You are not a commodity.

Joan Westenberg
@westenberg
Published in
3 min readApr 29, 2024

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Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

In the 1990s, the alt and punk music scene was a hotbed of creativity. But it was also increasingly being co-opted by major labels and corporate interests. Bands that had formed in garages and played tiny punk rock clubs were signing record deals and million-dollar contracts and reaching international stardom.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana made it big. They became household names, and their members became multi-millionaires.

But one band refused to play by those rules. Fugazi, formed by Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto in 1987, was determined to do things differently. They had no interest in turning themselves into a commodity or catering to the whims of the music industry.

Instead, Fugazi focused on creating raw, powerful music that spoke to the issues they cared about — social justice, anti-consumerism, and DIY ethics. They kept ticket prices low, often playing all-ages shows in unconventional venues. They refused to sell merchandise or allow their music to be used in commercials. They even turned down lucrative tour offers, choosing to play smaller shows on their own terms.

For Fugazi, staying true to its principles was more important than success, as the music industry defined it. They believed that punk rock was about more than just music — it was a way of life, a set of values, a commitment to authenticity and integrity.

Over time, Fugazi’s uncompromising approach earned them a devoted following. They may not have had hit singles or platinum albums, but they had something more valuable — the respect and admiration of fans who appreciated their honesty and conviction.

Today, Fugazi’s influence can still be felt in the countless bands and artists who have been inspired by their example. They proved that creating powerful, meaningful art was possible without selling out or compromising your beliefs. They showed that staying true to yourself, even under pressure to conform, is courageous and noble.

McKaye and his bandmates showed that you don’t have to self-commodify to make a difference—in fact, it’s often by refusing to do so that you make the biggest impact.

Today, it’s just as tempting for creators to turn themselves into commodities, packaging and selling every aspect of their lives to gain more followers, likes, and shares.

It’s all in the name of being seen and heard.

But something vital gets lost.

When you reduce yourself to a product, you sacrifice the very essence of what makes you unique. Your quirks, your weirdness, your vulnerabilities, your authentic self—these are the things that resonate with others, not a polished, palatable persona.

The impactful creators understand this. They share their work and ideas but don’t sell their souls. They get that connection from revealing your humanity, not obscuring it behind a marketable mask.

Yes, putting yourself out there invites judgment and criticism.

Yes, it’s scary to share the unvarnished truth.

But it’s also the only way to make work that matters.

Work that moves people and leaves a lasting mark.

Resist the urge to self-commodify. Embrace what makes you different, not what makes you blend in. Focus on the process, not just the outcome. Pour yourself into your craft and trust that your tribe will find you.

The internet is becoming a sea of sameness. But what we crave most is something genuine—something real—not a hollow imitation, but an artist who has the courage to be fully themselves.

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