Do Musicians Have Any Business Starring in Ads?
It's a real testament to our consumerist culture that one of the biggest events of the year for many people is seeing a series of high-budget adverts in the midst of a sports game. A significant amount of people tune in to the Super Bowl every year not because they care about football or even the halftime show, but to see the clever ways businesses came up with to sell something to them.
Bob Dylan shoots pool for Chrysler -- does that make him a sellout?
That in itself is about the least counterculture, anti-establishment thing in the world, so it's no surprise that people are upset that a counterculture, anti-establishment icon like Bob Dylan starred in this year's Chrysler commercial. It's not the first time controversy like this has erupted either. Remember when John Lydon started shilling Country Life butter? So much for punk, right?
But let's take a serious look at this for a moment. This isn't about Bob Dylan, this is a larger issue. Is it really so wrong for musicians, regardless of their reputation, to appear in ads? Is it so wrong for them to use their image to sell us products?
It's a tough issue, especially if your perspective is rooted in the sort of DIY, underground, counterculture ethical philosophy that surrounds so many movements in music, whether the '60s protest folk scene from which Dylan exploded or the early punk and hip-hop movements. On the one hand, yes, this kind of marketing is totally averse to what these genres purport to stand for.
True, Dylan has personally scorned fans who would try to put him in a box and deprive him of doing whatever the fuck he feels like doing, be it going electric, releasing a Christian rock record or Christmas album, or even appearing a Chrysler commercial. But many others have staked their claim on artistic integrity, so that they would "sell out" is toxic to their ethos and their fans' adoration.
Tom Waits is one of those. He's stood his ground against companies trying to use his music for years, preferring not to be associated with the sale of a product. He's even fought it out in court over soundalikes and covers. That's all fine and dandy, and that's his prerogative. I'm sure his fans appreciate it.
But then you have a guy like John Lydon, who used to stand up for all things "punk" in his earliest days, then went and made a butter commercial. To his fans, it was a betrayal of everything they believed about him. The same could be said for Iggy Pop allowing his songs to be used to advertise cruises, even though the irony of a song as dark as "Lust for Life" promoting vacations is hilarious.
Who are we to criticize these guys for making money however they wish though? When Henry Rollins, a notable icon of the punk scene and one guy whose principles you probably cannot question, had his own show on IFC, he spoke on this issue.
What the former Black Flag singer says on the issue really rings true. So many who are now being used in commercials have struggled for years and years to support themselves based solely on the merits of their music. Does anyone believe that Mark E. Smith from the Fall is living in a mansion?
Fuck it. He deserves the paycheck of a commercial for all the years he's made uncompromising music, as well as decisions that have no doubt left him deeper in a financial hole than anything else.
Story continues on the next page.