Faking Authenticity

Conspicuous anti-consumption

So, recently my family vacationed in a penthouse in Mexico and it occurred to me that nearly all of my photos taken were of the surrounding village — the shabby areas of more everyday Mexican life.

I’d been censoring the prestige.

Most of my friends do too. It’s deeply uncool to have money and conspicuous things. Like anything that you buy or do to try and look cool, the trying-too-hard part is the uncool part. That one kid in junior high who insists on wearing a leather jacket, but it’s actually a little too big and floppy.

There’s two parts to this: 1) me as a person, a minimalist someone who shies away from typically luxury, shiny things in favour of brandless, logo-less wares despite actually owning quite a bit of expensive stuff and being otherwise privileged to have these sorts of lifestyles / experiences.

And 2) the social media version of that which we’re all presenting all the time; a lens we get to aim at whatever we want. We all do this, and most of the time innocuously. We just aim the lens at what we like and share the things that interest us and that’s totally what it’s there for.

So then we loop back around to this whole ‘live authentic’ culture.

Ironically, living authentic is actually a very specific lifestyle. You’re not actually allowed to ‘live authentic’ if your authentic voice is one of dissent or of difference. You don’t get to hashtag authenticity while drinking champagne in your Ferrari yacht even if that authentically is who you are.

Because authenticity isn’t the penthouse on the beach. Authenticity is the cracked streets with ancient mopeds carrying a whole family AND their meager groceries. Authenticity is living with the locals rather than in an all-inclusive resort, because it would be tacky to be too touristy. Not only is it uncool to have money, it shows you as weak and useless at getting around in the ‘real’ Mexico. You’re not self sufficient enough to survive by yourself.

I’m gritty and real enough to enjoy my stay here in squalor. I’m authentic

That lens, then, is trained on promoting that version of the vacation.

That lens is designed to filter and carefully curate ‘authenticity’

I try, when I critique something, to also solve it. That’s what designers do.

The problem here is perhaps a tautological one, and I’m not sure I could possibly give up a solution. There’s only a few options:

  • We admit that anything claiming to be authentic is by definition not.
  • We admit that any feed made of anything that’s genuinely of interest to the person showing and sharing it is authentic, even without hashtags.
  • We use #liveauthentic to mean literally anything, from mundane life (this is the cereal I had for breakfast #liveauthentic) to those supposedly everyday mountaintop views and whimsical lives being demonstrated.

But mostly I’m in favour of the second one. I’m in favour of just doing whatever interests you and letting the things excite you be the things you share and in turn excite others.

If you love something, I love that you love it so much.

And that’s what the whole authenticity thing is about, right? Just being comfortable with what you love and sharing it. My biggest objection here really is that we’ve made an idea around what authentic is and it’s not the 30 year old single gal who has an entire room devoted to building Gundam models. It’s not the 76 year old janitor who genuinely loves discovering and trying new brands of yogurt. Those things, somehow, aren’t sexy or cool to share even if they’re 100% valid, awesome uses of what ‘authentic’ could be.

Mostly, I just want to realize that we’re all authentic when we do whatever we want rather than curating the things we think other people want (spoiler alert, that sort of feed predictability is often the most boring anyway)

So go, post something that you secretly love.

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