On Selling Out

blackman-selloutMaybe you noticed the opening sentence of my last blog post? It’s an ad. I got paid to write that sentence and link it to a Web-based proofreading service. Word-for-word, it’s the most money I’ve ever made as a writer in my entire life. I need money these days. My and N’s flights to Virginia for Xmas came to more than $1000, and then there’s presents, and so I dithered on whether to accept the invitation to sponsor one of my blog posts only because the teen I once was told me to. I never listened to him seriously.[1]

I wouldn’t trust a Web site to proof my copy the way a doctor wouldn’t run to WebMD for advice. Proofing copy’s maybe the one thing I feel trained to do. I can’t recommend the service, having never used it. When I pasted into the window of its homepage the opening paragraph of a forthcoming article of mine, which graf already got OK’d by my editor, it found 3 spelling issues, 1 issue of commonly confused words, 1 issue of wordiness, 1 use of the passive voice, 2 issues of punctuation within a sentence, and 3 issues with the writing style. I need to sign up for a trial to see precisely what these issues of style and wordiness are, but I’m not about to.

Look, I recognize that this online proofreader and other such sites are where we are in the world: individual outsourcing. The city I live in is the global center for people making sites and apps that other people can use to take care of such time-consuming tasks as finding a parking spot to learning driving directions. It’s maybe the opposite of a DIY culture. Rather than build your own Web site, you can have a blog. Rather than put together your own photo albums, you can use any Photo-sharing service. Rather than self-publish and distro a zine, you can post on social-media apps and rack up followers. No wonder knitting and pickling got so big around the time Facebook and Twitter did: our phones do everything for us now. Ours is a DNY culture.

More than my framed longbox of the Reality Bites soundtrack, this post is branding me as a child of the Nineties. Growing up, the worst thing I could imagine anyone being was a sellout, which while historically as slippery to define as ironic I understood as performing inauthentically for monetary gain. Abandoning one’s principles when it’s personally advantageous to do so.

What I want to do to end this post before it gets tedious and preachy is to ask a question. I don’t have enough readers to warrant a response, so I’ll go ahead and let it be leading. Has the participatory Internet (a.k.a. Web 2.0) turned us all into sellouts?

Or has reality television? Has anyone made famous via viral DIY videos ever turned down a book or TV offer in order to stay true to his or her vision? No. Because I don’t think there’s any cultural pressure to do so.

The final question is what’s the new selling out? What’s the new worst thing a person can do these days? My money’s on Not Be Funny. If there’s any cultural pressure I feel here, where we are in the world, it’s to be clever, to make jokes, to entertain.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Apologies to friend and correspondent Michael Martone for beginning a post about his great self-titled book with an ad.

One thought on “On Selling Out”

  1. I disagree about Not Being Funny. Many (most?) artists who are beloved are not funny. The most recent example that occurs to me is the adoration at the release of Beyoncé’s new and not funny visual experience.

    The only thing that I can think of at the moment that might equate to a new selling out is lying or being disingenuous to your audience. While fans love a performer’s or writer’s facade, they also want to believe that they know the performer behind that facade and don’t ever want to feel taken advantage of.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *