I want the first article of Volume III to be about something meaningful and something close to heart. So today, I’m going to talk about making money from what you’re doing and how that might not be so bad. I recently watched Exit Through the Gift Shop with my mother (hi mom) and we had a very violent disagreement about what we took away from the movie afterwards. We didn’t throw things at each other, but there was a lot of yelling. We like yelling in my family, it can occasionally be constructive. I was likely a gigantic douche, but who cares, the past is in the past. However, what we can do going forward is first, vow to never resolve differences by shouting. Or with shouting involved at any point in the process. And the second thing we can do is establish a few clear boundaries between parts of this industry. For instance, there’s a difference between being a poser and being a sellout.
A poser, in the vernacular, is someone who says they are one thing, when they’re really faking it. Like a wannabe, only they’re trying to sell themselves as the real thing. And I’ve always been uncomfortable being a poser and I’ve always felt uncomfortable around people who are desperate to convince me that I should take them seriously. It’s just not my deal. But at some point in our lives as creative people, we all have to be posers. We all have to say we’re things that we’re not–for instance, at the moment, I’m saying I’m a writer or that I’m worth listening to. Clearly not, just being another blog in a sea of hundreds, but with practice, time and a whole lot of luck, I hope to improve my station in this respect. But a person is someone who will constantly deny that they’re a poser. A poser is someone who will constantly tell you how expert they are and never demonstrate expertise. Basically, a poser is someone like Uwe Boll or Zack Snyder or Howard Stern: so convinced of their own greatness, they either are an utter laughing stock or, through some perverse machination of fame, convince everyone around them that they are actually that great. Like Lady Gaga!
A sellout is like a poser, but not really. A sellout is seen with the same disdain, and it used to be that they were similar. It used to be that someone who had sold out had compromised their artistic integrity to turn a buck, but with the paranoid and distrusting nature of the Reagan era, a sellout became anyone who made money doing what they liked. A sellout became Green Day, who started making money to bring the same punk they played in small clubs to arenas. (For those interested, Green Day sold out at the response to American Idiot, no sooner.) A sellout became anyone who turned a profit making something that appealed to people, and it stopped being about the loss of integrity and started being about money envy. Because someone else was getting attention when they shouldn’t be, they’d obviously sold out. Not true. And I’m here to say, right here and right now, that there’s nothing wrong with being a sellout. There is nothing wrong with making your music or movies or whatever sell to people while still expressing the artistic impulses you feel at its inception.
But there is everything wrong with being a poser.
Remember back in Vol. 1 when I said I couldn’t understand why I like Michael Bay as a person but absolutely hate his movies? I’ve figured it out in writing this article. Michael Bay may be a hack, Michael Bay may make terrible movies with juvenile attitudes toward everything from sex to the military and authority, but the last thing Michael Bay can be is anyone but Michael Bay. He makes his movies his way and he has zero pretensions to doing anything else. When people say his movies suck and he says “They aren’t meant to win Oscars”, that doesn’t mean he’s ignoring the fact that they suck even at what they’re supposed to do. That’s him saying “They’re meant to please me and teenage boys and get their bums in seats”. And if that’s a way to get guys like that into cinema, using Michael Bay’s over-indulgence as a gateway to smarter trash like Tarantino or Miike, I’m happy. Even if it doesn’t, Michael Bay has never said he’s here to make Casablanca, and I can get behind that.
It’s the kind of thing that makes me feel sick to look at people like Lady Gaga. And I know you’re all going to say, “oh, but she’s being up front about what she’s doing too!” No, she really isn’t. She’s saying she cares about you, she’s saying you matter to her, and in her feature on 60 Minutes, you know what she said was most important to her? That she had mastered the “art of fame”. Not that she’d made good music or that she’d improved people’s lives or given young girls a beacon of independence upon which to base their aspirations. No, to her, the most important thing in her life is that she’s succeeded. Not that she’s good at what she’s successful at, but simply that she’s succeeded. And in the words of Randall Munroe, “I never trust anyone who’s more excited about success than about doing the thing that they’re successful at.”
Is that a naive and idealistic thing to say? Yes, yes it is. Is that another nail in the coffin of my generation as people insist we’ve never grown up and never will? Yes, yes it is. But I’d like to remind the sixty year olds telling me I’m an overgrown child and that I’m a pie-in-the-sky optimist and that I’ll see it the way they do by the time I’m their age that they were the generation who brought us Woodstock, hippies, the civil rights movement and the saying “don’t trust anyone over 30”.
Volume III, mother████er. Ain’t pullin’ no punches.