guitars.) Pop music can be great, even transcendent, and "indie" can be shit (especially when a concept like "indie rock" becomes co-opted by the mainstream to the point that the term is essentially meaningless, not to mention embarrassing). But to suggest that "it's all good," is, like all criticism formed along ideological lines, just plain lazy. And like everything else, a victim of leftist overreach.