Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is Selling Out Still a Four-Letter Word?

I haven't written in awhile, mainly because I've been busy and I haven't had a lot of interesting thoughts that I wanted to jot down. One could argue that I never really had a lot of interesting thoughts and that this Blog is nothing more than public mental masturbation about topics that no one cares about, but in order to save my sanity, I think I'm going to put that thought out of me gulliver.

Much better.

I've been watching a crap load of TV lately and there were a few things that struck me odd about two completely different shows that caught my attention. My wife loves E! much the same way I love McDonalds. We both know that both are terrible for you: it's full of empty calories, it rots your brain and ultimately it's not that satisfying but damn if it doesn't feel good while we watch/eat it. Anyhow, she was watching a show called “Kendra” which follows the trials and tribulations of Kendra Wilkinson. She's the former girlfriend of Playboy publisher and octogenarian Hugh Hefner's who is now married to Indianapolis Colt and Super Bowl goat Hank Baskett.

“Kendra” is a celebrity reality show and just about every episode is the same as the E! celebrity reality show that aired prior to this episode. Each show starts off with a problem or situation that Kendra has to figure out—and that's pretty much it. This particular episode dealt with the “leaking” of Kendra's sex tape that she made with a former boyfriend many years ago and how it affects her family. As part of the resolution to this problem, Kendra speaks with the ghost writer who's writing her autobiography.

This is where the fun begins because the guy interviewing her for the book is in his middle 30s and looked absolutely petrified. Not because Kendra Wilkinson is unbelievably gorgeous thus becoming tongue-tied—actually it was the opposite, she looked terrible. She had no make up on, had an infant on her hip and was inhaling three platters of room service while she spoke. The terror came from him asking her questions and Kendra giving the most insane, rambling, incoherent answers ever.

For example, he asked her what it was like growing up in San Diego without a father and she took him on a discombobulated word tour of how she once got in trouble for drinking while in class to illustrate how much of a handful she was. The key line was, “I was all wasted and then damn, I see the vice principal come in and oh man, I knew that he was just looking for me and then he's all like 'Kendra, come here.' and when I went I knew that I was in trouble.”*

* That's how she explained how her life was without a father. She's not intelligent enough to realize that she has major daddy issues which is why she shacked up with a senile old man who spends 95% of his life in his jammies and thinks that he's a ship captain on the other five percent.

Maybe I identified with this guy because I have been in his shoes many times. When I worked for the paper (The Revere Journal) there were plenty of times when I was doing an interview and the person answering my questions were careening out of control. What I would try to do is keep them talking and hope that once I got back to the office I was able to pull some sort of story out of this collection of nonsense and non-sequitors. Unfortunately for this writer, he has to write an entire book. And the worst part is that when the book is published and even though Kendra will see umpteen revisions and sign off on them, she's still going to say that she was misquoted.

This brings me to my second observation while watching a show that is also not geared to me or my demographic. My daughter loves PBS Sprout; from the detestable “Cailou” to the terrible “Dragon Tales” to the not-so-bad “Thomas and Friends”* she will watch this channel from morning until night if we let her. Since our parenting is that bad, we let her watch a few shows here and there OnDemand.

* “Thomas and Friends” is actually a pretty good show in that it shows kids that they aren't special, they're just a cog in the wheel and that if you don't do your job no one is going to feel sorry for you. Also, it teaches them people are going to make fun of you a lot for anything that is perceived as different or weak. The show was created by a real fire and brimstone English reverend who seemed to believe in John Stuart Mill and the utilitarian way of living. Everyone has a purpose, everyone must work towards the same goal, everyone must be useful. In fact, that is the highest compliment an engine can get on “Thomas and Friends” -- “You really are a useful engine!” The next generation of Socialists aren't coming from the White House, they're coming from Sprout.

Before the shows run, there is usually a commercial for something baby related. The one that has caught my attention and has wormed its way into my brain is one for diapers called the Potty Dance. It's pretty much this one old-ish, rocker dude who has a guitar and he implores kids to “Do the clap, clap potty dance!” for Huggies Pull-Ups. The song is as infectious as any pop song I've heard in years. And the weird thing is that the guy singing and strumming the guitar moves with the gait of a person who has been in countless bands that are just good enough to get signed, but not good enough to break through.

He actually seems as if he's enjoying himself when he's dancing around with a bunch of kids.

What's the point of these two anecdotes other than I need to learn to ignore the television when my wife or daughter have control of the clicker? The point is that both of these guys sold out at one point in their careers. And is this a good thing?

Writing diaper jingles and shit books (see what I did there?) pay the bills, I know that. They probably pay a lot of cash, but one of these guys looks absolutely devastated by his life choice while the other seems to be making the best out of it. You can see that Kendra's ghost writer possesses the 1,000-yard stare of a man who knows he made a huge mistake. I imagine that this guy worked his ass off in high school and college, writing, rewriting plays, shorts stories, a novel or maybe a screen play before he summoned up the courage to head out to California and try to sell his life's work.

And where did it get him? Listening to a celebrity whose only talent is fucking an 80-year-old guy without puking on him trying to justify her white-trash life and coherently explain why she's famous. And not only that, but he's got to take that insane jumble and fashion it into something interesting and cohesive. You know that he has hours and hours of Kendra listing out the food she has stocked in her cabinets. The tragedy of this is that the writer looks as if he's in his late 20s or early 30s and he knows that he's going to be resigned to a life like this. Because if he does well, he's got more idiots to interview. If he doesn't do well, then it's back to where he came from and selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door.*

* I know that this is a short-handed cliché for nebbish failure, but was there ever really a time when a person sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door? Why vacuum cleaners? I don't get this at all.

On the other hand, the guitar guy doesn't look that unhappy with his choice. He's a bit older, I bet that he's at peace with his life and the choices that he made. Now's the time he can settle into a cushy gig where he writes and performs jingles and not get too stressed out, it sure beats working in a cubicle every day where his only musical release is playing guitar to a bunch of ingrates at the local saloon.

When I was young and more idealistic I remember having a heated conversation with one of my roommates over the Led Zeppelin Cadillac commercial. My take was that Led Zeppelin didn't need the money (and really, who the fuck was I to decide that?) and that they're completely ruining their reputation (what?) by selling-out to Cadillac. My roommate's argument was basically, there's no such thing as artistic integrity in popular music and a song that I hold dear may be just a piece of crap to someone else. Turns out, my roommate was completely and totally right.

To me, this was insanity, real artists NEVER sold out. They just went from one commercially under-appreciated project to the next happy with the fact that while their talents may never garner them much in terms of money, they have our respect. What a load of crap. No one believes that though if they do, it's because they aren't famous and rich yet. At some point in a life, everyone sells out. Whether it's dropping the dream of becoming a famous writer or becoming your generation's guitar god, the bills have to get paid.

"I want people to say I’m a sellout. I sell out every night! As soon as you charge for a ticket, you’re in the game. As soon as you sell your first T-shirt, you’re in the game. And then you’re not just a musician—you’re a performer."

Gene Simmons of KISS said the above quote and while it's pretty disgusting in terms of artistic integrity, he does have a point. As soon as an artist sells something, he's sold out there are powers that he has to answer to. No one can do things independently, but there are roads that are less duplicitous to selling-out than the one good old Gene took.

What intrigues me about the two scenarios I wrote about is that one person looks (and this is the key word, folks) like he sold out a bit too early and the other person looks as if he sold out on time. When is the best time to cash in your chips? Ultimately, that is simply something that you have to figure out for yourself.