Who Are You Calling a Sellout?

Garrett Hartman




Accusations of being a “sellout,” “poser” or any variation thereof has been prevalent not just in rock and roll, but all music, and even art, for as long as culture has existed.

 Whatever derogatory term fans come up with to refer to those they dub  “ingenuine,” attempts at maintaining the “purity” of a fan group is a natural consequence of people’s desire for cultural capital and social validation.

 With the endless supply of content and information the internet provides, there are plenty of  niche bands for small subcultures to base their narrow definitions of musical genres upon.

 Punk is probably the genre most associated with posers or sellouts, and rightfully so. With punk’s inherent ties to rebellion against mainstream culture and very often  political goals or beliefs, it makes sense that people would defend this culture they identify with.

 However, it's arguable this sort of elitism undercuts the political and ideological goals of punk  and rock music more generally.

 While the criteria for being a sellout varies from person to person, mainstream success is  often what makes a band fall from grace in the eyes of the more discerning in certain communities.  This makes sense from the perspective of attaining cultural capital. After all, the more people  who know about something, the less valuable the individual's interest in it becomes.

 However, from the perspective of the ideals musical genres often stand for, mainstream success  should be considered a good thing. Getting the political beliefs of a punk band in the ears of large groups of people does more for furthering that cause than fans who already agree with the band’s ideas and listen to their music on repeat.



While critics make valid points in their assertion that mass appeal drives artists to make more  generic crowd-pleasing content, this is not necessarily true. The notion that mass success  guarantees watered-down content is false.

 One needs just to look at the situation concerning Facebook (now Meta) to see that  controversial content sells -- seemingly more so than generic content.

 While it is undeniable that money is a corrupting influence to the purity of art -- as financial gain  skews any ideological pursuit -- corporate affiliation doesn’t mean any art produced for that  corporation is designed or censored to further that entity’s goals.

 Rage Against the Machine is represented by Epic Records, a company owned by Sony Music  Entertainment. Does the fact that their music is owned by a large international corporation like  Sony make their music any less rebellious to a status quo from which Sony profits?

 There's a certain irony to how sellout culture plays into the dynamics of a society its music  criticizes. While rock holds themes of empowerment for the masses and discontent with the  powers that be, the insistence towards exclusivism emulates the same centralized and  condensed power held by governmental and corporate entities.

 Being exclusionary and focusing on the origins of a piece of art and the conditions under which it was made serves to assuage the ego, rather than make any meaningful statement.

 This is not to say artists shouldn’t be criticized and that the origin of a piece of art doesn’t matter, but rather that authorial intent doesn’t necessarily define a piece of art in and of itself.

 The meaning one takes away from art is extremely personal and has much more say in how it affects the real world than how it was made.



This all ultimately trails back to the classic bout between high and low culture – a conflict that  often boils down to a battle over cultural capital.

 Instead of arguing that one has to be able to read Dante’s Divine Comedy in its original Italian in order to grasp anything meaningful, the argument is, “If you haven’t heard this one obscure punk band from the 1990s, you’re a fake fan and thus beneath contempt.”

 "While this example is a clear oversimplification, the point stands that elitists of any culture place the exclusivity of the piece over its content.

 Low or pop culture has the benefit of being simply understood. It is a medium anyone can pick up. What can be understood from a piece of art is not limited by the meaning an author packed into it, but the time and thought the audience is willing to put into it.

 Insight, meaning, and deep thought can be found in any art regardless of how  ludicrous or low-brow.

 Bands, authors, and artists should still be criticized. The author is a part of the discussion of  any piece. However art, no matter how seemingly irrelevant it may be, is not something that can be hand-waved away.


Author Bio:

Garrett Hartman is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine. He is a California State University, Chico, student double-majoring in media arts design technology and Journalism/PR. A lover of pop culture, Garret enjoys a wide array of film, television, video games, and literature. However, as a drummer in a rock band and an alt-rock enthusiast, music holds a special place in his heart.


For Highbrow Magazine


Image Sources:                 

--Open-Clipart Vectors (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

--Koen Suyk (Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

--Tomasz Mikolajczyk (Pixabay, Creative Commons)


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