Monday, June 21, 2010

Let's Talk: Selling Out

I know it's no secret here that I'm planning on writing full time as a career. This is something I'm completely passionate about, but also something I struggle with as a consumer and analyzer of media. There's a lot I find discouraging about the world of magazines: broadly speaking, how many of them (including those for men) portray unhealthy, unobtainable ideals, subtly encourage self-loathing, and show a very narrow definition of what's "acceptable."

In my wildest dreams, I will be one of the writers out there railing against the system, writing articles about self-love and acceptance and deep, meaningful, truly important topics. In my wildest dreams, I will be one of the people who will change the game and show women that they don't have to settle for mediocre chick rags because they want and deserve more than that-- maybe if some more great, empowering stuff is out there and accessible in the mainstream, it'll change a lot of attitudes. (I'd also love to write for magazines that are targeted more at men, but most of you are women, thus the angle I'm taking here).

It's hard to deny, however, that to become successful in any business, you have to play their game to some extent-- and sometimes that may mean doing things that are contrary to our own morals and/or goals.

If I have to write about "Diet Tips for Sexier Sex!" at some point in my career to get to a point where I have to opportunity to really spread the message I want to spread, would that make me a sell-out? And is it even that bad to be a sell-out? We all need money to put food in our stomachs, clothing on our backs, and roofs over our heads. Sometimes ideals don't make the kind of money we need. And what then? Where do we make the compromises? Where do we stand strong? It's probably different for everyone, but I think it's a very real problem we face: to be able to change the game, we may first have to play it, and what then?*

Many people call that "selling out." But is it so bad?

This is something I've been thinking a lot about, and I decided the best way to bring it up here would be to have a discussion. Last time I did a "Let's Talk" post, it was very successful, and some of you mentioned to me that you'd like to see more discussion-- so here you go! I'm always really thrilled to hear what you have to say. I would love it if everyone could feel comfortable enough to be open about their own beliefs and experiences, so please try to be respectful of each other-- and feel free to be "anonymous" if it helps any. I'll be coming back to discuss (and I hope you'll all check back and chat amongst each other if you have the time) and moderate if necessary.

So what is "selling out" to you? Is there such a thing? Is it ever justified? Where would you draw the line between acceptable and not? Have you ever done something/been asked to do something that you felt was selling out? And if you did, could you tell us why you decided to do it or not? How do you feel about it looking back? Of course, any and all other thoughts related (even tangentially) to this topic are more than welcome.

*I have a friend who once told me she wants to go to law school and sell her soul to a big corporate firm for a few years so that she'll have the money to live while she dedicates her life to charity/volunteer work afterward.


Kelly said...

I think that if doing something you *actually* want to do isn't an option (or at least not an option that will allow you to keep eating and paying rent), it is better to do stuff that you feel nothing about than something that you actively don't believe in. At the end of the day you might feel terrible about writing "the look now is thin, thin, thin! here's how to lose 14 pounds in 5 seconds you fat cow." But if you write "Here is new information about this year's SPF products" you might not care about the message in that article BUT you won't feel bad about it either. It will just be a neutral paycheck. When you do achieve fame and fortune as the "self-love and acceptance" guru, you don't want people digging up your "how to use your boobs for attention" articles in old issues of Cosmo. So I guess my point is that I don't think everyone is so lucky that they can do truly meaningful and important work all day long, and there's no shame in doing grunt work to get your name out there or pay for groceries or beef up your resume. But I do think there is shame in writing something that isn't neutral but is actually contrary to your true beliefs.

Vanessa said...

Kelly: I hadn't thought of differentiating between things we just AREN'T "into" and things we actively disagree with in the little preface I did for this discussion, but it's interesting you bring it up. There's a HUGE difference, I think. I'm not really comfortable, personally, with doing something I actively disagree with. I think that even when we consider the need to do our jobs, allowing ourselves to take part in any sort of system we disagree with perpetuates it (a bit obvious), and unless we all start taking stands, those yucky systems will always be in place.

I always have to wonder, though (that's why I wanted to chat with you guys on here) if I would feel the same way if placed in a position to make a big decision like that. I can't recall a time thusfar in my life that I was asked to do something I felt strongly morally against-- not anything truly IMPORTANT. I think it's one of those cases where you have to be in the moment to know.

Of course, how about music, though? We always hear of musicians "selling out," and even if that may not be earth-shatteringly important, I've always found it curious how fans tend to feel betrayed by bands who finally reach commercial success.

Kimberley - Dream.Delight.Inspire. said...

Very interesting post Vanessa! I am not sure that I truly believe in "selling out". If you're not comfortable writing a piece, simply don't do it. Follow your own personal ethics (which will no doubt be different to everyone elses).
The other thing is that you can always turn a "trashy concept" into a thought-provoking article by taking a slightly different angle.
PS: Thanks for all your lovely comments over at my blog. Really appreciate them! :) x

Joanne Faith said...

I think it's very hard to define what 'selling out' actually means. It's a black and white concept, and the world is definitely not black and white... We all have to work for someone else's interests at some point in time, and our ability to act 'AS IF...i cared' is what makes us extraordinary people. I'm not saying you should work for someone/something you don't agree with at all - but I think it's good to be flexible, just be so in a way that works for you. It's also important to remember that what you do is there forever...but also that nothing is ever black and white!

Zmaga said...

I think writing is one of those great professions where you get to dictate the rules, at least a little bit. So, even if you were given a topic "Thin is the new black", you would be able to write it in a way that promotes self-love and respect.
In the end, it is all up to you. If it makes you unhappy or embarrassed of yourself to write abot something, you shouldn't.

Vanessa said...

Kim: Welcome for the comments, and thanks for joining in. I agree a lot of writing-- and a lot of other things-- is the ability to work angles and to find new ways to look at old topics.

Joanne: I actually really love this comment. It's so true that in life we have to learn how to be flexible and to compromise when working with/for our fellow human beings. I don't think the idea of "selling out" is as black and white as the word is, if that makes any sense. I used the term because it gets such a gut reaction from a lot of people, even though I think the concept is actually really nuanced.

Also, your comment made me think something I'd thought of writing about in the set-up for this conversation: lawyers. I think trial lawyers have interesting jobs because they often have to work for causes they don't believe in (maybe trying to prove a person is innocent when they don't think that's true) in order to give everyone an equal opportunity to have their case heard. I know a lot of people think lawyers are terrible, but I actually think the job is really noble. They have to sacrifice their beliefs in the pursuit of maintaining a system where everyone gets the same rights.

Zmaga: Absolutely! Like I said with Kim, we have to consider that not everything is cut and dry with writing and that you can turn almost anything into something inspirational and inclusive if you do your research and consider it carefully :)

Laells said...

I would say selling out is basically what you describe. Someone making a living doing their passion and then they jump on some crazy bandwagon or take the crappy jobs just for money.

I also think you're right in saying that there's a time and place for it. Sometimes you NEED to.

I kind of feel like I sold out when I first got into sales. I was doing the whole sales thing and I was okay at it but I couldn't get awesome at it. I'm a fairly stubborn person so I was determined to figure it out on my own. I hated the idea of having to fake a persona to get the numbers I wanted; but to follow zmaga, the best thing I could do was inject the most of me into it that I could. I did some listening and used only the techniques that I liked and then after a while I kind of got into it because I decided that it was a little like playing dress up and picking out what person I wanted to 'act' like. So on one hand I felt like I was selling out to get what I wanted (to be good at sales) but once I figured out my style and knew that I was at least making an attempt to make the best of it made me feel a whole lot better.

I guess it's kind of a fine line to balance.

Very interesting post though. :)


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