Hail the Creator. Respect the Creative.

The late 20th and early 21st century have been mercilessly cruel to language.

The amount of words invented to describe trivial activity and disposable technology is staggering. Jargon and slang have infiltrated the lexicon to such a degree that mid-century time travelers visiting 2015 would think us all mad or stupid. But they — like us — would be so distracted by our magic devices that they would forget their criticisms and be overcome by Immediately Massive Deficient Understanding Mindset (ImDUM).

Feeding this steady diet of trivia and digital pulp has given rise to a working class of individuals dedicated to fashioning and delivering stuff — also known as content. This drone class exist to provide user engagement and to create traffic that justifies our existence and/or employment. If we cannot command an audience, do we even exist?

I believe it was sometime in the 1990s that a certain adjective was converted to a noun. Creative. The origin appears to be advertising, that incubator of dubious wordplay and the occasional illuminating brilliance. Ad agencies are populated by account managers, executives, researchers, and creative teams. The creative team is typically made up of someone responsible for the words, and someone responsible for the pictures — respectively the copywriter and the art director.

The art director and copywriter are the Creative Team, overseen by the Creative Director. This model began sometime in the 1940s spurred on by teams like Bill Bernbach and Paul Rand. Great creative teams, became advertising royalty and they gave rise to what became known as “Creative Agencies” who became known not just for their accounts, but for the breakthrough work they would deliver.

The Creative Team model became the norm in advertising. In my experience, it was the ad agency account people who began referring to their (usually young) creative teams as simply “creatives.” I was stunned to see the term widely used and adopted by art directors, copywriters, and creative directors, who would casually refer to themselves and their colleagues as creatives. I think calling someone a creative is insulting.

What’s in a word? A lot, actually. When a slave owner would refer to an adult male as “boy” he was reminding that fellow human being of his subservient, inferior, powerless role. The word boy, in and of itself, is not evil. But its use to subjugate a slave class of adult males was evil.

Mentioning slavery in this context may seem like bringing a cannon to a pillow fight, but I find that the use of language is similar. Creative teams and creative departments are often teeming with young, creative talent. Those who own or run their agencies or businesses often look on those young creators with jealous, jaundiced eyes. Account managers think of them as barely-grown children playing. Those kids get to have fun. Surely, this is not work. Surely, they are not adults. As much as business relies on their creative output, these youthful creators are too often seen as the cute, clever drones of the advertising and media creation worlds.

The use of “Creatives” to describe this working class reinforced this stereotype of the perceived trivial activities that these individuals performed. Who came up with that ad idea? The creatives. Who created it? The Agency.

Creatives the noun was further diminished with the age of online communication and commerce. Now digital ads themselves were referred to as creatives. Even if the work exhibited little uniqueness or originality — it was no longer a banner ad — it was a creative. It was content, a placeholder, a means to an end. It was something of little significance. The creative was merely a thing to be clicked, a potential sale delivery medium.

Pause and consider this: creative versus creator.
Both words are derived from create, from the act of creation.
Creator is what the religious call their God.
Creative is what they call their child’s drawing.
Creator is the title of someone who invented something amazing.
Creative is the way an oddball dresses to go to work or to Comic-Con.

A creator is an inventor. A creative is paid to play.

Like it or not, in modern language usage the term creative is tinged with patronizing condescension. It’s perceived meaning usually depends on the source and the receivers’ bias. But when it is used as a noun, creative is a thing that has little respect.

We who are paid to create, should never refer to ourselves as creatives. And if you respect the creative working class, please refrain from calling them creatives. You may find that you begin to respect the work they do more, and they will consider you a collaborator instead of just another asshole in an ill-fitting suit.

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