Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 21, 2007

Selling Out

Filed under: commercialism,music — louisproyect @ 7:33 pm

(Apologies for not having posted material in about a week. Was tied up studying for a Turkish midterm.)

Long before Thomas Frank became famous for his “What’s the Matter with Kansas” book, he was the editor of something called “The Baffler”. This is a very witty and elegantly written left-of-center journal that has covered many different aspects of American society but mostly on how mainstream politicians and advertising exploited “hip”, “radical” or “countercultural” themes. One of the first companies to do so was The Gap, which hired William S. Burroughs for one of their commercials. Since his “Naked Lunch” was filled with scabrous descriptions of gay sex and getting high on heroin, it proved that an American corporation would do anything to establish “street cred” with its younger customers.

Thomas Frank: analyzed “hip” capitalism

“The Baffler” went out of business for a year or two about a decade ago when a fire destroyed its editorial offices. It then resumed publishing. Articles from the early days of the magazine are collected in “Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from the Baffler”; used copies are available for less than $3 on amazon.com. Frank then followed up with his “The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism”. I guess that more or less exhausted the topic for Frank since he has not returned to it.

That being the case, I made a note to myself to say something about the latest manifestations of “Hip Consumerism”.

The first are the Dennis Hopper commercials for Ameriprise.

This is a pitch to people who wore long hair in the 1960s to set up an investment plan so that they can do all sorts of wild and crazy things after they retire. Of course, sitting at a desk writing memos all day and going home at night to a suburban split-level might not be so wild and crazy, but at least you can fantasize about what you might be able to do after you retire. Watching your investment dollars grow is of course a sure-fire way to spur one’s imagination. Back in the 60s, of course, people didn’t plan for the future. They lived for the day.

As the motorcycle riding outlaw in “Easy Rider,” Hopper personified that desire to live for the moment. But in real life, he was not all that different from the aging baby boomers. He gave up drugs and alcohol over 20 years ago and nowadays his biggest passions are golf and the Republican Party. As a matter of fact, one of his latest dramatic roles is far more reflective of his character than “Easy Rider” or the Ameritrade commercial that tries to exploit his rebel image:

Ottawa Citizen, September 16, 2005 Friday Final Edition

Closet-Republican Hopper jumped at E-Ring script

By Gail Shister

“People would be surprised to know that,” says Hopper, maverick star and director of the ’69 hippie-stoners-on-bikes classic, Easy Rider.

“I’ve been a Republican since Reagan. I voted for Bush and his father. I don’t tell a lot of people, because I live in a city where somebody who voted for Bush is really an outcast.”

One of Hollywood’s legendary “enfants terribles,” Hopper, 69, is so straight now it’s almost scary.

He’s been sober for 22 years. He plays golf. He wears suits and ties. And now he’s starring in his first prime-time series — Jerry Bruckheimer’s new Pentagon drama, E-Ring, premiering Wednesday (NBC, Global, 9 p.m.).

Hopper plays army Col. McNulty, a Vietnam vet and real estate tycoon who’s lured out of retirement to return to the Pentagon. It’s no surprise McNulty is a colourful character. “He’ll be doing a football pool in one hand and selling a condo in the other, while running a top-secret op at the same time,” Hopper says.

I can’t say that I am that upset about Hopper “selling out” since I never thought that much of him to begin with. Along with Jack Nicholson and Robert DeNiro, he seems intent on recycling a bunch of tics that he was identified with early on in his career. I guess that’s what sells movie tickets.

Dennis Hopper: golf-playing Republican

Of far more concern to me is hearing “Blindness”, a song by The Fall, used in a commercial for a Mitsubishi SUV as seen on Youtube. (You can see a full live performance of “Blindness” there.) The Fall’s lead singer is Mark E. Smith, who unlike Hopper, has never stopped taking drugs or alcohol as should be obvious from the Youtube performance. Nor has he ever bought into the values of bourgeois society.

