Monday, April 13, 2009

The Lunch Box Incident

The other day, a 30-something co-worker went off on the Beatles having had a lunchbox back in 1965. As if a lunchbox is the exemplification of selling out.

I asked him what does he know about the exact details of how Beatles came to be the center of a merchandising craze and what was their role in it all (e.g., did they approve various products and disapprove of others)? He said it didn't matter and that the mere fact that they 'allowed' their images to be pasted on lunchboxes and other various souvenirs somehow affects their place in culture. That a 'real' artist wouldn't allow such a thing to happen.

First off, when the Beatles (actually it was Brian Epstein) sold their likeness and names to be sold on pajamas and record players, they didn't know if they'd fade off into the sunset six months later. Who knew that 45 years after their first record they'd still be so popular and talked about.

They (and Brian) were a bunch of young kids from Liverpool with little or no experience in such matters. And where do you draw the line anyway? Are movies okay and lunchboxes not? Is appearing in Teen Magazines acceptable but bubblegum cards tacky? Who knows?

Second, to say rock and roll musicians (even those as talented as The Beatles) are 'artists' kind of diminishes the real giants like Mozart, Shakespeare and Michelangelo. If you're comfortable with the label 'artist' for anyone who makes a living in the 'arts', that's fine. But let's get real. Nobody involved in pop culture, whether it's The Beatles, Stanley Kubrick, Jack Kirby, Meryl Streep or Quentin Tarentino, are artists. They practice a 'craft' and are basically hustlers trying to sell their goods. Movies, TV, pop music and comic books are not art in the same sense that the Mona Lisa or 'Don Quixote' are.

This does not mean what they create is not wonderful and cool and makes us feel happy/sad or more connected to the rest of the human race. And the affect The Beatles (and a few others) have had on society is not to be taken lightly. They changed a generation. But that was more a testament to them as 'people' not their records.

I think the true test of a great artist is someone who everyone pretty much agrees was, well, great. No one with an ounce of intelligence says that Shakespeare was lousy (he may not be your cup of tea, but you can't deny the genius). Same with Beethoven or Rembrandt. But there are plenty of intelligent people who dislike and dismiss any pop star, actor or filmmaker that you can think of. No matter how popular or respected they are. Some people hate Elvis, The Beatles, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando and Charlie Chaplin. And who's to say they are wrong? Yes, they're clever and the best at what they did, but you know what they say about the land of the blind. It's just movies and pop music and whatever else our modern culture has to offer.

So get over yourselves. Enjoy it and have fun. But let's not put the Beatles is the same league as Mozart. Even Paul McCartney would say you're crazy. And don't expect them to be 'above' things like having their pictures on lunch boxes. It's their job!


Post a Comment

<< Home