What Happened To Creativity?

After the conclusion of the past TV season and viewing the latest sample of so-called blockbuster (emphasis on bust) movies, I must conclude that creativity in the US is either dead or on life support.

As a former advertising creative director, for the first time since the early 1960’s, I ignore most of the commercials. It seems that most US commercials are bland compared to their international counterparts. It’s not for lack of budget. Large US advertisers are literally throwing money at production and getting little in return. That’s because the ideas are mostly formulaic and stunted by research.

Much of the TV programming is worse than the advertising. Except for HBO, “Reality” TV has replaced comedy and drama. We have Survivor, Big BrotherStorage Wars, Swamp People, Here Comes Honey Boo BooThe Apprentice, The Amazing Race…ad nauseum. Unfortunately, there appears to be no end in sight for the dumbing down of American TV (hard to imagine it could get worse that the vast wasteland of the 60’s and 70’s). Because reality TV is cheap to produce, some industry insiders are predicting the end of scripted television.

Our movies are no better. Hollywood has abandoned stories in favor of bombastic production. Most of the movies are devoted to disasters of one kind of another. Those that aren’t, are remakes of old classics. The reason?  Lynda Obst, in her book Sleepless in Hollywood, argues that the movie industry is driven by foreign demand. She says that foreign movie sales now account for 80 percent of all movie income; that movies with complex stories relying on dialogue simply don’t draw movie audiences in Europe and Asia. As a result, American movie-goers are forced to suffer through movies that are long on action and short on story. Of course, that fits into the video game psyche of American youth.

To my mind, these industries are only indicators of a distressing lack of creativity throughout the US. More and more, we’re falling behind other nations when it comes to creativity and invention. Now that the hedonistic yuppies of the 80’s are running our corporations, we’re good at making money. But not much else.

Hedge fun managers are creative in finding new ways to rip off unsuspecting investors. Mortgage lenders are creative in finding ways to foreclose on homes. Multinational corporations are creative in avoiding taxes, increasing productivity while cutting costs, and socializing their financial losses.

I believe the US won’t reclaim its leadership role until we, once again, value products, design and people over profits; creativity over productivity; customer service over sales; and craftsmanship over cost-cutting.

Until then, we can watch our nation’s demise on our screens in 3D and HD.