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Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Authenticity of Fake

Last week featured the shocking revelation that two athletes had lied to the whole country for years in order to become rich and famous. This is the same thing that politicians do except without the exercise regimen.

Moral theater is an odd event in a country which has mostly given up on morals. In the absence of any notion of right and wrong, the only truly punishable offenses involve hurting people's feelings. That includes famous people "betraying our trust" by doing something that we didn't expect them to be doing thereby deceiving us into liking them for the wrong reasons.

That code means that it is completely acceptable for a public figure to be amoral as long as they are honestly up-front about it. Or as long as they embrace an absence of characters and standards as the basis for some sort of savvy post-media in the media image where they acknowledge that they do everything only in order to get attention as a way of commenting on the attention-getting tendencies of modern entertainers.

Shallowness is actually a winning media strategy. The truly shallow have nothing to hide because they have nothing. They voluntarily turn their life into public consumption. Most of the rest just manufacture a fake reality that seems real only because generations that grew up on television have brains that are trained to confuse natural lighting, low resolution footage and shaky cameras with sincerity.

In a culture where everything is really fake, exposing the few people who seem virtuously really is an industry. The media deconstruction process establishes once and for all that all families are bad and that all virtuous people are fake. Except the virtuous people being profiled by them tomorrow and destroyed the week after that.

The more fake the culture is, the more of a sucker it is for fake authenticity. The explosion of reality shows is traceable to the death of reality. Everyone wants to connect to something and someone and the entertainment industry is abandoning escapism from reality for escapism to a fake reality next door. Music has reached the same range of fake reality, embracing the inauthenticity of making your life public as the ultimate form of authenticity.

Politics thrives on that same fake authenticity. Mitt Romney, a fake authentic politician of the old school, back when politicians were working with magazine covers, snapshots and a 30 second clip, couldn't compete against the truly fake Barack Obama, who in truly modern media style doesn't just fake 30 seconds or 30 minutes in front of the camera, but fakes his entire life going back decades.

Obama is truly fake. He is authentically unreal. There is absolutely nothing to him. If you take away all the work that was done to make him famous, there would be nothing there. And that is exactly why he is the perfect avatar for the media age.

JFK won by looking good on camera. But looking good on camera is old school. It's crude to the point of being irrelevant. Politicians had to look good on camera then. Now they have to have a vibrant image. Appearance is a small part of a big package with nothing inside it. Brands are lifelong and they begin the moment you are old enough to begin promoting yourself in the public arena, which today is the age you are old enough to hit the keys on a computer.

Campaigns aren't something that turn on and off. They are permanent forms of self-promotion and agenda vehicles. They do the heavy lifting that is necessary to sustain the big lie. And that means constantly embedding their brand of choice in everything, getting as many celebrities and "thought leaders" to mention their brand and making sure that their brand is appealing to the right people.


Seventy years ago the only people who needed this degree of image investment were top movie stars. But the politician or the athlete of today needs the same level of image building as movie stars used to. And image building is just pervasive fakeness, it's the process of thoroughly fictionalizing an identity and then marketing the final fictionalized product as the real deal.

JFK, whose father had begun laying the groundwork for the political careers of his children at a disturbingly early time, was the early warning of what was coming. Fake books that won awards and marginally qualified politicians riding urban political machines and youth fads to the top.

JFK seemed like a flash in the pan. He went away and we had a series of marginal figures, classical pols laboring away for a crack at the top. And then the Republicans got desperate and up came Reagan. And the Democrats got desperate in turn and came up with Clinton. After two terms of Bush, the Democrats became desperate a second time and hurled Obama all over the country. What the Republicans will come up with after two terms of Obama has yet to be determined.

What must be understood about this sort of politics is that media overexposure actually increases authenticity for younger low information voters. Simply bombarding them with coverage of a public figure increases their acceptance of that public figure's legitimacy, so long as that coverage is mostly positive.

The other side of authentic inauthenticity is that no one really has time to evaluate every public figure in the media. Overexposure means that no one really has time to do more than watch a few videos and skim the summary of an article as expressed by their social media contacts unless they are deeply involved in that area of life. Unless they are "fans" of it. Everything else is just bulletpoints.

Connection with limited context is how most public figures thrive. They aren't remembered for their accomplishments but for how their massaged public image makes people feel. Lance Armstrong understood that better than most, taking a sport that most people didn't follow, and making his public image compelling through personal narrative. Going to Oprah to apologize for hurting people's feelings is the invariable next step for a career that was based on making people feel something through synthetic athletics. It's another meaningless game in which the counters are not based on character, but on feelings.

In the old dinosaur era, fraud by an athlete was a failure of character. It couldn't be forgiven because character was believed to be at the core of performance. A flaw in character was a flaw in everything that made competition great. But the modern society no longer believes that. It has traded in the rock of character for the shifting sand of feelings. Everyone has them and everyone exchanges them. Fake is forgivable if the feelings are thought to be relativistically real.

Competition is no longer performance based, it's feelings based. It's why Obama won in 2012. In 2008, his qualifications didn't matter. In 2012, his performance didn't.

A brand is more than the sum of a product. It is a transcendent emotional connection to the public. It is more than taste, nutrition, quality of fabric, reality of performance, integrity of workmanship or durability of materials; it is how it makes people feel. Most products can be the same Made in China crap produced by slave labor at minimum wages and with a minimum quality that ensures you will have to buy another one before too long, but that's okay because brands aren't made to last. They're meant to make you feel good about the transaction at the point of purchase. That's all.

