James Gilmore – Fauxthenticity
AUGUST 8, 2014
Authenticity is the dominant sensibility of the experience economy. We define authenticity as purchasing on the basis of conforming to self image. We shop and say, “I like that. I am like that. I’m the kind of person who would drive that car.” But rather than authentic, we're actually more fauxthentic.
James Gilmore is our guest this week on Steve Brown, Etc. He joined us to talk about his article in The Mockingbird, “True Colors: Car Choices, Food Sources, and the Fauxthenticity of Our Times.” The following are excerpts from that piece.
Enter the Experience Economy
With a Starbucks café seemingly at every corner, arcade-held birthday parties every day (and every year), Geek Squad computer technicians (in Geekmobiles!), Jumbotrons and light shows at sporting events, Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas, the Burning Man Festival, “virtual reality” and “augmented reality,” and a mobile app for every experience under the sun. This increasingly mediated, intentionally staged, multi-sensory, technologically enabled, and commercially driven reality―all the time, everywhere, and with everything―gave rise to the desire for authenticity. Consumers now want “the real” from an artisan purveyor of genuine wares, making purchases on the basis of how authentic they perceive any particular offering to be. (Often attached to this new consumer sensibility is an aversion to even being perceived as a consumer, of course while all the time consuming!)
No longer satisfied with just accessible, affordable and excellent offerings, consumers now make commercial purchases (and non-commercial decisions) on the basis of how well these purchases (and decisions) conform to their own self-image.
In her book, The Substance of Style, Virginia Postrel captures this sentiment with a most concise construct: “I like that. I am like that.” Regina Benedict in In Search of Authenticity elaborates:
“Authenticity… is generated not from the bounded classification of an Other, but from the probing comparison between self and Other, as well as between external and internal states of being. Invocations of authenticity are admissions of vulnerability, filtering the self’s longings into the shaping of the subject.”
People view as authentic those “Others”―anything outside of the self―that conform in both depiction and perception to their self-image, their perceived state of being. They make choices about what to buy and what to refrain from buying based on their view of how authentic or inauthentic they perceive something to be. At the same time, their purchases (and non-purchases) come to reflect the selfsame self-image to which these decisions conform.
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we find placed on the lips of Polonius, in his counsel to son Laertes, the familiar lines that best capture the contemporary desire for authenticity,
This above all―to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
In choosing cars, sourcing food, texting under the table, tattooing in the parlor, and the host of other earthly experiences we take in―and put on―we have succumbed to making decisions based on the perception of what kind of people buy, drive, eat, do and don’t do this or that. And we pick our particular place in the procession. It’s not really authentic. It’s also not inauthentic. It’s best described as a kind of fauxthenticity, turning Polonius’s advice into something altogether different: This underneath all—to some other self be true…Thou canst then be false to every man.
Image Credit: NaturesFare.com