Home > General Interest, Philosophical > “The Henry Rollins Effect” – What Happens When You Think Your Hero Sold Out

“The Henry Rollins Effect” – What Happens When You Think Your Hero Sold Out

The recent Verizon commercials have had a disturbingly familiar quality to them. For me, it was the voice of Henry Rollins. It’s no secret that I have been a huge fan of Henry Rollins since I was an impressionable teenager. It’s also no secret that I have something of a deep-seated dislike for Verizon after a long string of negative customer service experiences. My first thoughts were along the lines of “Rollins sold out!” Then I took a step back and thought about it more seriously. He was doing a voice-over. He wasn’t appearing on camera as himself shilling Doritos like some kind of hack comic or something. I have forgiven Mr. Rollins for this imaginary transgression against me, but it has me thinking about what it means to sell out and how that affects artistic credibility.

Let’s start with some comedians. George Carlin famously hung a lantern on his role as a spokesman for 10-10-220 in his bit “Advertising Lullaby.” I think he managed to keep his crediblity as an artist and as a commentator by acknowledging the fact that in the real world shit is complicated and it can lead to cognitive dissonance.

Jay Leno was called out on the commercial above by Bill Hicks in his bit “Artistic Roll Call.” Leno took a lot of shit from the comedic community in the early ’90s. Rightfully or not depends on your perspective. Taking Hicks’ hard line perspective, Leno was worshipping Mammon. He didn’t need the money since he had the cushy Tonight Show gig when he did those Doritos commercials, but he did them anyway. I think this hurts Leno’s credibility as an artist, but can we articulate why this is the case?

In the case of comedy and music, I think it’s a bit more clear cut. In any profession where you have a platform to make incisive statements about the world, and especially when your public persona is built on those kinds of incisive statements, it can cause the public to question what you’ve said. If you’ll endorse a product for money, you’re being clear about how loose you’ll play with your words. How trustworthy can you be with all that you’ve said before, if you’ll hock Doritos at the drop of a hat? And I think this is a unique quandary for musicians and comedians. Do athletes, models, or actors take this credibility hit when they do commercials? I don’t think so. As I said, when your public persona is based on taking shots at the establishment or claiming that what you do is pure and an art, you’ll take a hit in your credibility when you admit that you’re just like everyone else.

And that’s what hurts when you hear “Black Dog,” “Revolution,” or “Are You Experienced?” in a commercial. That’s what hurts when you see Willie Nelson in a Taco Bell commercial or hear Henry Rollins talking about “America’s fastest 3G network.” It’s that you realize that someone you admired or idolized is just like you.

But at the same time, they’re just like you.

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