Artists and Sell Outs

I was watching some news program online and there was an ad for Hyundai:

I had seen it many time before and I had come to the conclusion that the voice on it couldn’t be Jeff Bridges; it had to be some anonymous voice actor doing Jeff Bridges. How wrong I was.

I found a list of more than ten stars who were hocking for different car companies. It included people who I tend to think of as serious artists: Richard Dreyfus and Robert Downey Jr. What were they doing? Was this just about money? That’s the only conclusion I can come up with, even though these people are already very wealthy.

This act calls all their work into question. I understand that fans always hate it when artists do commercials. Oingo Boingo fans hated it when the band did a Bud commercial:

But they weren’t rich guys piling extra cash into their already bulging bank accounts. Many band members were worse than broke. They were selling themselves so they could continue to be artists.[1] The same can be said about Orson Welles’ infamous Paul Masson commercials, which are still wonderful despite themselves (That voice!):

These commercial “sell outs” can be forgiven or even applauded. But Jeff Bridges?[2]

To my mind, no one stands out as the paragon of an artist like Jane Siberry. At this point in her career, she could live well giving expensive concerts and selling her music catalog. Instead, she travels the world giving micro-concerts and giving away her catalog; she provides all of her albums, except the last two, in MP3 format for free on her website [See no longer does. -FM]. Here she is doing the charming “Marry Me”:[3]

I don’t know Siberry, but I assume that she has made enough money to support the kind of life she has always wanted: an artist’s life. But what are we to make of Richard Dreyfus and Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges? If they ever were artists, they have gotten extremely off course.[4]


[1] It doesn’t hurt that the commercial is rather good and very Oingo Boingo.

[2] I don’t have any data for Jeff Bridges, but Robert Downey Jr. was paid $12.5 million for the dreadful Iron Man 2.

[3] I can’t help it. Jane Siberry created a song that more than any other piece of art captures what it is like to be dumped. The video, although not worse than other videos of that time, is no better. But the song! The song!

[4] What does it take to become a star? If we are to believe William Goldman, it requires a singular focus on becoming a star. It may involve creating art, but that is not the point. So I probably should not be surprised.

0 thoughts on “Artists and Sell Outs

  1. Hey, it’s Orson Welles! It has become a trend, and there’s no stopping them. They need income, just like you and me. I believe that what they have done in these ads is art in itself. With that said, the creators can be considered as artists in their own right.

  2. I don’t doubt that commercial producers are artists. The question is why very rich actors do these commercials. Certainly doing such voice over work is not the height of their art. I talked to a voice actor recently and he pointed to three major campaigns that he lost at the last minute because the company decided to go with a name actor (for ten times the fee he would have received).

    There is a 99% aspect to this that I do not like. I recently saw a documentary about the Australopithecus. In it, I learned that only the alpha male of a tribe was allowed to mate. (How do they know this?!) It strikes me that we continue to have this problem. Can’t the winners in our society leave even the smallest crumbs for the rest of us? I guess not.

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