Is Cringe Killing Australia's Creativity?

April 24, 2024

As Australians we love an underdog story, we idiolise the battlers pushing to succeed in the face of adversity. 

It makes sense, we’re a country with a small population isolated from most of the world and have historically punched above our weight across sports, creativity and cultural relevance. 

However, whilst supporting the underdogs we’re also cynical of those that are too loud and proud with their own achievements. Tall Poppy Syndrome has been ingrained in our society, meant to keep us grounded and humble. Tall Poppy Syndrome was meant to bring down those with egos too big but with social media, it has moulded into being cynical of anyone that tries too hard. 

Although this mentality has served Australia well for many years it seems it is now doing much more harm than good, especially within Australia’s creative space. Australians consume and celebrate global creativity on mass but struggle to show similar support to locals. There was one Australian in the top 50 ARIA singles for 2023 and no local movies in the top 50 of Australia’s box office last year. 

It makes sense that we are trailing behind globally in creative representation when creative experimentation or celebration is much more likely to be called cringe than cool. We’re losing confidence in our own ability and holding each other back in pushing the boundaries to create great work. 

Australian photographer Ruby Boland shared a similar sentiment on Instagram recently posting "Australia's Tall Poppy issue is becoming so draining...How is anyone supposed to be confident in their art when people tear them down before its even happened."

We are bringing the succesful down to make ourselves feel better about what we are doing. This reaction slows our creative growth as we no longer are inspired by those doing great locally but instead nitpick for reasons to hate or dislike them. 

Australian creatives are now competing on a larger playing field than ever before, due to social media and the internet giving consumers instant access to a near infinite amount of global creativity. Due to the global nature of creativity, Australians are no longer competing amongst themselves and now need to confidently talk about their own work to break through the vast amounts of content online.

Sadly, we hold our local scene to different standards, constantly bringing people down who are trying to market themselves as they start out or try something new. Cynicism is so ingrained in Australia that cringe is the natural response when seeing anything different.

Don’t believe me, just have a look at the volume of negative comment’s on new wave Western Sydney hip-hop artist vvPete’s freestyles for Triple J and Mixtape Madness, the Splendour in the Grass lineup or any emerging creative’s TikTok.

Although it’s more noticeable through pop-culture, this tall poppy syndrome is affecting advertising in Australia with comment sections being so heavily negative that it can be hard to gauge true reactions to your own work. Even on LinkedIn, people are looking to provide (less than) constructive criticism instead of support. 

Australia’s unconscious cynicism is stunting creativity across the country, with people too scared to experiment or break the norms due to the fear of negative reactions. Great creative work comes from pushing the boundaries and our cynicism is stopping those from being able to do that.

As a country, we need to shift our cynicism to focus on celebrating local talent and the work around us. As an industry, being aware of this can help to create more culture shifting work. Be brave in stepping outside of societal norms and when you see someone doing the same, make sure to give them a positive boost too. 

My New Year resolution was to be less cynical, which has really opened my eyes to how much myself and the people around me look to hate anything different or trying too hard, often before we have had a chance to understand it. 

Growing up, a message that was shared by my teachers and family was “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” It’s time to remove cringe from our vocabulary, instead try dropping a couple of supportive comments every day to help give our creative scene the boost it so desperately needs.

Words by Connor Sprague.