Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes has written an interesting think-piece for Stereogum which, effectively, attempts to contextualise the band's signing-up to do ads for T-Mobile.
To an extent, his justifications make a certain amount of sense:
And then becomes something of a hymn to capitalism:
Now, clearly there's a degree to which Barnes is setting up a cartoon version of the alternative, presumably a welfare state/socialism that he doesn't understand. But even so, it's surprising to hear Barnes offering such a far-right viewpoint. The implication that anyone left out of the capitalist free-for-all must be lazy could have come from a Tory party conference platform in the 1980s.
Even if you're comfortable with a political-economic system in which punsihment - by which Barnes means homelessness, starvation and poor health, remember, rather than a gentle chiding and being given a detention - is at the heart of the model, you might baulk a little at the suggestion that those who don't thrive under the model are "lazy".
What about those who've been born without the skills to do well in the red-toothed capitalist world? What about those who fall sick, or who have the misfortune to be born in an area where the schools are poorly run? Those whose parents are unable to support their study, who leave school early, who just happen to be born into poor families in bad neighbourhoods? Capitalism might reward the "imaginative and ambitious" (although softcore porn sells better than novels of ideas, so the first half of that contention seems unlikely), but it rewards better those born with means to buy and sell. If your political system commodifies everything, those who thrive will be those with access to money, not necessarily those who can earn it.
Had we the time, we'd work up an essay suggesting that queuing to purchase a Zavkilli chair in Ikea on a Saturday afternoon is little different from queuing to get bread in some broken Stalinist state. Instead, we'll just raise a curious eyebrow that Barnes seems to be suggesting that not selling your music to T-Mobile is somehow akin to being caught in Ceausescu's Romania.
It's an interesting suggestion - that flogging his music to a mobile phone company has driven him to make more extreme music. But if Barnes' suggestion - that not selling his music to companies would leave him starving and, literally, on the breadlines - then why would he do this? Isn't that a bit of an odd thing to do?
Barnes concludes that we should view advertising a good thing:
And, of course, that's true. All art needs a patron; even musicians got to eat.
What's missing, though, is any indication from him that besides providing a soundtrack, he's also providing an endorsement. There's nothing that suggests he's considered if T-Mobile is a brand that he wants to get behind, that he's comfortable with flogging mobile phones. Which is where his argument falls apart. Sure, he's making money, but if he's just allowing anyone to take his music and slap it on their advert, then he's really reduced his art to the most brutal of transactions. He's not participating in a noble capitalist transaction, he's just prostituting himself.