The most credible online dictionary, Urban Dictionary, cites selling out as ‘a compromise of values… in exchange for fame and monetary profit.’ Wikipedia offers a similar definition: the compromise of integrity, morals and principles for personal gain. Think of politicians contradicting their own ideologies, Milli Vanilli and Nickelback’s entire career. Once, the main victim of this was heavy metal bands in the 90s; thanks to the internet, it’s now everyone under the sun.
Epic Meal Time (EMT), arguably the biggest cooking show on YouTube, is just one of many to cop flack from a passive-aggressive social media public. Fortunately smart enough not to go down the Abercrombie & Fitch route of advertising and alienate just about every person on the planet, theirs is a far greater crime: rags to riches success. And thanks to YouTube we’ve witnessed every step along the way.
Back in October 2010 a video was uploaded of host Harley Morenstein and friend Alex Perrault (later know as MusclesGlasses) eating a pizza loaded with fast food items that topped 5,000 calories. The view count quickly rose and the boys knew they were onto something special. Weekly EMT videos saw their disgustingly admirable creations be rewarded with an audience of millions.
Then ‘Drunken Mess’ happened. The video uploaded June 20, 2011 featured the boys getting drunk on the streets of Montreal, celebrating their immense success by flaunting it in the back of a limousine and partying in fancy clubs with models dressed in EMT merchandise.
All of a sudden their DIY-style, college kid YouTube videos began advertising deals with Netflix. They combated the negative reception the ads attracted with the explanation ‘bacon doesn’t come free’. Douchebags perhaps, but they’ve since toned down their behaviour (though it’s unclear whether this is due to the negative reaction from viewers or from their desire not to cannibalise their own fan base). The additional revenue flow didn’t stop however: their online store sells EMT branded clothes, kitchenware and a cookbook so you can make their culinary beasts at home.
Isn’t the point of entrepreneurial ventures to make money? We’re not talking about an independent grindcore band releasing a smooth house album featuring Mariah Carey; this is five fat Canadians getting drunk and creating food monstrosities in their own kitchen.
The haters eventually got through to them. On January 2 this year, Harley posted on their Facebook page ‘Anyone that call EMT a sellout doesn’t know what a sellout is… (we) still get wasted and still cook up tons of bacon just like we did on day 1 (sic).’ While I’m sure EMT know there’s more to maintaining credibility than cooking a ton of bacon, this is a fine example of trolls doing what trolls do best: hate without consequence.
Does the sell out argument hold any water? Daniel Burt certainly thinks so. In December 2012 his article on Good Charlotte’s Madden brothers becoming the new face of KFC discussed the notion they were absolute, no argument sell outs. His evidence: the Madden boys used to be open PETA supporters, going so far as to contribute their hit ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ for the animal rights group’s compilation CD. The Maddens may be annoying but this argument feels weak, like a grown man hating on their former teenage heroes.
It’s such a common thing you’d be forgiven for thinking everyone must be a sell out. Jerry Seinfeld once (bizarrely) appeared in advertisements for the Greater Building Society. Samuel L. Jackson is currently spruiking online betting. The face of credibility, Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, re-wrote his classic ‘Ace of Spades’ for the purposes of a beer commercial. If you’re lucky enough to be Brad Pitt, your credibility even manages to increase when you sign to Chanel. All this suggests ‘sell out’ is an obsolete term, used in times of urgency when you can’t think of something better to say.
EMT haven’t so much as changed but branched out to include other moneymaking opportunities. Harley quit his job as a schoolteacher to focus on EMT fulltime and it makes sense: why would you risk not paying the rent for the wrath of a few bored nerds? ‘Sell out’ makes more sense when you look at it from a lazy perspective: it is easier to criticise than it is to understand.
A published writer and a frequent contributor to Graffiti With Punctuation, Nicholas Brodie can often be found in the metal section with a coffee and a book. His thoughts are streamed via @FodusEmpire.