Stimulus: Andrew Potter – The Authenticity Hoax
It took me a while to figure out the precise slant of this criticism of the modern personal vision quest, but once its pieces came together, The Authenticity Hoax became a book close to my heart. The message gets a bit crass at times, and the professionally offended will no doubt get their time clocks punched at Andrew Potter’s criticism of minority cultures. Yet the main thrust of the book, that the modern crusade for authenticity is just another phony pop culture product, is examined as well as a pop culture sociology book could hope to do.
Other points made in the book that I really agree with: we’re all bullshitting ourselves by thinking that everyone else is a mindless drone while we’re the only beautiful and unique snowflake in the world, if something or someone is said to be authentic it usually isn’t, and being “real” has become just another form of exclusionary status-seeking.
One thing I didn’t quite get was Potter’s defense of the free market. With all of his points about how the world does in fact suck, I suppose he assumes capitalism is the least of all economic evils, but that hardly merits his stating that it does more good than harm (being that this is a very subjective question). There’s something in Potter’s tone whenever he mentions the free market that makes him come off as a bit of an acolyte, and I’m not sure what capitalism has to do with his general subject.
He does spend the book’s conclusion discussing the rise of Soviet nostalgia in former Soviet countries, raising the question that I always love seeing raised: why one genocidal regime of the 20th Century is condemned to be the century’s boogeyman while another equally monstrous regime is softened to rose-colored nostalgia and adorable kitsch. Potter describes his adventures in the thriving Soviet tourism business as well as the bizarre longing from some former Reds to go back to the good old days, when men were men and secret police were secret police. Because, you know, gulags and police states sucked and all, but at least you really knew where you stood!
The Retro USSR is the most extreme example of a type of romanticized delusion that Potter takes to task for being silly and, well, inauthentic. Phoniness, as he explains, pervades all aspects of our societies, but that’s no reason to abandon all possessions and live in the woods. He doesn’t really offer any suggestions as an alternative, save this: stop trying to be real and just be real. Which is actually the right answer, I think.
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