by Philo Hagen
Earlier this week one of the responses to our Hula Hooping Brides of Beverly Hills story came as quite a surprise. A comment regarding a more famous hooper and her husband-to-be appearing on the show read, “WOW! Talk about selling out! This is [sic] show is the ABSOLUTE worst. The only reason I could of [sic] someone of her caliber to be on the show is to further her career. So sad.” Seriously? A hoop performer and her husband are asked to appear on a reality television wedding show and she gets called a ‘Sell Out’ for it? It’s had us wondering what exactly is selling out when it comes to hooping anyway? How does one actually go about doing it, and is it bad if you do? And if so, for whom? With these questions spinning around here at Hooping.org over the last couple of days, I’ve decided to take a closer look.
Wikipedia describes selling out as the compromising of (or the perception of compromising) integrity, morality, or principles in exchange for money or “success” (however defined). It is commonly associated with attempts to tailor material to a mainstream audience. Any artist who expands their creative path to encompass a wider audience, as opposed to continuing in the genre and venues of their initial success, may be disdainfully labeled by disapproving fans as a sellout.
Kit responded, “I didn’t sell out. I was asked to do a TV show about trying on wedding dresses… since I was looking for wedding dresses I agreed to do the show.” I mean what bride to be wouldn’t? Chances are if you’ve decided to hoop for a living, be it performing, teaching, hoop making, or all of the above, then unless you’re a trust fund baby or you’ve snagged yourself a rich spouse or partner, you’ve probably experienced some financially challenging times, particularly early on. Landing a high exposure gig like a Britney Spears video might pay well, but you’ve still got to eat and pay bills for the rest of the year too. Did Kit’s opportunity to teach Renee Strauss how to hula hoop on national television somehow devalue her as an artist? Absolutely not. If anything, it’s done just the opposite. Being on the show might very well lead to more opportunities for work for her in the future at a time when the economy isn’t the best. There are those who think that hooping should be for fun and for free for everyone all the time. It’s a great concept. We love it actually. In fact we ran with it our first for years. Landlords, however, generally aren’t too keen on not having the rent paid.
When a photographer who does great work with hoopers recently invested her time and money shooting an event all weekend, she later found her photos posted on someone’s Facebook page as if they’d taken them. When she contacted them the person said, “I believe we should all just share everything. Why are you making a case out of it?” Hearing this story I couldn’t help wondering how this person would feel if we all came into her workplace demanding free groceries. It reminded me of something Caroleeena once said. She’d been asked to perform hoop dance at some event for free, again, and her response was something akin to the fact that you wouldn’t ask a doctor to treat you for free, or a hairdresser to give you a free haircut. Why should the art of hoop dance and those who have spent the time, energy and sometimes money to be great at it have their skills and talents devalued as being worth any less?
Earlier this year when a hooper posted on their Facebook page that they were planning to audition for America’s Got Talent, some of the comments they received were less than supportive. It seemed there were those who believed appearing on the show would be selling out. Sadly, we knew the feeling. Here on Hooping.org someone in our community forums posted a few months ago that they wanted to buy a hoop, but they didn’t know where to get one. Their friend had told them to avoid Hooping.org because it was ‘supported by corporate advertising’. Was someone actually maliciously damaging our reputation by calling us a sell out? For realsies?
Let’s take a closer look at one story and I’ll use Hooping.org’s only because I know the best. It does, however, metaphorically serve to represent so many of us trying to make hooping our livelihood. Running Hooping.org started as a hoopy and it has become a full-time job keeping the site alive and online. I drove a cab part-time for three years to support it. I’ve gone without health insurance for four. I’ve had a hole in my tooth I haven’t been able to afford to get fixed for three. Remember when performer and instructor Brecken Rivara broke her tooth and pleaded to the community for help getting it fixed? Does that sound successful? Hooping.org happens out of a magically small studio apartment in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, one of the most affordable, densely populated, urban areas of L.A. There are weeks I stay home and do nothing, because I am broke. While there are occasional teaching or performance gigs that help, they don’t happen often enough to plan on them.
You might not know that for the first four years we didn’t have advertising. In fact, we had free community business listings for everyone. Then a proprietor was accused of ripping someone off. “Remove them,” a hooper demanded. Soon after, another hoopmaker went AWOL with a lot of paid hoop orders and zero shipments. “Take them down,” people cried. Not wanting to be viewed as potentially endorsing anyone, we moved to advertising as a way to get out of the middle with ridiculously low priced text ads at $10 a month (inflation has them now at $15). While we may not necessarily love every hoop company out there, everyone is welcome advertise on Hooping.org. Why? Because it’s the only fair and democratic thing to do.
And when someone offered us more than triple the graphic advertising rate for an ad three times larger than anyone else’s, we turned it down. It wouldn’t be fair to give that advantage to a bigger company when many of our advertisers are single-person or family-run businesses operated out of a basement or garage. When a recent story was viewed by an advertiser as not being favorable enough to them and they pulled their advertising, did we change what we wrote? No, not a word. While Hooping.org began as and remains the only fully hooper owned and operated hooping hub on the web, we certainly aren’t Facebook, a company valued at $100 billion. Sometimes our pages might load a little slowly, but we’re not a Ning network account either, a company that was sold to Glam Media last month for $150 Million. While we can Occupy whatever we want while discussing how the personal is political, Hooping.org’s Webworth value is $12,000, a figure I’ve never personally had anything close to in the bank all at once in my life.
If a hooping business grows and gets more orders, chances are they’re probably going to need more space for tubing or to hire someone to help out. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s called growth. Things and businesses and people and hoopers are apt to grow and change, and hopefully improve with time. I get that sometimes we can resent that for I’m not always one to embrace change. I kind of like it when things stay the same. Sometimes Morissey was right when he sang, “We hate it when our friends become successful,” but then how successful are any of us in the hoop world in the real world in all honesty anyway?
If selling out is compromising integrity, morality, or principles in exchange for money or “success”, then taking a job hooping naked in a video when you’re a Christian hooper who believes that nudity is something to only be shared with a spouse would be selling out. If you appear in a Diet Coke commercial and you’re someone who has actively campaigned against the harmful effects of aspartame, that would probably be selling out too. In fact, it seems to me that selling out has more to do with who we are as individuals and our own personal values than anything having to do with the hoop in and of itself. And when we do something that isn’t true to ourselves, we’re the ones who pay the price. We have to live with that uncomfortable feeling knowing we didn’t do the right thing. What might not be right for you, however, might be fine for someone else. We’re all a part of a community so big and diverse at this point we probably couldn’t agree on anything, other than one simple fact. We love to hoop. So if an opportunity comes your way that feels right to you that would give you a chance to share your hooping with a bigger audience, we say go for it. After all, it’s often better to regret the things we have done, than regret the things we haven’t.
Philo Hagen is the Co-founder and Managing Editor of Hooping.org. He lives in Los Angeles, California.