A few years ago I (rather reluctantly) attended the Shoreditch birthday party of one of my house-mates. I’d moved into the house we shared not long before and felt I had to make some effort (this did not last long.) One of the only things I can remember about that night is meeting one of the house-mate’s friends, a girl who worked in PR, who upon mishearing my name greeted me with the exclamation “nice hair Callum babes!” This girl has become a running joke, emblematic of the facile and false world of marketing which is smeared across London in a manner which no other place in the UK can compare to. The brittle conceit which underlies this behaviour – a performance of mutual interest relying on an unspoken acquiescence to the charade – is one that goes well beyond the world of marketing and PR and is sadly widespread in personal relationships (something I’ve written about many times previously.) So much of relationships now is marketing. Marketing the person you want to be, the relationship you want to be perceived as having and the life you want people to see that you lead. Social media is at its core a marketing exercise and its success both relies on and further fuels our self-flattery – ‘further fuels’ being a quite momentous understatement given how ever more pervasive social media continues to be.
This ‘marketisation of life’ is perhaps most obvious when it comes to the magical pixie realm of ‘creativity’. ‘Creativity’ has become a fetish but one that has been stripped-down and hollowed-out. Everyone wants to be seen as creative but there seems to be little thought given to what that actually means or even why it’s so appealing. It becomes all about the performance, making the right noises. The concept of emotional labour is undoubtedly important here and not least because a flimsy, self-absorbed idea of creativity lends itself easily to being expressed through products like Instagram and Facebook; the profit-motives of these companies become obscured as they become synonymous with the (creative) self. This is more than ‘creativity as capitalism’ – creativity which doesn’t lend itself to marketisation of the self (itself encroached upon by capitalism) is neglected – why bother doing anything that doesn’t have as its primary message ‘I am a creative person’?
As a central tenet in the marketisation of life, then, creativity is terminally infected by the need for that unspoken acquiescence. The reactions to that Neil Kurkani blog were a perfect example of how terrified people are of harsh criticism (especially that of a proselytizing nature). Instead, music criticism is largely part of the charade and the worst thing it could possibly do is challenge its audience. Note that this isn’t the same as not being ‘critical’ of anything – being critical of the right things is a crucial aspect of the neat, neoliberal identities (or markets) which marketisation relies on. So in music criticism terms, Popjustice has an over-the-top hatred of indie guitar music or NME has a cartoonish scorn for…whatever happens to be the easiest target that week. Dare to be critical of the wrong thing, however – ie something which encroaches on the personal identity of the audience – and you’ve broken the contract. Then come the accusations of bitterness, negativity etc because this is one of the worst things that you can possibly do. In a broader sense, then, you have the bolting together of creativity and PR. The insipid, empty praise of the latter is applied to the former and it’s more about ego and identity than any real attempt at understanding or appreciation. So terrible, egotistical art flourishes. Approaching Instagram and its ilk critically is seen as beyond the pale, yet it is nonetheless used as one of the widest signifiers of a creative mind. An ostentatious creativity which is both inseparable from masturbation and unchallenged is, however, an awful thing. It precludes development and learning (both about yourself and about the world) and replaces it with a grim, arrogant certitude. The expectation of banal PR responses creates a suffocating, oppressive climate where we are encouraged to be less than human in the idiotic belief that an uncritically bland acceptance of everything = ‘positivity’ = being ‘a good person’. Creativity in this context is almost meaningless – it’s just something else show-off about, like having a six-pack or an expensive car, rather than something which is transformational, profound, didactic and often uncomfortable. In the nimble dance underlying so many current notions of creativity, “nice hair Callum babes” should be the stock response.