Organized Panel Session
Throughout my fieldwork at Hunan Satellite Television in Changsha, television professionals have described HSTV as ‘creative.’ But what does that mean? How do television makers conceptualize and interpret ‘creativity’? Based on two years of fieldwork at HSTV in Changsha, I found that on the one hand, creativity is sloganized and institutionalized and should be taken as meta-narrative that configures how HSTV and its employees describe themselves. On the other hand, in everyday practice creativity is highly ambiguous, complicating the binary dichotomy between creativity and imitation. Television makers regard the appropriation of foreign formats (often dismissed as ‘copying’ or ‘cloning’ (Keane 2015), for example, as a highly creative process in its own right. I argue that this conceptual space is where ‘banal creativity’ takes place, which refers to the opening-up of the domain of the creative, not challenging dominant discourses, but rather nuancing them.
My argument is therefore not a Chinese challenge to the Western-modern-romantic discourse of creativity, pointing to some self-Orientalizing Chinese otherness (Wilf 2018). Rather, I argue for a conceptual extension of the recognition of creativity. The dichotomy between creativity, and related concepts such as originality on the one hand, and copying, mimicry, and imitation on the other, does not take the middle positions into consideration and moreover establishes a misleading idea of creativity and originality as ‘ex nihilo’. Through a comparison with shanzhai products—‘copies but not quite’—I show how banal creativity can hold a mirror to dominant Western conceptions.