Art and commerce

McDonald’s used Otis Redding’s “Try a little tenderness” in a commercial for chicken tenders. Without even addressing the issue of associating Black people with fried chicken, McDonald’s, *dude*, that song is too mellifluous a pop music masterpiece to be used to sell fast food. This is on par with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (in my opinion, the most amazing piece of music ever composed) used to sell laxatives.

Europeans like to say Americans don’t have culture. I don’t think this is true, but we are perfectly content to have it repackaged and sold back to us. The value of our art is depreciated each time it is associated with something cheap and artificial.

I believe art does belong to all of us. Actual paintings and sculptures, the actual physical thingness of them doesn’t belong to everyone (I’m no socialist), but art resides in the same realm as history, heritage, mythology. Good and bad, it all belongs to all of us. As such, I believe art should be safeguarded. So did Churchill.

This causes some itchiness in me as a capitalist. Michael Jackson sang and danced in a Pepsi commercial. I’m okay with that- Mike got paid, and Pepsi hitched their wagon to what was the hottest pony in the game. I’m not against people making money, in fact, if you were to give me some, I would be greatly appreciative.

It’s not the same case with Otis, who died tragically early. That’s his mythology, it’s what makes his songs sacred and moves his songs from the realm of commodity to the realm of heritage. His music is imbued with America’s essence as is Falling Water, Rocky Marciano,¬†Singin’ in the Rain, the Eames Chair.

So good. So so good. So good. So so good.

There is a middleground, an appropriate overlap of art and commerce. Certainly, artists deserve to make a living. Music is licensed by publishing companies for myriad uses- films videogames, and yes, even advertisements. I’m not whinging about selling out here, “Try a little tenderness” isn’t about how easy it is to chew a chunk of reconstituted pink slime and GMO textured vegetable protein, and we all know it.


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