Would you buy a wristwatch from a dead man? Apparently. There’s an ad campaign for men’s watches that features actor Steve McQueen, dead since 1980. McQueen may be gone, but his cool lives on. In fact, his cool is in such good shape it’s out selling watches.
Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx is still quite alive and having some success with his cool as well. (He plays the bass, thus “bassist.” And I’m a “wordist.”) Last week a jury ruled that Sixx is owed a possible $1 million because Vans skateboarding shoes used a picture of Sixx in Vans advertising without his permission.
The heavy metal band Motley Crue has sold more than 40 million albums, and their top hits include the song “Girls Girls Girls.” Compare that to, say, the Oscar Meyer Meat Company whose top hits include Variety Pak Meats and Lunchables, and maybe you can see why Vans wanted to associate its shoes with “Crue” despite the awesome tie-in potential for Vans with Oscar Meyer’s Wienermobile.
For me, the meat packer would have brought a more respectable cool to Vans street-y image. Follow that with a peppy remix of “My baloney has a first name…” and, baby, you’re selling shoes. Motley Crue, on the other hand, exudes that creepy sex-on-the-bus persona associated with heavy metal and weekly newspaper columnists. (Okay, I tried…)
For people of the Beatles generation, there will always be a little pang upon discovering that some iconic or possibly heroic figure has sold of his image for use in advertising. Classic pop songs had long been exploited by advertising, but when Beatle music started showing up in commercials there was no escaping a certain melancholy. Inevitably, it’s all pretty arbitrary. Why is Arnold Palmer shilling motor oil okay, but Macy Gray singing soup commercials kind of sad?
If selling the respect your public has for you is even a little bit depressing, then what of suing over it so that you can get the money? Nikki Sixx didn’t sue to stop the exploitation of his image and reputation; he just wanted the money he was owed for it. Message from rock bands to youthful fans: Rebel, say something with your music and appearance… then be sure to get the cash for it.
Perhaps ironically, it somehow gets worse when you move off rock bands and on to other public figures, such as war heroes. Jessica Lynch and Tommy Franks probably did some truly heroic things at one point or another. Throwing their lives into a book at the exact moment those books could realize maximum sales would not be one of those heroic things.
So what, you might say. It’s not like we’re all somehow involved in a convoluted system that allows ex-convicts to get out after a light sentence and immediately launch TV shows based on their now broader notoriety as jailbirds, are we, Martha Stewart? It’s not as though a convicted killer who slays his pregnant wife and dumps her body like garbage out of his boat can somehow enable those who had sex with him to sell books, can they, Amber Frey?
Except for some laws preventing it, you might theoretically have Scott Peterson sue Amber Frey for exploiting for monetary gain his image and reputation without compensating him. It would be a nasty little trial, and jurors might easily be torn over whom was being ripped off by whom. Then, when the dust had barely settled, there would be a phone call from a clothing manufacturer looking to use Frey’s cool. “Amber Jeans… For the woman who gets what she’s after.”
This Week’s “Know Your News” Quiz
1) The National Institutes of Health
(a) address conflicts in research.
(b) order a brain scan for Bush.
(c) boil Q-Tips from now on.
2) California appears to have had
(a) no erupting volcanoes in
(b) a mild flu season.
(c) a tough Schwarzenegger
3) Victorville High School students
(a) mock gay wedding
(b) a mock prom that mocked
(c) “Bye Bye Birdie!”
1) (a) Sponsor: Rolaids. Best
2) (b) But I still have this rash…
3) (a) You may now mock kiss…