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Wherefore art thou Creativity, Hong Kong?

The photo above with its come together influenced slogan is, at least on the surface, an ungrammatical confusing piece of communications- or, possibly, against all odds, something deep, meaningful and inspiring. What exactly does “We and Us” REALLY mean? Hmmmmm?

While letting the wordsmiths and blacksmiths ponder the meaning behind this, speaking with a friend last night about Hong Kong’s purported “influencers”, the question was, what exactly makes someone one of these? More importantly, the chat was about how in Hong Kong, creating something doesn’t really happen organically. There’s first a need to try and second-guess what might be approved. Thinking about this, there’s something fascinating to drift off and daydream that creativity in this city might be being made in some middle kingdom in the Lost And Found, where all kinds of young artists congregate and create without following rules and not regurgitating what’s already come and gone. Unfortunately, creative work in Hong Kong is often not given the wings to fly and, in so doing, create a vibrant independent artists community. There’s always something holding things back. In the Eighties and Nineties, advertising in Hong Kong had its own “Mad Men” with work that could hold its own with anything from anywhere in the world. There was of course talent from Hong Kong and also veteran Directors of Photography from the UK like Ronnie Maarsz, Joe Bruton and others who had worked on classic films like “Lawrence Of Arabia”. For a few years, Hong Kong was home to Bob Freeman, former official photographer for the Beatles who worked on at least three commercials for me. We might not have known it at the time, but just being around them and hearing their stories influenced some of us a helluva lot. Produced for brands like Puma, Solvil et Titus, and especially the documentaries Director Louis Ng and his company Film Factory produced for the Hong Kong Tourism Board, was work that won just about every international advertising award. This was good for the individuals involved and also for the reputation and image of Hong Kong.

It was a short, powerful burst of creative energy that inspired many. For one reason or another, especially the China market opening up and clients paying big money for commercials that appealed to its consumers, standards dropped and that initial burst of creativity was short lived. Money talks all languages. During these times, and earlier, there was no need for “influencers”. There was no social media, no need for Mr Wikipedia nor Mrs Google. Mobile phones were the size of bowling balls and the only App one knew might have been a kid living down the road. The technology was never the idea. Music, commercials, films, they came from the heart, mind, real life experiences and imagination that never has any boundaries. It’s this gift of imagination that brought Jim Henson’s rainbow connection together. No one questioned things like how a frog and pig could get along, the close relationship between Bert and Ernie and why Big Bird was yellow. It was diversity without it being crammed down one’s throat.

Whether in advertising or film or music, or whatever that had yet to happen, there was always work and successes by others to inspire and move things forward- and not be bogged down with analytics and algorithms, crypto cryptics, the metaverse and other buzzwords.

It was the work from artists as diverse as Steven Spielberg, Jim Henson, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and Miles Davis to Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, Fellini, Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese and David Bailey that helped to inspire many and break down walls. Creativity wasn’t “push button simple”. It came outta nowhere and one often knew instinctively when it entered the system. Though in 2009, the Hong Kong government made a song and dance about a “worldwide search” for a creative guru to lead the newly formed CreateHK, this was empty squawk box talk.

This promise came from the ubiquitous Duncan Pescod, below, the somewhat controversial head of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority who was finally forced to resign in 2020 from this post.

In 2014, Dunc had been awarded a Gold Bauhinia Star for “contributions in the areas of economy and trade, communications and technology” yada yada yada. Funny how Hong Kong often works. As for CreateHK, someone from another government department- the unknown Jerry Liu- quietly became its leader and kept the title until a couple of years ago when he strapped on his golden parachute and flew off into retirement. His legacy? Possibly this YouTube video.

This white elephant, meanwhile, is allowed to plod along under a new leader and still funded by taxpayers’ money with few knowing how CreateHK works and bothering to question its relevance to the Hong Kong -and the city’s creative community. There’s a thick veil of bullsh*t around it which surely goes against its name- CreateHK. CreateHK? How? Where? When? Who? Curiouser and curiouser, Alice.

Could Hong Kong ever be a creative hub and wonderland? In time, perhaps, and by first paying some dues. It’s become way too easy, for instance, to be labelled an “influencer”, and which often means mediocrity being promoted and a lowering of standards.

There’s also the belief by many that the online world and the real world exist under two different sets of rules and systems. The fact is that everything has to first and foremost have do with real talent that sets it apart as opposed to subscribing to the same school of thought and that herd instinct landing everyone in the same Canto Pop cow patch. If it’s not one thing, it’s an udder...

For some reason, those on the fringes and with no curriculum vitae seem to think that hashtags and “views”, streams and tapping into online communities for help trumps the creative product. This is all too often when clear headed thinking goes AWOL and MIA. It’s not unlike falling for click bait and answering things like whether hot dogs should be eaten with mayo and mango chutney and bothering to name all the places where one has lived.

As for “creative content” that’s often mentioned as something to fill a void in any marketing plan though the end result only shows a lack of an idea. It’s a patchwork quilt job. This is probably another reason why standards have been lowered with mediocrity allowed in and everyone pretty much being an expert on everything. In Hong Kong, we have now come down to “We and Us” and a new chapter in its history. This is happening when the Lockdown Years have affected the attention span of many around the world. There’s a drip feed of bibs and bobs, ticks and toks and nothing much of any substance. Hopefully, this has to do with the world needing time to get itself together and become more selective and exclusive instead of inhaling clutter.

It might not seem like it, but there’s no time like the present for “We and Us” to look at creating work that will help fast track the battered image of Hong Kong as we wait to see what the city comes up with to attract tourism. No one is going to take Hong Kong seriously because of a rather quizzical rah rah slogan- and copycat ideas from other countries. The city needs the right global partners with whom to work and see what each can bring to the table to create The Big Picture. Very little can replace individual strengths and effective teamwork coming together to make this happen. This is the excitement that lies ahead. This is the type of motivation needed to make good things happen.


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