I always respect those who upon realizing they no longer believe in their beliefs have the stones not only to admit it, but to change. Unless of course, they’re a sellout, which naturally voids any respect they might have earned had their motives been genuine.
That idea-that fine line between whorish worthlessness and reflective maturity- is so incredibly difficult to pin down, that is who is what, and in what capacity. Should we respect those who change or resent them for lacking a spine? Though it is indeed more appropriate to judge each case on an individual basis, its still a fascinating topic that deserves to be looked at a more general level.
God knows that nearly every successful music group has been accused of selling out. So instead of adding fuel to the fire, I’d like to break down what entails whoring it for the man, and legitimate artistic growth.
The first necessity, of either extreme, is to be a genuine artist. For instance, you can’t accuse Simple Plan or Madonna of selling out, due to the fact that their entire existence was created in some corporate boardroom. Their success has to be based on something other than looks or sex appeal, and their fans not only need to be older than 12 but also capable of speaking without constant reliance on the word “like.” You probably shouldn’t get pissed at some moron from school for swinging like a pendulum in the political spectrum, because in reality, they had no vested interest in their past beliefs anyway. On the other hand, however, you also cannot respect them for sticking to their guns when in all likelihood; those guns were stolen from someone else.
Take Incubus, for instance. In the mid-nineties they were one of the hardest, least radio-friendly bands around. It was a group so stoned that the chorus “High Like Us” probably isn’t their most blatant drug reference. Incubus was a group that was incredibly heavy, incredibly hard, and incredibly fast but despite their merited self-respect and underground following- even some mainstream success- they gave it up. Well, they didn’t give it up on purpose; rather they alienated every single one of their fans with two horrific albums in a row. Albums that were obviously attempts to ride the current trends-trends that, naturally, were wholly followed by stupid teenage chicks. They wrote songs that said “Hey, we had an acoustic hit on the last album, lets re-write it with different words and give it a new name” and “That indie stuff seems popular-I bet a weird music video might give us some credibility.”
As the legendary Bruce Dickinson said, there is an “unspoken contract between the band and the audience” that creates certain expectations. These same expectations exist in nearly every other facet of life, for better or for worse. You’re a novelist-write a novel, not a biography. You’re actor-FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST ACT! You’re a conservative-then be conservative. If you’re not any of those things, just admit it and everything will be fine.
Apart from media and entertainment, there exists the more crucial (and more common) action of changing belief systems. Like a religious conservative who decides Republicans have been lying this whole time, or a liberal who finally acknowledges the hypocrisy of the party’s beliefs.
The idea of selling out applies, much more personally I might add, to everyday life. Friends who you thought genuinely believed in what they said turn out to be attention whores, and politicians you thought held deep principles sold themselves for votes. The person who you thought was kindred spirit, the one who mocked the shallowness of elitist hypocrites but joined them just months later, hasn’t matured; he’s abandoned his principles. There is a stark difference between admitting, “Dude, I’ve been wrong this whole time” and simply pretending to never have thought such things.
I truly do respect those who decide they’ve grown out of their beliefs, whether liberal or conservative, because nothing takes more balls than a deep introspective look at yourself. Even more difficult is the task of coming up with new beliefs, and admitting all the times that you were wrong.
Such was Joe Eszterhas, the famous scriptwriter (Basic Instinct, Flashdance, Jagged Edge and Music Box) and Hollywood playboy, who not only saw the folly in his past, but moved on to a more rewarding future. After realizing the farce and isolated nature of Hollywood, he found religion and moved to what he called “the real America” in Ohio. Not only that, but he campaigned against the immorality and substance abuse that he himself once publicly endorsed. This is something to respect-a far cry from the John Kerry “I voted for it before I was against it” style of finger-to-the-wind politics.
The difference between someone who sold out and someone who has moved on is that one admits it and revels in it, while the other says “I appeared in that acne commercial because I believed in the product, not because I needed some cash.” Maturity is self-justifying, meaning that if someone is defending their switch from rock to country, it’s probably a move based on reasons other than principle.
Whether someone sold out or bought in is indeed a difficult question, one that is in most cases fairly relative. There are, however, certain actions which are just unacceptable. Take for instance, the Metallica-Ja Rule collaboration, an obvious attempt on both sides to grab fans from other genres. While that might be commonplace in politics, in music it’s called being a douchebag. You can sue Napster, write crappy music, or kick out your bassist for wanting to write better ones, but collaborating with a rapper that even rap fans think sucks is the epitome of selling out.
I wish I could lay down basic rules for what constitutes selling out and what deserves respect for the difficulty involved in overcoming personal ignorance, but I can’t. What I can do, however, is stress the importance of honesty. There is no more accurate judge in these matters than the truthfulness of the person, group or concept in question. Look to see if the change is, at the very least, acknowledged. A sellout doesn’t think they’ve changed while someone with a new outlook on life cannot refrain from telling people how wrong they used to be. A mature person is proud of their journey, but a whore, a sellout, and an attention junkie thinks they are more down to earth than ever. If they’re sensitive about changing, it’s probably because they’ve subconsciously realized it but don’t want to admit it.
Lastly though, I’d like to advocate being the latter, the one who matures, the grower and the thinker. The person who, upon making a mistake (and we all do, I might add), realizes it and admits it. The person who after said purge refuses – even in the face of wealth or peer pressure – to give an inch on their principles.
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