Mark E. Smith: Mitsubishi salesman

I own perhaps a dozen albums by The Fall and rank them as one of the finest rock bands of all time. They emerged out of the English punk scene but had a somewhat different sensibility. Where other bands tried to outdo each other in appearing outrageous on stage, Smith and his band members were far more interested in the performance itself–almost like classical musicians.

The Fall were never political as groups like The Clash. Mark E. Smith’s lyrics were far more elliptical and had much more in common with surrealism than agitprop (admittedly the two overlapped once upon a time.) Mostly they had a way of stretching one’s mind, like the best Dylan songs. Here’s one of my favorites. It seems awfully relevant to the Ameriprise and Mitsubishi commercials:

Everything you see you want.
Go to clubs.
Middle class revolt.

Put it down….

He wants Homestyle
Sublimates the envy to C2s
Bump into each other and jolt
D2s, D1s, bump into each other and jolt
Middle class revolt

Middle class revolt
Everything you see
Middle class revolt
Go to clubs
Crashing into C2s
Middle class revolt

A man
Extremely lazy
Exhumes the cooked pigeon
His words indignant
Because it was cooked wrong
Middle class revolt



  1. For the record, Dennis Hopper is shilling for Ameriprise, not TD*Ameritrade.

    Comment by Horse — March 21, 2007 @ 8:29 pm

  2. Your info on The Baffler isn’t entirely accurate (check the article on Wikipedia).

    Your love of The Fall, however, is entirely justified. Their work awaits a proper Marxist/materialist/historical/cultural study.

    Comment by Tom Campbell — March 21, 2007 @ 11:53 pm

  3. Yes, I just found out that Baffler is still in print.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 22, 2007 @ 1:16 am

  4. Louis, are you studying the Turkish language? Sounds interesting; how hard do you find it? I understand that the morphology (word formation) is agglutinative – i.e. words can get very long with various suffixes for tense, person, etc, nominalization of verb stems, etc.

    Comment by eugene — March 22, 2007 @ 7:36 am

  5. there are no retirement programs for aging rock musicians…i really doubt that Mark E. Smith has a 401k…so it’s hard to begrudge someone like him a nice payday every once in a while…
    also i think it’s irrelevant whether hopper is sober or not in relation to his political point of view..just because you give up drugs, it does not mean you will become a conservative…

    Comment by bill — March 22, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

  6. Bourgeioise society has values?

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — March 22, 2007 @ 8:39 pm

  7. The whole concept of sellout is such pseudoleftist cant anyway; who cares about the purity of Mark E. Smith when the capitalist system we all live under forces us daily to “sell out” anyway?

    Comment by Martin Wisse — March 23, 2007 @ 12:39 am

  8. Here:


    and here:


    and here:


    The Fall= That band for which no greater band can be conceived. Also, if someone you know doesn’t know about (and adore) this band, he or she has no credibility w/ respect to music.


    Comment by North of American — March 23, 2007 @ 5:31 am

  9. This is not a comment, but a message to Louis. Some time ago, we had contact about a book on Iran that I was writing for Pluto. It has finally been published as Iran on the Brink – Rising Workers and Threats of War:
    http://www.plutobooks.com/cgi-local/nplutobrows.pl?chkisbn=9780745326030&main= . I have asked them to send a review copy to you, but I’m not sure if they have; if you’re still interested, please send them a note with your address.

    Your blog, by the way, is excellent.

    best regards / Andreas

    Comment by Andreas Malm — March 23, 2007 @ 11:27 am

  10. It’s probably relevant to state that Mark E Smith is from Manchester (like me) which I suppose is kind of like Cleveland or Detroit in that it’s decayed, post industrial.

    And a lot of his lyrics, where you can fathom them, are an attack on London, trendiness, fashion, softness generally. I think surreal is only half there, it would be beyond mortal man to make sense of a lot of it but many phrases linger.

    And ignoring convetion pays. I can’t think of any other band who have produced so much good stuff – and for thirty years.

    Good blog. There’s so very few Trot ones (like mine) in the UK. Things are grim, but that’s hardly news

    Comment by SouthpawPunch — March 24, 2007 @ 1:58 am

  11. You are not hipgeoisie.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — March 25, 2007 @ 6:26 am

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