On Authenticity

I can understand if you’re fake around your boss but why do you have to pretend around me? I’m not paying you shit.

– @weirdtruefact

None of us are authentic, unless we suffer from some serious mental disorders. We all filter.

– Chris Brogan, from I Am Not Authentic

The Invention Of Lying is a film starring Ricky Gervais, about a man who lives in a society full of people who do not lie about anything at all. Like many high concept films, this one fizzles out and I couldn’t sit through more than the first third, but watching that first bit made me ponder the extent to which we all fake it in our everyday lives.

To what extent do you fake it? Freakonomics produced an interesting podcast on this topic, and I concluded that I’m far too honest for my own good. (I have thought this for a while now.)

Also interesting: A 1999 study by psychologist Robert Feldman showed that the most popular kids were also the most effective liars.

“Genuineness is nothing other than a defiant and obstinate insistence on the monological form which social oppression imposes on man. Anything that does not wish to whither should take on itself the stigma of the inauthentic. For it lives on the mimetic heritage. The human is indissolubly linked with imitation: a human being only becomes human at all by imitating human beings.”

Theodor W. Adorno. Minima Moralia. Gold Assay. p.154

David Bowie was the first star to develop fully the theatrical implications of rock and roll by engaging in what we call “playing dressing up.” … Bowie has been characteristically put in opposition to a rock tradition that highly valued authenticity. According to a typical reading, “rock and roll had always been about inspired impostures. But the pact made between rock performers and their listeners in the Fifties and Sixties was that those pretenses had conviction. Bowie’s show, by contrast, was a show“. Other rock stars certainly participated in the invention of their own, usually more or less consistent, personae, but even when, like Bob Dylan, they played a series of roles, their fans were asked to believe that all of them were authentic, that is, that they were not roles at all. Dylan’s case is a particularly striking contrast to Bowie’s in that he began his career by becoming one of the great imitators of Woody Guthrie. Guthrie had long inspired such imitation by young men, who, one must presume, believed that they were in some way putting themselves in touch with something genuine by playing at being Woody. Guthrie was the original, Dylan one of many copies, and yet he seemed to personify authenticity. The lesson sometimes drawn from this is that authenticity itself is inauthentic, and that performers like Bowie are credited with making us aware of this.

– from Playing Dress Up: David Bowie and the Roots of Goth from Goth: Undead Subculture.