"Selling out"

Dave Eggers about the common practice of criticizing artists for "selling out":
[T]his sellout manual serves only the lazy and small. Those who bestow sellouthood upon their former heroes are driven to do so by, first and foremost, the unshakable need to reduce. The average one of us – a taker-in of various and constant media, is absolutely overwhelmed – as he or she should be – with the sheer volume of artistic output in every conceivable medium given to the world every day – it is simply too much to begin to process or comprehend – and so we are forced to try to sort, to reduce. We designate, we label, we diminish, we create hierarchies and categories.

Through largely received wisdom, we rule out Tom Waits’s new album because it’s the same old same old, and we save $15. U2 has lost it, Radiohead is too popular. Country music is bad, Puff Daddy is bad, the last Wallace book was bad because that one reviewer said so. We decide that TV is bad unless it’s the Sopranos. We liked Rick Moody and Jonathan Lethem and Jeffrey Eugenides until they allowed their books to become movies. And on and on. The point is that we do this and to a certain extent we must do this. We must create categories, and to an extent, hierarchies.

But you know what is easiest of all? When we dismiss.

Oh how gloriously comforting, to be able to write someone off. Thus, in the overcrowded pantheon of alternarock bands, at a certain juncture, it became necessary for a certain brand of person to write off The Flaming Lips, despite the fact that everyone knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that their music was superb and groundbreaking and real. We could write them off because they shared a few minutes with Jason Priestley and that terrifying Tori Spelling person. Or we could write them off because too many magazines have talked about them. Or because it looked like the bassist was wearing too much gel in his hair.

One less thing to think about. Now, how to kill off the rest of our heroes, to better make room for new ones?
I don't believe for a second that the practice Eggers criticizes is due to constraints in terms of time, money and attention. If that were the case, you might as well not listen to any bands whose names start with any of the letters M-Z or some such thing. The real reasons, I think, are:

1. It is central to many people's identities to be different from the masses, and liking artists that only a select few are well-informed and wise enough to like helps stabilize such an identity. When your preferred artists become popular, they don't serve that purpose anymore. And friends-turned-neutrals are often treated like enemies.

2. The people described above are often politically left-leaning, the kind that think big companies are bad, full stop. Whatever you think of that view, it is internally consistent to hold it against artists if they collaborate with the enemy.

3. Nobody likes a hypocrite. I used to know a musician who told me his band would never play on a corporate-sponsored stage. Guess what happened when they became popular enough to actually be asked.

4. Artists aren't randomly assigned to popularity. It often comes with their art actually becoming more mainstream. Listen to Nirvana's first album, Bleach, then to Nevermind. If you think that Nevermind was a bigger hit simply because it was released by a bigger label, you need a new set of ears. One way to express that you, who dislikes mainstream stuff, disapprove of the move, is to say that "they've sold out."

But what baffles me most is why Eggers cites U2 as an example. Did anybody ever consider them cool? I doubt it.

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