Entries in authenticity hoax (7)


Gary Shteyngart on the jewish deli of the past and the authenticity hoax

Gary Shteyngart visits a Toronto deli:

The authentic Jewish deli, according to Gary Shteyngart, should be "greasy," inspiring "both excitement and revulsion." Caplansky's Delicatessen, where he's sitting at a corner table, devouring a breakfast omelette with salami, tomato and tongue, "is very smooth 'cause it's new." But he's not complaining: "There's all that Chagalllike mythologization of the past. It wasn't a great past. There's a reason why we're not living there now."


When it comes to travel, everything is authentic

Mike Sowden has a thoughtful post about travel, authenticity, and modernity:

So is authenticity the opposite of modernity?

No – it can’t be. We know travel is a form of escapism, but where can we escape to? A perceived goal of authentic travel is, in the words of Pam Mandel, “the perfect interaction with the culture we’re visiting”. But whatever remote corner of the world greets our feet, it’s the first decade of the 21st Century. Wherever we go, it’s all modern.

Maybe that sounds crazy. What about the honest-feeling traditions we encounter around the world – the old ways of doing things that we fall so in love with at first sight? Yep, they’re modern too…and the fact you’re seeing them at work means they’re successfully modern. Putting aside the enormously tricky ethical issues for a second – if you’re watching ‘traditional culture’ reenacted in front of you, it’s an invention. It might be largely accurate, it might be 99% fiction, but it’s redesigned for now.

Along the way, he tries to get to a plausible account of authenticity that avoids status-seeking, avoids being caught up in the fetishization of the poor, or the underdeveloped, or the anti-modern, but which also tries to avoid the feeling of compromise or betrayal that goes along with the whole paying-for-authenticity angle. Here's his working definition:

an authentic experience is one that can’t be dictated to us... A moral, ethical choice to do something in such a way that satisfies our core sense of what is good and right.

This is a good try at salvaging the idea of authenticity as a useful goal (for travel, anyway), but I'm not sure it will work. To begin with, I think that searching for an "authentic experience that can't be dictated us" is just another brilliant marketing plan. Even when it is not, I worry that what seems like a "moral, ethical choice" is to0 shot through with class biases and our aesthetics of taste and distaste. At its heart, this strikes me as simply a restatement of the very problem that motivates the entire authenticity hoax in the first place. To the extent to which it doesn't do so, it turns every decision we make into an authentic one, which has a distinctly Buddhist charm to it, at the cost of making the use of the term pointless.



The great Authenticity Hoax paperback giveaway

Hey! The Authenticity Hoax came out in paperback this week in the USA and Canada. They are identical, except that the USA edition has a fancy new subtitle. It's also my birthday. So to celebrate, I'm giving away five copies of the book: Two in Canada, two in the USA, and one to someone from a third country.

How to win?

Well, you might have noticed that things have been a bit quiet on this blog. Partly it's because we just had a federal election here in Canada, and I spent a great deal of blogging and writing energy on politics, most of which ended up on my blog at Maclean's magazine. I also started an Authenticity Hoax tumblr, which has become a repository for a lot of the pics, quotes, links, and other miscellany. It's probably a bad idea to split the readers' attention like this, but I thought I'd try it out.

At any rate, the upshot is that I haven't been doing much of the long-form stuff I want to do here. So here's where you, the dear and the gentle, come in. Send me an idea for something I should blog about -- a link, a picture, a book, a band. If I use it, you get a copy of my book. Easy peasy.

So let's have it. What's got your authenticity hoaxed?

email: jandrewpotter@gmail.com

twitter: @jandrewpotter


Seneca on the Authenticity Hoax

Ryan Holiday sent me this wonderful passage from Seneca, which Ryan describes as "a nice classical indictment of the authenticity hoax, and I guess in a way, also of cool chasing." The last few sentences are particularly lovely.

Then from this dislike of others' success and despair of their own, their minds become enraged against fortune, complain about the times, retreat into obscurity and brood over their own sufferings until they become sick and tired of themselves. For the human mind is naturally mobile and enjoys activity.

Every chance of stimulation and distraction is welcome to it--even more welcome to all those inferior characters who actually enjoy being worn out by busy activity...For some things delight our bodies even when they cause some pain like turning over to change a side that is not yet tired and repeatedly shifting to keep it cool...like an invalid could endure nothing for long but used his restlessness as a cure.

Hence men travel far and wide, wandering along foreign shores and making trial by land and sea of their restlessness, which always hates what is around it. 'Let's now go to Campania.' Then when they get bored with luxury--'Let's visit uncultivated areas; let's explore the woodlands of Bruttium and Lucania.' And yet amid the wilds some delight is missing by which their pampered eyes can find relif from the tedious squalor of these unsightly regions. 'Let's go to Tarentum with its celebrated harbor and mild winters, an area prosperous enough for a large population even in antiquity.' 'Lets now make our way to the city'--too long have their ears missed the din of applause: now they long to enjoy even the sight of human blood. They make one journey after another and change spectacle for spectacle.

As Lucretius says 'Thus each man flees himself.' But to what end if he does not escape himself? He pursues and dogs himself as his own most tedious companion And so we must realize that our difficulty is not the fault of the places but of ourselves.


