Selling Out as an Inevitable Aspect of Consumerism

Topics: Consumerism

From the sellouts point of view, selling out is not as nefarious as one would make it out to be. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorn point out the various levels of capitalistic intrusion into the consumerism game. With this in mind, the argument could be made that the moment you get your foot in the door is the moment you sellout. The extrapolation of Horkheimer and Adorno’s critical theory is that selling out is the result of the culture industry, which is propagated by the capitalistic society we live under.

“No object has an inherent value; it is valuable only to the extent that it can be exchanged” (Craig and Muller, 2007, p. 442). Using musical artists as an example, in order to make it big in the recording industry, you need exposure, which means you will need to sign with a reputable brand name recording company and make public appearances on radio, television, etc. Record producers will edit and fine-tune the original music to be more palatable to the mass public.

Rentfrow, Goldberg, and Levitin (2011) identified five preference factors in music, regardless of genre, that appeal to music listeners.

Most if not all of your Top 40 songs today will ikely contain at least one of these factors, which we can safely assume is not by accident. By entering this game, the numerous levels of consumerism from the advertisements that are played alongside your music and the sketchy practices of these big businesses, you have already sold out on some level.

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Even the most ideal musical act that has no intention of “selling out’ has already done so by simply the pursuit of their musical ambitions. As a result, if playing the game is equivalent to selling out in some overt form and is painfully obvious if any time is taken to assess the situation, then one must come to the conclusion that selling out is simply the astute thing to do in the Current environment.

Unless there is an overhaul of the entire system of the capitalistic culture, the consumer is, fairly or unfairly, responsible for identifying and reacting to the rearrangement of signifiers that violate ‘normal’ references (Craig and Muller, 2007, p. 381). “Between the poles of object and intention is the advertisement which disrupts the normal set of diferential relations of signs” (Craig and Muller, 2007, p. 381). Our failure to grasp this reality is a failure to identify fraudulent activity. The issue here is that representation is often perceived as real due to ignorance. This ignorance, which Baudrillard argues is “that of a simulacrum, a copy that has no original” (Craig and Muller, 2007, p. 381). In that sense, the consumer has no ability to identify something there is no previous example of.

The simulacrum creates the illusion of the ideal that doesn’t exist anywhere in reality, but being able to identify that this situation exists means we can identify what is authentic and what is a creation. In the same way we can breakdown the domino effect of signing with a major record label, we can observe and come to the conclusion that a certain situation or thing is not what we are coerced into believing it is. The individual that sells out is the product of the system and should be treated accordingly.

One would ideally place all moral and principle ahead of everything, but that is simply naive and ignorant to the realities of our economic and social culture. Selling out is simply an unavoidable aspect of the consumerism game that must be played to be a participant in the game. The authenticity in our culture exists as a function to our ability to identify it, which is the only real critical mechanism in which the system can or will change.


  1. Craig, R. T, & Muller, H. L. (2007).
  2. Theorizing communication: readings across traditions. Los Angeles: Sage Publications. Rentfrow, P. J., Goldberg, L. R., & Levitin, D. J. (2011).
  3. The Structure of Musical Preferences: A Five-Factor Model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Retrieved from http:/

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Selling Out as an Inevitable Aspect of Consumerism. (2023, Feb 26). Retrieved from

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