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robertogreco : josephpine   1

After Authenticity
"Meanwhile, years of semantic slippage had happened without me noticing. Suddenly the surging interest in fashion, the dad hats, the stupid pin companies, the lack of sellouts, it all made sense. Authenticity has expanded to the point that people don’t even believe in it anymore. And why should we? Our friends work at SSENSE, they work at Need Supply. They are starting dystopian lifestyle brands. Should we judge them for just getting by? A Generation-Z-focused trend report I read last year clumsily posed that “the concept of authenticity is increasingly deemed inauthentic.” It goes further than that. What we are witnessing is the disappearance of authenticity as a cultural need altogether.

Under authenticity, the value of a thing decreases as the number of people to whom it is meaningful increases. This is clearly no longer the case. Take memes for example. “Meme” circa 2005 meant lolcats, the Y U NO guy and grimy neckbeards on 4chan. Within 10 years “meme” transitioned from this one specific subculture to a generic medium in which collective participation is seen as amplifying rather than detracting from value.

In a strange turn of events, the mass media technologies built out during the heady authenticity days have had a huge part in facilitating this new mass media culture. The hashtag, like, upvote, and retweet are UX patterns that systematize endorsement and quantify shared value. The meme stock market jokers are more right than they know; memes are information commodities. But unlike indie music 10 years ago the value of a meme is based on its publicly shared recognition. From mix CDs to nationwide Spotify playlists. With information effortlessly transferable at zero marginal cost and social platforms that blast content to the top of everyone’s feed, it’s difficult to for an ethics based on scarcity to sustain itself.

K-HOLE and Box1824 captured the new landscape in their breakthrough 2014 report “Youth Mode.” They described an era of “mass indie” where the search for meaning is premised on differentiation and uniqueness, and proposed a solution in “Normcore.” Humorously, nearly everyone mistook Normcore for being about bland fashion choices rather than the greater cultural shift toward accepting shared meanings. It turns out that the aesthetics of authenticity-less culture are less about acting basic and more about playing up the genericness of the commodity as an aesthetic category. LOT2046’s delightfully industrial-supply-chain-default aesthetics are the most beautiful and powerful rendering of this. But almost everyone is capitalizing on the same basic trend, from Vetements and Virgil Abloh (enormous logos placed for visibility in Instagram photos are now the norm in fashion) to the horribly corporate Brandless. Even the names of boring basics companies like “Common Threads” and “Universal Standard” reflect the the popularity of genericness, writes Alanna Okunn at Racked. Put it this way: Supreme bricks can only sell in an era where it’s totally fine to like commodities.

Crucially, this doesn’t mean that people don’t continue to seek individuation. As I’ve argued elsewhere exclusivity is fundamental to any meaning-amplifying strategy. Nor is this to delegitimize some of the recognizable advancements popularized alongside the first wave of mass authenticity aesthetics. Farmer’s markets, the permaculture movement, and the trend of supporting local businesses are valuable cultural innovations and are here to stay.

Nevertheless, now that authenticity is obsolete it’s become difficult to remember why we were suspicious of brands and commodities to begin with. Maintaining criticality is a fundamental challenge in this new era of trust. Unfortunately, much of what we know about being critical is based on authenticity ethics. Carles blamed the Contemporary Conformist phenomenon on a culture industry hard-set on mining “youth culture dollars.” This very common yet extraordinarily reductive argument, which makes out commodity capitalism to be an all-powerful, intrinsically evil force, is typical of authenticity believers. It assumes a one-way influence of a brand’s actions on consumers, as do the field of semiotics and the hopeless, authenticity-craving philosophies of Baudrillard and Debord.

Yet now, as Dena Yago says, “you can like both Dimes and Doritos, sincerely and without irony.” If we no longer see brands and commodity capitalism as something to be resisted, we need more nuanced forms of critique that address how brands participate in society as creators and collaborators with real agency. Interest in working with brands, creating brands, and being brands is at an all-time high. Brands and commodities therefore need to be considered and critiqued on the basis of the specific cultural and economic contributions they make to society. People co-create their identities with brands just as they do with religions, communities, and other other systems of meaning. This constructivist view is incompatible with popular forms of postmodern critique but it also opens up new critical opportunities. We live in a time where brands are expected to not just reflect our values but act on them. Trust in business can no longer be based on visual signals of authenticity, only on proof of work."
tobyshorin  2018  authenticity  culture  anthropology  hispters  sellouts  sellingout  commercialism  kanyewest  yeezy  yeezysupply  consumerism  commercialization  commodification  personalbranding  branding  capitalism  shepardfairey  obeygiant  tourism  sarahperry  identity  critique  ethics  mainstream  rjaymagill  popculture  aesthetics  commentary  conformism  scale  scalability  venkateshrao  premiummediocre  brooklyn  airbnb  wework  local  handmade  artisinal  economics  toms  redwings  davidmuggleton  josephpine  jamesgilmore  exclusivity  denayago  systems  sytemsofmeaning  meaning  commodities  k-hole 
april 2018 by robertogreco

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