On Selling Out

The subject: Iggy Pop’s car insurance adverts.

I encountered this by way of Michael Bérubé’s blog, and this BBC News article on the subject, and originally wrote what’s below as a response to the BBC website. By the time you (all two of you) read this, it may be on their page as a comment, depending on if they let words like “piss” and “arse” through their filters… anyways.

I’m in the jaded and apathetic camp as regards the concept of selling out. Indeed, this is the only rational position to take about it, because what we’re really talking about is nonconformity. Nonconformity is great, and I consider myself a nonconformist, but a lot of people seem to mistake ANTIconformity with NONconformity, when in fact anticonformity is indeed simply an inverted form of conformity.

That being said, I did find the “Get @ Life” shot of Iggy’s ads both jarring and oddly fascinating, and after reading this article, I figured out why: The “Circle A” is a venerable symbol of the anarchic, punk spirit of true personal and artistic freedom. It is, to people of a certain age and mindset, as sacred an icon as the virgin is to Catholics, a fact which is self-reflexively subverted by the fact that its original association was with pissing on the very idea of the sacred.

And that’s what we need to keep in mind here – the punks of Iggy’s era, particularly the Raw Power-Sex Pistols-CBGB late 70s, were a raw assault on all mainstream sensibility. When the Pistols rented that boat and blared God Save the Queen from the Thames for all of London to hear, they were going beyond the Do-Your-Own-Thing freedom of the 60s straight to the jugular, in hopes of tasting the blood of mainstream society’s fragile (and hypocritical) sensibilities.

Fast Forward to 2009, when Iggy Pop stands in front of the most nakedly cynical and hamfisted attempt to coopt punk, the “Get @ Life” graffiti bomb. Leaving aside the possible textual readings (Get at life, get anarchic life, get a haircut and a job and a “real” life), we have a man whose punk cred is (was?) unassailable standing in front of this banner, this clumsy attempt whose main offense is the abject stupidity of whoever came up with it, and Iggy is trying to SELL US SOMETHING. To people of a certain age and mindset, this is as deep an insult/assault to the sensibilities as was the famous boat ride of the Sex Pistols during the queen’s jubilee.

That assault on the sensibilities, friends, is punk. Don’t howl in protest, because you know I’m right. Iggy is laughing his ass off, I’m quite certain, because it’s been literally decades since he was able to raise more than a sigh of boredom by rolling around in peanut butter and broken glass. But to turn on us, to “sell out” and to do so with people who clearly have no clue? That is provocative, in an age that has become largely immune to artistic provocation.

I wish him well, and hope just as fervently as I did a week ago that I’ll be able to catch him live before he’s gone, because Iggy rules, and his picking up a few bucks while thumbing his arse at the people who would tell him what he’s allowed to do will never change that.

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