Do you want to make more money?
Sure, we all do, right? Would you be willing to cross-dress as an English grandmother to shill coffee for Starbucks to do it? Andrew Dickson did. And he wants to show you how — in just 27 easy steps.
Sell Out is Dickson’s latest semi-autobiographical work of performance art cum motivational seminar; he previously chronicled his journey from underemployed artist / punk-rocker to personal financial solvency through eBay sales in AC Dickson: eBay Powerseller. Having since abandoned the limited earning power of online auctioneering in favor of writing and staring in ads for for Portland-based advertising powerhouse Wieden + Kennedy, Dickson is back and ready to help his fellow creatives sell out to the man, just like he did.
One of the more interesting aspects of Powerseller is that, amidst the parody and sly cultural commentary, it actually functioned as a legit workshop for people interested in making a living off of eBay. Sell Out drops the facade of legitimacy in favor of a classic observational comedy routine — in this case aimed squarely at the 20-something creative class hipster zeitgeist. Dickson’s steps-to-success are a hilariously accurate anthropological guide to modern American creative young people: their socio-economic status (Step #1: Grow up middle class), psychological hang-ups (Step #3: Taste bitter disappointment), education (Step #7: Go to a liberal arts college), living choices (Step #8: Move somewhere cool), and consumptive patterns (Step #14: Ironically flirt with corporate culture). Dickson plays it straight throughout, still employing his gaudy PowerPoint slides and over-the-top pitchman persona; some of the funniest, sharpest observations in the piece are hidden in his quick asides, buried in bullet point lists, or tacked on as footnotes.
Dickson thankfully doesn’t spend too much time probing what “selling out” actually means. He acknowledges in the program notes that he started down this path and quickly backed off, realizing that “everyone’s idea of what constitutes selling out is different.” One man’s violation of personal integrity is another man’s commission of a lifetime, after all.
That said, Dickson can’t entirely hold himself back from critical analysis and things start to fall apart in the closing act of the show. (Step #26: Have your justifications ready) The sweet sheen of parody wears thin as he delves into a less-than-nuanced social and economic commentary about arts funding and the role of technology in devaluing creative works. It abruptly puts the audience in the position of taking the whole performance seriously, thrusting Dickson’s false dichotomy into the harsh light of day. Is creating a work of authenticity and integrity inherently at odds with personal economic prosperity? Is it really more authentic to resell things on eBay than to create ads for Planned Parenthood? It requires a discussion that’s not suited for an hour-long comedy act. The show operates brilliantly as a simplified, farcical commentary on the absurdity of the subcultural forces that shape the question. A half-hearted attempt at providing an answer doesn’t do it any justice.