Commentary

State Of The Sellout 2015, Dylan Edition

I would relish being in a position to sell out. I don’t say that flippantly: If anybody out there digs Video Critique enough to officially enlist me as an advocate/pitchman/mascot/serf, let’s make it happen… er, unless that anybody plies his trade in tobacco, firearms or extreme landscaping. “We like you and that thing you do so much that we’re going to pay you valid, exchangeable currency to be our pal”? I can get behind that.

I’m certainly not espousing a Ted DiBiase approach to interpersonal commerce, but let’s face it: We can’t all be as pure as, like, Neil Young. As it stands, it seems impossible that Neil Young himself could truly possess the supreme integrity and utter incorruptibility that we ascribe to him. I love his music. I love his crankiness and his contrarianism. But if he decided it was in his or his family’s best interest to license “Powderfinger” to Cheetos? All the power to you, sir.

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I bring this up in the wake of this week’s debut of Mr. Robert Allen Zimmerman’s most recent foray into the world of commercialism. Dylan is no stranger to corporate tie-ins; he has shilled for Victoria’s Secret and Chrysler and gigged at corporate events for Amazon, among others. But judging by some of the outraged reactions to the spot rolled out this week by IBM, in which he bemusedly cavorts with its Watson supercomputer, you’d think he accepted a residency at a Pyongyang dinner theater.

Celebrity sells (or so read the headline of today’s DUH Daily) and attention-craving brands are more desperate than ever to sidle up to any personality who can give them a by-association sheen. Celebrities themselves, knowing the benefits that come with appearing in A-grade brand content (both material ones and “gosh, he/she is SO game!!!”), appear quite eager to play ball. It seems that everybody is on the same page here.

And so I suggest, ever humbly, that perhaps we should move past our how-DARE-they/they-can’t-POSSIBLY-need-the-money outrage when a favorite performer lends his or her credibility to a brand. It feels naïve in the current media climate - as opposed to the previous one, in which it just felt overly precious and self-righteous.

(Quick hi-pot-meet-kettle tangent: In one of those I’m-going-to-deliberately-infuriate-you-now things that longtime buddies do to one another, a friend once proclaimed to me that “Bruce Springsteen is a capitalist.” Given that we were sitting in $110 stadium seats and sipping from $9.75 bottles of mass-brewed liquid piffle, I couldn’t begin to challenge the characterization, which makes me ache to this day. And that was in 2003.)

There are celebrity-packed branding endeavors that come off as a colossal waste of time and resources, and there are celebrity-packed branding endeavors that charm easily and without artifice. The Dylan/IBM clip lands decisively in the latter category.

Its genius lies in its seeming effortlessness. Dylan saunters into a library, toting a Stratocaster and looking as if he spent around 20 seconds in makeup and wardrobe. He proceeds to have a straight-faced conversation with Watson. After dryly suggesting that “maybe we should write a song together,” he picks up the guitar and leaves.

That’s all. The clip showcases Watson’s capabilities in a clever way, one that renders the question of how it works more or less moot. As a bonus, for those affected by Bob Dylan’s supposed 115th sellout, it’s possible to read some smirk into the bard’s performance. Me, I’m sticking with what’s on the surface, which is a lightness of tone, ease of expression and clarity of message. This is how it’s done, y’all.

1 comment about "State Of The Sellout 2015, Dylan Edition".
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  1. Clifton Chadwick from Comunicaciones Kokopele, October 8, 2015 at 5:54 p.m.

    I'm currently finishing Enigma, the Alan Turing Bio and with that perspective feel this commerical is lame. Maybe because Watson is so amazing and how can you catch that in :30?  But the cuts (from Monitor to Bob's face w/ Monitor in Foreground and back) didn't work either.  I don't "believe" this was a conversation.  They needed at least one "floating pan" from the machine to Bob to give it more "real-time."

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