Skip to Content
Arts And Culture

Selling Out Still Sucks

10:53 AM EST on February 13, 2023

Various famous people in Super Bowl ads

Everything sucks right now, at least a little bit. The sport that I enjoyed for about 58 minutes on Sunday night is a brain-damage delivery system. The monolith through which I bought clothes that fit my gender when I was too nervous to do so in person is fundamentally incompatible with workers' rights. The other monolith through which I get access to nearly every song I've ever heard cheaps out on musicians' paychecks. More artists than I care to list are abusive perverts and poisoned little freaks, even if their work has brought significant joy to my life.

But these ads really suck.

Something like 90 percent of the Super Bowl commercials this year used "Hey, look at that famous person!" instead of an actual idea. Every single break—sometimes for the entirety of the break—we viewers had to endure celebrities trying to connect with us little folks. There were famous people dancing, shouting, singing, saying their own names into the camera, acting out parts from their popular TV shows and movies, acting out parts from other people's popular TV shows and movies, and embarrassing themselves in all manner of annoying ways.

There used to be a phrase for this: selling out. Especially in rock music, "sellout" was an epithet so ubiquitous that Dan Ozzi used it as the title of his book about major-label debuts in the '90s and '00s. But the power of calling someone a sellout started to disintegrate, even among punks, when fans stopped buying CDs, and indie musicians struggled to pay the rent without licensing their songs to car companies and fast food restaurants.

And that's understandable in that limited sense. No one should go into debt because they're too proud to have their art associated with burritos. But when people who have already made far more money than I'll ever see in my lifetime turn what should be a last resort into a fifth vacation home, it makes me want to puke. Will Ferrell got $20 million per film. Elton John's farewell tour is the most lucrative of all time. Serena Williams, in conjunction with her husband, could probably buy the whole Super Bowl and turn it into a fifth tennis major. If they're not avoiding eviction, and they're not producing anything of value, then what are these assholes doing besides bothering us?

The pushback to this year's plague of bastardized creativity has felt pretty light. I think all the way back when Dylan started hawking lingerie, most of the stragglers threw up their hands. It's easy for the sheer brokenness of our society to push you into a nihilism that looks a lot like "get that bag" culture, playing the get-out-of-jail-free-card that is "there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, so why try?" But I still care. There remains a gigantic difference between stuff that is cool but also has problems and stuff that is irritating and formulaically designed solely to separate you from your money. Every millionaire involved in the latter deserves your contempt.

What does caring get me? I don't know. I can't imagine Adam Driver minds that I'm sneering while I type his name. I'll even keep going to his movies when they seem like they're good. But when I see a constant flow of low-effort craps that infect our ears with algorithmically generated nonsense, that tell millions of sports fans to risk thousands of dollars with a few taps on their phone, that force us to sit through the richest people in the world getting off on the fact that they remember the '80s, I have to believe there's some way to reverse this. We need to bring back shame, for the good of the culture.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter