One question that often comes up in the debate over authenticity is what makes one place, or experience, or situation more "real" than another. It's a question I don't talk about much in the book, largely because I don't have a proper framework for thinking about it. Happily, there's an article in the new Atlantic by Lane Wallace (who, in addition to being very smart, has an incredible bio) that makes some very useful opening moves. As she points out, the question of what is "real" or not depends on two main factors: status, and identity. And so what counts as real for a journalist is not the same as what counts as real for a tourist, or a local, or a migrant worker. It depends on where you are socially and politically and economically. I especially like this passage:
Why do we argue so heatedly about what the "real" ... fill in the blank ... is?
I don't pretend to have all the answers to that question, although a piece of it is undoubtedly status. Knowledge is power, and a lot of smug comments about knowing the "real" character of a place have the air of an exclusionary secret handshake differentiating the cooler set who "know" from those who don't. But they can also be articulating a sense of pride in having earned that membership; in having weathered storms tourists never experience, and having learned to love a place not despite its imperfections, but because of them.
Thanks to the Handcaper for the link.