When I first started writing these columns, they were pretty grumpy - lots of poking fun at dumb agency stuff and pointing at industry idiocies.
I guess I still do a lot of that, but I try to be less specific with the opprobrium these days and balance the half-empty with some half-full. I switched because I got fed up with every writer/blogger of a certain age trying to sound like Charlie Brooker. He’s a horrible role model for columnists and critics. His style of hyperbolic insult is fine if you’re very good at it, which he is, but it’s just tedious if you’re not. Writing well about things you like is much harder than good gags about things you hate. And it’s more useful.
As part of a long-term self-justification plan, I’ve started a little digital scrapbook of people who agree with me on this. How’s that for confirmation bias?
Here, for instance, is Stephen Fry on his blog: "I have always thought Hans Christian Andersen should have written a companion piece to The Emperor’s New Clothes, in which everyone points at the emperor shouting, in a Nelson from The Simpsons voice: ‘Haha! He’s naked.’ And then a lone child pipes up: ‘No. He’s actually wearing a really fine suit of clothes.’ And they all clap hands to their foreheads as they realise they have been duped into something worse than the confidence trick – they have fallen for what EM Forster called the lack of confidence trick. How much easier it is to distrust, to doubt, to fold the arms and say: ‘Not impressed.’"
Writing well about things you like is much harder than good gags about things you hate. And it's more useful
Or here’s Nitsuh Abebe at agrammar.tumblr.com: "Flippancy works best for people who already agree with you in principle. Jokes and references have to be gotten; irony and sarcasm need to be picked up.
They’re fun when they’re for you. The earnest, thorough stuff, on the other hand, has to waste its fun doing the boring work of reaching out to all possible listeners – explaining where it’s coming from, inserting caveats, acknowledging exceptions and counterarguments etc. It builds a case; flippancy gets to just dance entertainingly on a case."
And, then, this very morning, I realised that the one form of creative expression that almost universally has to do the very opposite of this is advertising. It’s our job to be entertaining, original and insightful while singing the praises of something. That’s not easy. It’s probably why we lapse so often into "problem/solution" stuff and then have too much fun with the problem. Anyway, that’s a nice thought for today, isn’t it? Saying positive things is hard and useful – keep up the good work!
Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service
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