culture

On “Mid” creativity, wild sincerity and the curse of the algorithm



Eric - Benedict Cumberbatch
I’m halfway through watching Eric on Netflix thanks to a few gushing Facebook recommendations.

I don’t watch many streamed series. A combination of shattered attention span and a default anti-hype setting means I prefer to wait till the fuss dies down and then I… don’t get round to it.

Anyway, I’m liking Eric (above), the 80s crime drama about a dysfunctional puppeteer whose son goes missing and the various sub-plots woven within. I’m particularly enjoying the early-80s New York setting, cultural references, cinematic colour grading and ace music score, along with the suspenseful pace of the storytelling.

Is it blowing my mind? Not quite. But it’s good enough. The New York Times has a coincidental opinion piece pondering the “mid”-ness of current TV. It complains that while the overall quality of TV is very good, it’s also become somewhat formulaic. Who’s to blame? The algorithm, of course. The article’s writer James Poniewozik refers to the all-pervasive “if you liked that, you’d like this” echo chamber-like loop of media we consume and it reminded me of the Substacker Ted Gioia’s recent interview here. (It’s long, but worth it.)

In this conversation, he talks about how today’s writing doesn’t take enough risks. Like Poniewozik and his critique of streaming platforms, Gioia blames publishers for playing safe and giving audiences more of what they already like. Gioia’s take is that humans naturally strive to fit in – think survival of the fittest, Darwin-style. And so, while it’s natural for a writer (or TV company) to want what it produces to appeal to popular tastes, sometimes you just need to go off on a mad one and follow your crazy, irrational creative instincts.

This brings me to W. David Marx, who writes at length on his Substack about culture and status. His recent post, a “Manifesto Towards a New Cultural Criticism”, describes our universal need for degrees of complex novelty, in order to avoid boredom. According to his research, the commercial marketplace promotes the production of just-novel-enough artworks by financially incentivising those creators who can attract the largest audiences.

We might even say the same about fashion. Many of us (hello!) feel fatigued by the amount of dumbed down “mid” design masquerading as fashion and lament the lack of that which is personal, provocative (rather than reactive) and emotionally resonant. I’m thinking that Margiela Couture show and the likes of Craig Green, who just showed his brilliant SS25 menswear collection in London (below), following a 2-year runway hiatus. Critics described his study of father-son relations as ‘wild sincerity’, applauding him for following his own strict path that’s unlike any of his contemporaries. As he told Business of Fashion, “I think it’s important now more than ever to offer something new and different, which is kind of what British design is best at: pushing challenging ideas forward during difficult times.”
Craig Green SS25

Gioia too says all is not lost. He predicts an emerging ‘counterculture’ rising from the influx of platforms like Substack that give writers their own monetisable space for unfiltered idea sharing. Yes, we’ve been here before (WordPress, anybody?), but blogging 2.0 empowers writers with their own subscription revenue streams, effectively cutting out the middleman. Which may – potentially – be the catalyst needed to force trad publishers and editors to be more daring in who and what they choose to commission.

Back to Eric. The Sesame Street-esque show, “Good Day Sunshine” in the series goes through its own creative transition, taking a risk on the odd new puppet that its protagonist proposes. Does the risk pay off? You’ll have to watch to find out…

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Eric/Netflix; Craig Green SS25
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