Get salvation and a handbag for your sister-in-law

The discussion thread I linked to yesterday in which someone rather creatively designed an AVFL action figure is almost entirely about a much more interesting topic: namely, merchandizing among sg artists. As I noted already, access to the thread requires free registration, but it’s worth it - not just because SGML is a nice alternative to sogospelnews.com. In this particular case, registration will get you the benefit of a fuller discussion I’m going to have to drastically synopsize here. The heart of matter centers around Tony Gore, who - according to the sgml thread - encouraged the audience at a recent multi-act concert to get up RIGHT NOW (translation: “after my set but while other people are singing”) and go to that artist’s table to register for some prize drawing (a microwave and DVD player, I believe). The SGML folks make a pretty convincing case for this being rude and disrespectful to the acts that were going on after Gore, so I won’t pile on (plus, Gospel Commentary and SGMblogger duked it out a while back about whether or not Tony Gore is impeding the cause of Christ, so no need for me to get in their way). What I do want to comment on is the swerve Gore seems to be making toward some pretty intense merchandising lately. Here’s a clip from his latest newsletter:

I wanted to let you know that my NEW retail shopping website is up and running now!!!! We are SO excited about this website and I don’t think that I or my staff has EVER worked so hard in one week! This was a LOT of work…but it was fun and we are glad to do it for YOU! The money made here will help me further the Gospel! So, I’m asking for your help….the next time you need an item for yourself or you’re going to shop for a gift, PLEASE log onto my NEW website and see if I have anything you like before going to the mall or Wal-Mart to spend your money. Also you can help this way….word of mouth is the BEST form of advertising there is…please tell your family, your friends, the people at your jobs, folks at your Church…about the NEW site and that they should really check it out…there are some nice things on there for GREAT prices. For now, I am only carrying merchandise for ladies…like handbags, brooches, watches…etc. I have carried some of this merchandise on my product table since November and the response from the ladies at concerts has been phenomenal! That’s why I have decided to do the website. I may try some men’s products later.

Watch out fellas! There are a coupla ways to look at this, I think. One way is a version of Gore’s sales pitch: whatever you buy from me will help my ministry stay afloat and therefore is justifiable inasmuch as many of you would probably buy some of the same stuff I’m selling at some point in the near future anyway. Might as well support an sg performer as not (this sets aside the question of the merchandise’s quality, which I don’t know enough about to comment on one way or another; you can see the products Gore sells at tstreasurechest.com). Another way to look at it is that aggressive merchandising of non-musical product bereaves what should be the dignity of religious artistic expressions (though to be fair, plenty of performers manage to conduct the sale of musical product in a pretty “money-changers in the temple” kinda way). I don’t know exactly where the line is between offering a few quaint items or some harmlessly amusing stuff (Clodhopper candies, say, or religious-themed tapestries or whatever) and becoming a traveling dime store set to music, but Gore’s letter seems to bring him pretty close to crossing over from the former to the latter. The newsletter, taken together with the amateurish quality of the website (many of those product photos look they were shot in someone’s basement), gives the distinct impression that Gore in moving in a cheap and slightly desperate direction. And you know what I’m talking about if you’ve been to the NQC exhibition hall and passed row upon row of clip joints and junk stores staffed by pathetic looking people with an unintentionally shifty look in their eyes tinged with palpable neediness. “We’re selling stuff for Lord; we love sg too … why won’t you BUY SOMETHING?”

I should say that if I had my way, product tables would be restricted to recordings and merchandise directly related to the artist(s) (t-shirts, hats, pictures, and the like) not because I think making money is unChristian or because merchandising keeps people from getting saved or whatever, but because aggressive merchandising is unseemly and slightly embarassing from sg performers who ask us to take them seriously as artists and ministers. Of course the kind of restrictions I would impose are unrealistic, not least of all because more than a few sg fans really go out for fiber-optic multi-colored blinking roses. At that’s the rub, isn’t it? The consumer tastes that make fiber-optic roses popular at sg product tables is the same set of tastes that seems to make little differentiation between the quality of, say, the Inspirations and the Gaither Vocal Band. As a result, sg is glutted with acts trying to stake out their own little segment of a market that admits just about anything faintly sg-sounding and sold for $15 or less (two for $25). The trouble is that while the sg market is a mile wide in terms of what it will tolerate qualitatively, it’s an inch deep. There simply isn’t the fan base out there to support the number of acts on the sg road. This seems like the best explanation for why performers start peddling ladies handbags and watches alongside their latest project. But if you have to start selling these things to keep the business and ministry going, maybe the market is trying to tell you something. Heck, given how many people seem to think American capitalism is divinely ordained, maybe God is trying to tell you something. If fans are more interested in buying blinking roses and “Got Jesus?” t-shirts from sg performers than they are buying the artists’ product, it might be time to reassess things. Put this another way: shouldn’t ministries be able to remain profitable without selling wallets, handbags, brooches, and watches? And if ministries sell these things but don’t need the money to remain solvent, might these ministers be in the wrong business?

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