Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Damn the Man

What does it mean to be creative, anyway?

Does creativity involve coming up with a new idea for some purpose? I suppose so, yes, but what does it mean to come up with a new idea? And what's an "idea", for that matter?


Darn it, I can't come up with a definition of an "idea". And I fear that, if I ever do, then I'll get lumped along the crowds of would-be philosophers who espouse the logical proposition that we simply can't define everything.

So let's assume that being creative merely involves coming up with new ideas. Brand, spanking new ideas. Stuff that nobody's even thought of before.

But, come to think of it, that would significantly cut down the number of creative people in the world, wouldn't it? Let's take the literary field of Fantasy, for example: JRR Tolkien technically wrote the first series of Fantasy novels, and thus can be credited with the invention of the genre. Does this necessarily mean, therefore, that every other fantasy writer after Tolkien has been somewhat uncreative? They were following Tolkien's footsteps, after all.

I suppose that the point should be clear by now: Creativity extends to the generation of an idea as well as its execution. That, I suppose, is why we can come up with our own interpretations of "elves", "dwarves" and "orcs" in our Fantasy writings. That's why we can come up with original parodies of known works. That's why copyright law doesn't protect ideas to begin with -- it protects the conceptualizations of those ideas. You can't copyright the idea of a pet dog for your comic strip, for example. But what you can do is copyright the idea of a pet beagle who sits on top of his doghouse pretending that he's a World War I Flying Ace on his Sopwith Camel.

So now, let's bring this to a more modern example: Menudo was, arguably, the first "boy band". Given that little piece of knowledge, where does that leave the Backstreet Boys? N'Sync? Westlife? 98 Degrees?

What about the series of disaster-movie blockbusters that followed in the wake of "Independence Day"? Surely we remember "Armageddon", "Deep Impact", "The Day After Tomorrow", and "The Core"?

Or how about the modern-day descendants of the Sony Walkman? Is the well-hyped iPod Nano the latest example of creative or uncreative execution for an existing idea?

We really must admit that sometimes the line isn't clear. It's like the chalk line you draw on the kindergarten gym floor just before recess.

Is creativity a state of mind, then? If so, then it would be possible for me to come up with what I believe is a totally original effort, only to have an audience see it as "just another ripoff" of an existing idea.

But hey, it is possible for that to happen.

Unless, on the other hand, the audience sees your execution and decides that it likes it.

Remember Alan Moore's Watchmen? Some of the people out there probably do; It's considered by many to be one of the seminal works in the comics industry. In fact, it's considered by some to be the greatest comic book ever -- basically, the pinnacle of its art. The surprise ending is often cited as a primary contributing factor to the power of the work.

There's one catch, though. The ending to the great graphic novel was copied from an episode of the old TV show The Outer Limits. Alan Moore (and Len Wein, his editor) have both admitted as much, and have themselves been surprised at how popular their work has become.

What becomes creative then, in our eyes?

It's difficult to say, really.

Perhaps the truth really lies in the fact that we're writing for an audience. I think that we've already established, long before, that no matter how much effort a writer puts into his or her work, it is ultimately the audience that decides whether he or she's worth reading.

And that's it, I think. Perhaps creativity doesn't enter into the equation in the first place. If people read our stuff, then people read our stuff. Damn the critics who accuse us of being uncreative.

We write for people, I suppose. We don't write for the stuffed suits who take one look at our works, accuse us of emulating somebody's else's efforts, and then don't bother reading us ever again. We write for an audience.

Exactly what creativity is will probably remain a topic for debate. But, as with all topics meant for debate, it will most likely have little or no bearing on the real world as it stands.


Anonymous said...


permission to *plagiarize your note of ownership in my blog...

come to think of it, i'm asking to plagiarize a note of ant-plagiarism. weird...

anywayz, thanks!

Anonymous said...

if you have time, I need your opinion on this... thanks!

Re: Conundrums

Sean said...

Reiji: Go ahead and use the Note of Ownership if you want; Since I'm giving you permission, it's not exactly plagiarism anymore. :)

I'll have to go over the article after a couple of weeks, though. It's more difficult getting Internet access over here than I originally thought, and I've only got enough time to go over my e-mail and blog at the moment.