Darren Aronofsky’s Kohl’s Ad Proves There Is Such a Thing as Selling Out

Slate's Culture Blog
March 9 2012 7:32 PM

There’s Still Such a Thing as “Selling Out”

A still of Jennifer Lopez in the new Darren Aronofsky-directed ad for Kohl's.

Two days ago movie critics were proclaiming the death of the “sellout” on Twitter, and already we have a new ad that proves, at the very least, an exception. Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky has directed a new commercial for Kohl’s department stores, and unlike the great Wes Anderson ads that prompted this whole debate, it provides little evidence of the director’s “integrity.”

What does “integrity” mean for a Hollywood director? As Colin Marshall wrote for Open Culture, the word is usually reserved for artists who don’t do commercials—but in fact a director can express quite a bit of integrity by staying true to his own artistic instincts, whether selling Hyundais or movie tickets. Marshall was completely right about this point, and it’s one that’s not made often enough.


But the Aronofsky ad serves as a reminder that there is such a thing as selling out. While the Anderson ads displayed not only the auteur’s many stylistic tics but even some of his themes, this Aronofsky spot is nothing more than a second-rate ripoff, a cheap copy of ads and music videos past—especially previous dancing-in-a-warehouse videos like Feist’s “1234” and Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” (both of which also look like one uninterrupted take). The trick costume changes, meanwhile, are also a cliché—just go see a Katy Perry concert.

In his post on this Anderson-inspired discussion for The New Yorker, Richard Brody argued that “there’s a paradox at the heart of the matter: the better and stronger and more distinctive the artist, the more likely it is that anything he or she does will bear the artist’s mark and embody the artist’s essence.” Aronofsky may be a less consistent director than Anderson, stylistically and otherwise, but he has certainly, in his films, expressed a strong and distinctive vision—one that is completely lacking in this advertisement. Even a great director, capable of producing work of the highest integrity, can still choose to sell out. Critics and audiences should retain the right to call them out for it.

No director who works in Hollywood is above commerce, of course, and the occasional sellout isn’t likely to ruin any artist, in film or music or any other medium. But an artist only has so much time, and, if you’re a fan of that artist, you should hope that he or she will spend it on work that is worth that time—both his and ours.

Did You See This? Two New Wes Anderson Ads
Will Ferrell for Old Milwaukee: Why Did the Best Super Bowl Commercial Only Air in Nebraska?
Darren Aronofsky Directs Lou Reed and Metallica Music Video
Wes Anderson Commercials: The Best and the Worst

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.