Can you be fake yet authentic?

When judging comics, there's lots of talk about being "authentic" onstage. But what's that really mean? Can you be fake and authentic at the same time? Isn't that what being a great performer is all about? Is there anything "authentic" about doing the same set every night but pretending it's stream of consciousness?

Thought about that kinda stuff while reading this piece where Chuck Klosterman discusses David Bowie and the concept of authenticity.

And I know we shouldn't talk about "authenticity" here, because (a) that subject tends to derail everything else, and (b) we're now supposed to pretend like it doesn't matter. But it DOES matter, and I think critics who refuse to worry about authenticity are actively ignoring something profound. The problem is that people misapply the term. Authenticity is not about literal honesty. If an artist says, "I'm a fake person who makes fake art as an extension of my fake experience within a fake world," I view that artist as deeply real. And I'm not arguing that this is how David Bowie thought about himself, because I have no idea how he thought about himself. But it's how I thought of him. I think he was way more authentic than most rock musicians.


Sometimes the mask is more real than actual reality. Ya see this occasionally with a comic who's doing a character. The fake version somehow feels more real than when the same guy talks about his actual life.

Author George Saunders mentions something kinda similar in the preface to CivilWarLand, his book of short stories:

I set foot in my first theme park in 1969. It was Six Flags over Texas, outside Dallas. I loved it so thoroughly that, all the way back to Chicago in the car, I conspired with my sister to build a scale model of it.

Well, that never happened. But I still remember the baffled joy I felt on leaving the place, thinking: Wow, someone did this, someone made all this, some grown-up sat down and designed the little Mexican back alleys and cowboy boardwalks, the fake bird sounds.

In a sense, these stories were that scale model, much delayed.

But also, while working on “The Wavemaker Falters,” I noticed something: if I put a theme park in a story, my prose improved, the faux-Hemingway element having been disallowed by the setting. Placing a story in a theme park became a way of ensuring that the story would lurch over into the realm of the comic, which meant I would be able to finish it, and it would not collapse under the conceptual/thematic weight I tended to put on a so-called realist story.


Reality has conceptual/thematic weight, but fakery can be light as a feather.

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1 Comment(s)

Blogger Ari Arellano said...

AMEN Brother!!

3/15/13, 1:46 PM  


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