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What is a Sellout?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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A sellout is someone who has discarded his or her original principles. The sellout usually does an about turn from his or her previous views in order to make money or to become more commercially acceptable to the public. The term is most commonly associated with certain groups of people.

Politicians are often described as sellouts. Their views and policies often change according to how large or small their voting percentage is. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is now widely considered a sellout by the public. He was once heralded as the man who changed the face of Britain, but his involvement in the Iraq war has practically forced him to step down as Prime Minister.

Corporations are generally expected to be sellouts as well. With money in mind, selling out is seen as business as usual, but even the most cynical members of the public were shocked by the decision of Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. The Body Shop has always marketed its cosmetics and products as environmentally friendly and not tested on animals, but when French cosmetics manufacturer L’Oreal offered 1.5 billion US dollars (USD), Roddick jumped ship. Environmental groups have called for a complete boycott of Body Shop products. Roddick simply claimed that someone else was going to own the Body Shop one day anyway.

Many people felt betrayed by Roddick's decision and consider her to be a huge sellout. Popular thinking now considers the original ethos behind the Body Shop as just another marketing ploy. When the money men came calling, Roddick took the money and ran.

Those who tout themselves as being against the establishment are often considered the biggest sellouts when they change. Musicians are famous for saying they will never sellout for the fast money. History is littered with creative people, such as musicians and actors, who say they will never sellout their artistic integrity for commercial reasons.

However, in foreign lands, it is amazing how many actors pop up in advertisements that are never seen in their native countries. Major stars can make huge sums of money to endorse anything from drinks to makeup. The contracts for such work often stipulate that the ads are never shown in the actor's native country for fear of damaging his or her image.

In the film The Doors, which focuses on the rock group of the same name, there is a memorable scene involving the concept of the sellout. Lead singer Jim Morrison hears one of his songs used in a television ad and promptly rails against the rest of the band. By selling the song to a car manufacturer, Morrison complains that they had ultimately sold out the band. They had given into the man, or the establishment, and their credibility would be damaged forever.

Selling out is seen as a loss of artistic integrity. If you create something that panders to the general public with the specific aim of making huge amounts of money, it is generally considered a sellout. The artist may make a lot of money, his or her reputation and credibility will suffer damage.

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