Weird Al Yankovic is an American singer-songwriter and satirist. His latest CD is Alpocalypse . He will perform two shows at Toronto’s Massey Hall on July 16.
Cash-strapped cities across North America are selling (or thinking of selling) naming rights to public properties such as subway stations, bridges, libraries and zoos. Do you approve?
It seems like the dark side of capitalism. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t say I approve of Doritos City Hall. It seems like a joke that I’d make. It doesn’t seem like something that should occur in reality. I think it is a monument to ego.
I like it more as more philanthropical – you donate money to a building or a public library anonymously. You know all those paintings in museums that are donated by Anonymous? Well, you’re welcome. Thank you very much.
Proponents laud it as creative financing in tough times. Couldn’t prostitution be similarly described?
You could probably draw those parallels. Sometimes, you do what you have to do to make ends meet. It seems kind of sad that it has come to this, where public buildings are basically auctioned off to the highest bidders.
Parks, playgrounds, libraries: Shouldn’t those places offer a respite from relentless consumerism?
That would be my choice if I ruled the world. But due to some oversight, I do not.
Does everything have its price?
I’d like to think not. I’ve been offered a large sum of money to do things that I wouldn’t. Just flat out refused to do on principle. There are people and institutions in this world that are above being bought.
It’s not true of me and it’s not true of a lot of other people, but, in a large sense, many people and institutions are for sale depending on how much money you throw at them.
Is it just a matter of the sales price then? How much would it take to change your name to Coors Light Al Yankovic or iPod Al Yankovic? How many zeros would you need?
I like money, but money isn’t my priority in life. I was offered $5-million to do beer commercials a while back and I turned it down. I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to be endorsing an alcoholic beverage when such a large percentage of my fan base is kids. It was painful, but I have to do what I think is right. That was ethics winning over my accountant’s best interests, but I have to be able to sleep at night.
Do you have anything named after you?
Not to my knowledge.
What would you pay to have named after you? The Weird Al Old Satirists’ Home?
That’s the thing. I wouldn’t have to have my name put on it. If I were going to make that large of a charitable donation, I’d want to make it a real work of philanthropy. It’s not about making a monument to yourself.
Subway stations, museums, bridges: What’s next on the corporate naming rights shopping lists?
If this trend continues, I guess everything is going to have a name attached to it. “This toll booth courtesy of the Henderson family.” It feels like it can get ridiculous pretty quickly. Hopefully, there will be some way to stem this tide of monumentalism.
That would have to be municipalities having principles and sticking to them. But they’re dealing with problematic budgets. It’s principles versus “We’re broke.”
Right. The economy is making a lot of people do things they wouldn’t ordinarily consider.
To be fair, Toronto city officials investigating the idea released a statement proposing safeguards to prevent “undue commercialism of the public realm” and suggested refusing renaming proposals not in keeping with the city’s “goals, values or mission.” That sounds sensible, noble even, but does money speak louder? Can money become the goal, value and mission?
It becomes a grey area. Sometimes, you need money for the common good and, in order to get the money, you have to do things that are questionable. It goes back to your prostitution argument. It is something that we all have to work out and I hope that, going forward, governments can figure out how to move ahead without completely selling out.