What does it mean to be authentic? For many, the search for the authentic is a powerful source of meaning in a secular age, fostering a unique personal identity and value system in a world that seems indiffernent to their deepest spiritual desires. This demand for authenticity -- the honest or the real -- is one of the most powerful movements in contemporary life, influencing our moral outlook, political views, and consumer behavior. Yet according to Andrew Potter, when examined closely, “authentic” lifestyles or activities—from the cult of the organic to ecotourism, Oprah to Obama, yoga to artisan cheese—are actually a form of exclusionary status-seeking.
Plumbing threads of pop culture, history, and philosophy, The Authenticity Hoax reveals how our misguided pursuit of the authentic exacerbates the artificiality of contemporary life that we decry. At best, it results in an endless cycle of status-seeking; at worst, it leads to a reactionary and stagnant political agenda that rejects the best of what the modern world has to offer.
Potter traces the origins of the authenticity ideal from its roots in the eighteenth century through its adoption by the 1960s counterculture to its centrality in twenty-first century moral life. He shows how this ideal is manifested through our culture from the political fates of Sarah Palin and John Edwards to Damien Hirst and his role in contemporary art, from the phenomenon of retirement as a second adolescence to the indignation over James Frey’s memoir. From this defiant, brilliant critique, Potter offers a way forward to a meaningful individualism that makes peace with the modern world.