Is social media stifling creativity? Jake O'Brien Murphy thinks it is and suggests it’s pulling drinks towards safe ground.
Broadly speaking, drinks are better now than they have ever been. Sure the ‘way back when’ brigade might clear their throats and tell us how everything was better at some conveniently indeterminate time in the past. During the age of leatherette menus covers, hideous glassware, bev nap flare and magnetic (retch) bar blades. At the same time there are the modernists who champion koji, natural wine and a whole host of other things that smell a bit like piss. I see this discourse as cause for celebration – it shows we are part of a rich creative culture.
The inciting idea behind this article was to discuss social media. For better or worse, the aesthetic prestige of social media has changed how we view the world around us. More than half of the global population is now active on social media; a third of Americans use Facebook as their primary source of news; 95 million videos and images are posted on Instagram every single day. My octogenarian grandmother, a lady who doesn’t trust her fire alarm, is somehow fluent in emojis. The image has become democratised, it is capital and currency. Yet, by virtue of our ever-depleting attention spans and the staggering volume of content, the image becomes almost immediately devalued to the point of worthlessness. It reminds me of a Roy Lichtenstein documentary I watched about the value of art in a media-saturated world, at least I think it does, I can't remember. I was on my phone.
Specifically, I wanted to discuss how the Insta-aesthetic trumps any of the other myriad factors that make a great cocktail. What a self-righteous prick I am. Thankfully, over the past six months, this turned out to be a genuinely rare occurrence in venue. It seems visually pristine, diabolically balanced cocktails are the fodder of brands and drinks influencers. A note on drink influencers, I’ve been asked why I give them such a hard time. Perhaps it’s because of their gossamer-thin declarations of expertise from which they extract maximum value from an industry which I love, while adding nothing. Perhaps it’s the dogshit drinks they post.
What I did notice is how many of these drinks fell within a startlingly similar visual palate. Crisp, transparent, clean lines, binary colour palettes with simple garnishes. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Luigi Bormioli has sold enough Top Class highballs at time of writing to annex Belgium. This got me thinking. These drinks, the ones I would seek out, which range from good looking to downright flawless, have an unspoken unifying characteristic, there seems to be some phantom hand pulling the strings. Clearly social media has an effect not just on how we consume but also how we create. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.
Historically, trends come and go in any creative industry – but this is the first time in human history when each of us has a sophisticated marketing tool bouncing around in our pockets. So once a strong visual identity is established, it is therefore reiterated per the algorithm, ultimately reinforcing the established visual norm. Thus a gravitational pull towards a safe middle ground intensifies. Nothing is proffered or risked. In the words of The Beautiful South: ‘When blondes and beautiful are multiple they become so dull and dutiful.’
I don’t necessarily think that this is some great evil, but, I would say it’s a shame. The very nature of a sweeping style is that it curtails and stifles with its prescriptive apparatus. It has also fostered in me – and by extension I’d wager others as well – a prescriptive model of consumption and expectation which I’ve unwittingly reinforced. Delicious? Perhaps. Safe? Certainly. Room for growth? Minimal. There’s a drink at Side Hustle in The Nomad that comes in a great big bloody skull. It’s silly. Seeing it made me smile and reminded me of the exponential potential we possess to create. Similarly, Cocktail Trading Company and its series of elaborate and self-referential vessels offers particular delight. The great wonder of creating drinks is in how we interpret the source material and where we go with it. It might sound silly, but I take sincere joy in beautiful things. Established visual uniformity robs us of joy.
One last note on beautiful things – photographer Addie Chinn has created a series of visually sumptuous images, each a totemic representation of a classic cocktail that dances delightfully between high and low art. I think. I don’t know. I was busy looking at my phone.