Paglia gags on Gaga

Perhaps desperate to remind the world that she isn’t actually deceased, the writer who used to be Camille Paglia wandered onto the pages of the Times of London to attack… Lady Gaga. That’s right, the self-described “dissident feminist” who worshiped Madonna as a feminist icon has laid into the current inhabitor of the Madonna cultural-space for being, inter alia, derivative, unoriginal, unattractive, asexual, over her head, and – horror of horrors – hypocritical.

 Listen to this:

There is a monumental disconnect between Gaga’s melodramatic self-portrayal as a lonely, rebellious, marginalised artist and the powerful corporate apparatus that bankrolled her makeover and has steamrollered her songs into heavy rotation on radio stations everywhere.

For Gaga, sex is mainly decor and surface; she’s like a laminated piece of ersatz rococo furniture. Alarmingly, Generation Gaga can’t tell the difference. Is it the death of sex? Perhaps the symbolic status that sex had for a century has gone kaput; that blazing trajectory is over…

Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions… She wants to have it both ways – to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal, a practitioner of gung-ho “show biz”.

 Good lord. Since when did being a dissident feminist mean wagging your finger like a schoolmarm? She might as well have just written "kids these days.... harumph" and left it at that. But no, she goes on:

Although she presents herself as the clarion voice of all the freaks and misfits of life, there is little evidence that she ever was one. Her upbringing was comfortable and eventually affluent, and she attended the same upscale Manhattan private school as Paris and Nicky Hilton. There is a monumental disconnect between Gaga’s melodramatic self-portrayal as a lonely, rebellious, marginalised artist and the powerful corporate apparatus that bankrolled her makeover and has steamrollered her songs into heavy rotation on radio stations everywhere.

Does this sound familiar? It’s the exact same attack that Lynn Hirschberg launched against MIA in her infamous profile in the NYT magazine a few months ago. As I wrote about that spat, Hirschberg was falling for the old authenticity hoax, the idea that what an artist is entitled to say or write or sing about is underwritten by their social, economic, or ethnic background. What made the Hirschberg/MIA spat so funny was that both of them appear to buy into the hoax; in contrast, Camille Paglia seems to be the only one not in on the joke.

It’s pretty clear that Gaga doesn’t intend for her act to be taken as anything other than "rebellion as performance” How could Paglia fail to see that Gaga is ironic? Could it be that she's daring to be ironic about all the stuff that Paglia made a career out of taking oh-so-seriously? Wouldn’t it be ironic if the only thing threatened by Lady Gaga’s playful boundary-transgressing is the body of work of a dissident feminist who made her name celebrating exactly what she now finds so offensive?



When Memes Collide

The Consumerist reports on a story from Details by Adam Sachs arguing that "artisanal" manufacture has replaced "organic" as the label of choice for the socially conscious consumer. He argues that it stems from a combination of "anti-bling" attitudes, economic uncertainty, and a simple desire for higher quality. I would say that it is more like just another crank in the ratchet (organic --> local --> artisinal) of conspicuous authenticity. 

Speaking of: the NYTimes heds a blog post on the arrival of new Jeffery-West shoes with the phrase "Rebel Sell", and in the last graph draws the obvious connection between The Rebel Sell and The Authenticity Hoax:

“Our shoes are for hell-raisers and the fiercely individual,” West says. “New York guys are typically very traditional, but that’s changing — people really want genuine quality and something authentic.” 


Conspicuous Authenticity: Handmade Axes

My old friend Samuel Dupéré sends along a piece from the New York Times (where else!), by Penelope Green, about the latest hot conspicuous authenticity item coming out of haut-hipsterdom: handmade axes. I wish this had come out while I was writing chapter four of the book. The whole thing is deep down the rabbit hole of disguised status-seeking,  and it hits all the authenticity plot points.

First, the axes are handmade (ping!) by a Peter Buchanan-Smith, who is a Canadian (ping!) with a Hemingwayesque background (ping!). And unlike the "fake" authentic that is being exhalted from one end of Brooklyn to the other (e.g. "like denim or Prouvé chairs"), these axes are the REAL ANTI-MODERNITY DEAL, the "the ultimate antidote to life on the high-broadband lane.” (ping! ping! ping!).

What comes next in the story? Oh right, the inevitable worry that because the axes are expensive and bought primarily as objets-d'authenticité, they might actually be nothing more than some sort of yuppie status good. After all, "seven of his axes are hanging in the Saatchi Gallery in London. Seth Godin, the entrepreneur and marketing guru, has one, and so do Leonard Lauder, David Lynch and Mike Jones, the president of MySpace."

But no: As attested on the product's website, "Even real woodsmen and -women" apparently use the axes for actual woodchopping. Because you know, it takes a $180 axe to split a log at the KOA campsite. One of these bad boys is just not up to the task.

So where were we? Oh right, the full selling-authenticity business plan:

He’d like to work with a Canadian company to sell its Sou’wester, an oiled-canvas rain hat. He is intrigued by the work of two Brooklyn artists, Gabriel Cohen and Jolie Mae Signorile, who collect tropical bird feathers from aviaries and make arrows out of them. And he has commissioned a designer he met at an art camp in Minnesota to make vintage maps stamped with the Best Made Co. symbol, a bright red cross.

But don't call it a business, because making something for profit is just so... modern. This is all about the purity and innocence of the creative self:

“With the ax, I wanted to do something simple and sweet,” he said. “It was like an invitation to this world I wanted to create. The world of making things where notions of courage and fortitude are associated with it, but also playfulness and levity.”

It's almost like we've heard this story before.