10 Notable Sell Outs in Cultural History


“Sell out!” Such a subjective yet indicting little term, isn’t it? For most artists or film auteurs, lending their skills and image to commercial causes is… risky. It could mean image suicide! Scorned fans! Mocking scoffs! Yet, sometimes, it works out awesomely. Sometimes, the final results of these commissions are so nifty, so shameless, or just so perplexing, that they’re fairly un-mockable and even praiseworthy. From Banksy’s dark intro to The Simpsons to David Lynch’s Playstation commercial, here are some notable recent-ish instances of cultural figures selling out, psyching out their clients, or just making us go “aw.” Who’d we miss?

Banksy’s intro to The Simpsons

During his brief directorial stint with The Simpsons last year, mysterious street artist Banksy created an intro that called out the animated sitcom’s labor outsourcing and criticized the consumerist culture behind its mammoth merchandising operation. Burn! They aired it.

Leos Carax video for New Order

Leos Carax, renowned French-born director of sadly gorgeous and strange little epics, was commissioned to make a music video for New Order. They got something less than sublime, specifically, one shot of a dog and a cat rolling around and tenderly licking at each other for four minutes. Ha-ha. Aside from it being intentionally crappy quality, there’s something subtly transfixing about it.

Jenny Holzer’s BMW Art Car

Jenny Holzer was just one of the visual artists to give BMW’s art car series a whirl. She didn’t exactly glorify the vehicle in accordance to the commission’s intent. “Protect me from what I want” could be read as anti-consumerist and “You are so complex you don’t respond to danger” seems even sarcastic.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Parisienne People cigarettes commercial

Legendary director Jean-Luc “I hate Capitalism” Godard and his video artist wife Anne-Marie Mieville went all out with the weird for this cigarette commercial. It’s more of a surrealist nightmare than a brand endorsement.

Richard Kern’s American Apparel ads with Sasha Grey

Sasha Grey was not the only porn actress to ever appear (link NSFW) in an American Apparel campaign. Yet, as one of the more high profile adult industry stars working with transgressive filmmaker/photographer Richard Kern, they knocked out a campaign so authentically sleazy, everything this clothing line has done makes it look like pretend-porn amateur hour, literally.

Bob Dylan’s commercial for Victoria’s Secret

Bob Dylan’s appearance in this commercial had everyone thinking, “Am I hallucinating?” We’re still not sure. It’s just so outlandish, we can’t not give it some credit.

David Lynch’s commercial for Playstation

Speaking of surreal, director David Lynch specializes in the most bizarre of films, and as it follows, the most deliberately bizarre commercials. It was especially impressive when he knocked out this fairly straight forward piece for Playstation, sans all his usual David Lynchian oeuvre, with a climax reminiscent of UNKLE’s “Rabbit in Your Headlights” video.

Takashi Murakami’s video for Kanye West

After this collaboration with Japanese superflat artist Takashi Murkami, ‘Ye went on to work with Marco Brambilla and George Condo. Hip hop and contemporary art have never been more in love.

Björk’s iPad Album

Björk’s concept album Biophilia, which was “partly recorded” on an iPad, will arrive with an app for each track. That’s some hefty brand endorsement. Yet, it could be amazing. David Attenborough says so.

Andy Warhol’s commercial for a Japanese electronics company

Unofficial Campbell’s spokesperson Andy Warhol was too cool to keep his eyes open for this TDK electronics commercial.