On hummers, moral rectitude and paying the rent

hummerbird.jpg A couple of days ago, I read a brief article/interview with Tim Robbins in this month's issue of Los Angeles magazine. Mostly it just reinforced my impression of Robbins as a smart, talented guy whose impressions of himself are exactly the same, only more so, but there was one item which caught my eye.

Despite the popularity of his 1992 political mockumentary, Bob Roberts, Robbins elected not to release a CD of the original songs created for the film for fear that they might one day be used out of context by the very people he was satirizing. I think of this very real possibility for artists every time I listen to (gulp) the Dr. Laura show on my local yak-radio station, KFI*. Because while some of the musicians whose songs her engineer plays as bumpers might be alright with the implicit endorsement of a rather inflexible if well-meant credo, others would likely be aghast.

I suppose there's no way around it in radio land. I'm not familiar with fair use rules on commercial radio, but I'm guessing that if you or your station pays publishing clearinghouses ASCAP and BMI**, you're allowed to bumper away.

In advertising land, of course, it's a different story. When I started out as a copywriter in the early 1980s, the first uses of boomer pop as boomer bait were just turning up. Naive young pup that I was, I remember being surprised when some people actually took umbrage at the co-opting of "art" for commerce. Me? I figured if someone wanted to sell their shit, that was their own damned business.

I'm [of] divided opinion now. Obviously, for many years I've made my own livelihood has depended upon either shilling directly for The Man or, briefly, filing papers and designing PowerPointâ„¢ presentations for him. I've written and acted in commercials for plenty of superfluous consumer crap products, and in my last day job, I designed the company's greatest presentation ever for one of the most insidious marketing tacks it's been my distaste to come across. On the other hand, I had my limits: I've always refused to work on tobacco products and feminine deoderant products, finding them equally morally reprehensible.

The new limit, it seems, is the Hummer.

While it's unlikely that I'll ever be asked shill for Hummer, plenty of musicians have been approached about it. Poor, struggling, indie musicians, whose tuneage has the gloss of rebel cool Hummer would like to co-opt for its ads. And apparently, they're saying "no" in droves, even the starving ones. "We figured it was almost like giving music to the Army, or Exxon," said one member of a D.C. group, Trans Am.

I'd chalk it up, some of it anyway, to political correctness, only the amounts that were being thrown around were too huge to dismiss, especially for starving artists. They start at about $50K; one went up to $180K. That's a lot of scratch for anyone, but especially for people whose mode of transportation often doubles as their home.

My tolerance level for SUVs falls far short of the Hummer. After years of driving in steel canyons created by the piggy hugemobiles of the drivers surrounding me, I am over the high clearance vehicle, period. If you drive one, basically, you can go fuck yourself. (I make an exception for minivan drivers, who are actually choosing a responsible transportation option for hauling rugrats and for light truck drivers who actually use their truck beds to haul truck-appropriate items.) Tax 'em, make 'em park in the "c" lot ghetto, bar them from carpool lanes unless every seat in the motherfuckers are occupied.

On the other hand, I briefly dated someone who drove an SUV. I've never established a no-fly rule on SUVs with my agent. There are, fortunately, good men out there who still drive sedans (cf The BF) but as money gets harder and harder to make, will it get harder and harder for me to exercise my moral principles? It is one thing to be Tim Robbins and turn down the money; it's another to be an indie rocker or someone with three kids to support or me, in transition, and do it.

I have an audition today for Philip Morris. That's Philip Morris, not its parent company, Altria Group, which also manufactures various food brands. The client declined to give out specific information, a common practice with a new product. So when I got the call, I confirmed with the proviso that if it turned out to be a tobacco product, I was out. Unfortunately, I won't find out what this mysterious new Philip Morris product is until I drive out to Santa Monica and sign the NDA to audition for it. Which means that I might drive 25 miles out of my way today for nothing.

Oh, well. At least I'll be doing it in a Corolla.

xxx c

*More on my love/hate of the strident, inflexible Laura Schlessinger later...

**Bonus little-known fact: I am actually a member of BMI, owing to a filthy little ditty I wrote with Ana Gasteyer about our twats.

UPDATE: The audition was not for a tobacco product, but an anti-tobacco message. I took it, still conflicted, but secure in the knowledge that (a) my getting it is a million-to-one shot; and (b) I'm heading to SXSW the day of the callback, turning that million-to-one shot into a billion-to-one shot.

Photo, "Opinion," by Evan G. via Flickr.