America is being run by a Made in Indonesia leader whose performance is as bad as any of the Made in Indonesia, Pakistan or China crap you'll find in Wal-Mart. And it doesn't matter because he's a brand. The savvier younger and urban voters don't care what he's made of, they care how he makes them feel. They may lose their job the next day and their prospects for paying off their college loans may be missing, but if it makes them feel good at the point of polling, then that's what matters.

When all products are bad, then all that matters is how they feel. When everything can be deconstructed into a lie, then you embrace the lie that feels the most fakely real, even knowing that it will one day be exposed on another episode of Oprah as a lie. 

Those who believe in nothing are the most gullible because they will fall for anything. Those without faith are always looking to believe in something or someone. Those who have never known value or quality are always looking to pick up a product that communicates value and quality to them, even while they retain no metric for assessing either one. Instead of learning the metric, they follow the brand, they become savvy brand-spotters, rather than knowledgeable buyers. And when they brand lets them down, then the brand apologizes, the emotions are soothed, and the low information voter turns to the big screen for another messiah.

In a culture where character no longer matters, competition loses all meaning. A lie is no longer a lie, it is not wrong in and of itself. A failure no longer matters if it makes people feel good. And the idea of leadership no longer exists, only the imitation of it. The faint media echo of the values of what was once a great civilization singing itself to sleep.

25 comments:

NormanF said...

Its Seinfeldian politics.... ideology is irrelevant since there is nothing special about politics.

That nothing is exactly what commends it to voters. A world where nothing truly nor will ever change.

mindRider said...

Raise the age to vote till 23, let only taxpayers vote, let voters pass an exam on politics, with questions similarly difficult as where once posed in the southern states to limit black voters, before allowing them to vote. Democracy is too precious to be left to the masses.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wonderful, positively provocative articles! The re-election of this nowhere man shocked me out of a fantasy, I had not yet realized I was engaging in, viz that our great country is made up of true individuals. The authentic individual has always been the exception. Being conscious is work. The ruling elite is no more conscious than the masses. They are locked in a deadly game together. Alas, we do stand to lose some of the freedom essential to doing the work of becoming a true individual.But most are not interested in that anyway. Painful!

meema said...

“The problem isn't that we believe what we are told in every single medium, both in print, on TV and online. We are being slowly desensitized and reprogrammed to accept that everything is a lie therefore nothing is real. In the Matrix, you cannot discern what is real and what is not. Nor can you make individual choices that step outside of the predetermined boundaries.”
http://makinghome.com/matrix.html

Leo said...

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep. ~Saul Bellow

Leo said...

What is "real" and what is "fake", taking into consideration that there is no single universal reference point? I believe I know which is which, but I wonder if it is possible to explain that to leftist-indoctrinated people, is there some sort of wake-up remedy, except their own head-on collision with reality? For example, I say "this is real, and this is fake", and next I will have to answer the question "why?" ... Or maybe it goes way deeper, and I am only thinking about ways of countering effects, without touching the root causes (Pilgrims' and Founders' substance and character shaped their reality, and the same is true for their descendants, the former at some point decided to try independence and self-reliance, and the latter at some point decided to try dependence and reliance on government, and the rest is history).

Leo said...

@mindRider Raise the age to vote till 23, let only taxpayers vote, let voters pass an exam on politics

It is not important who votes - it is important who gets to count the votes.

It is not important what is real and what is fake - it is important who gets to decide what is real and what is fake.

Dennis Latham said...

Hey, Vantage Books just collapsed. They made their living scamming people into believing they could become publishing stars by eliminated something called major publisher distribution. Now publishing has destroyed itself through corporate greed. Everyone can publish a book on their own or for a large or small fee even if they can't put three words together. Publishers Weekly reviews self-published books for a fee. The former snob of the publishing world now panders to those it used to hate. Mass market paperbacks are almost gone. No one reads books or can't read books. Like the publishing industry, America has been picked to pieces over the past thirty years until nothing but a corporate media lie machine remains, and the peasants believe the hype in a useless struggle to find happiness that isn't there for most people. Makes me glad I'm old and experienced some of the real world before we all became an avatar.

Edward Cline said...

"Obama is truly fake. He is authentically unreal. There is absolutely nothing to him. If you take away all the work that was done to make him famous, there would be nothing there. And that is exactly why he is the perfect avatar for the media age."

How true. Of course, a man who is nothing but who seeks to be something by pursuing political power is, root and branch, a nihilist. And that is what Obama is, at core. Down deep, he knows he is nothing. But in the eyes of his worshipping electorate, he is something. He is a leader. A messiah. A Führer. The Thirteenth Imam. The Mahdi. The Prophet. The savior of the ages. Because he is nothing, he must work miracles, and turn gold into lead. He must prove that he is something. Because he can't create anything – to be able to create something, a person must have a measure of what is the good – he can only destroy. And when he destroys, to his minions, it passes as proof of his goodness and efficacy. And that is the leitmotif of Barack Obama, America's first truly nihilist president. Bad as they were, he makes Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton look like hired clown magicians at a children's birthday party, faking finding quarters behind children's ears and making funny creatures from tied up balloons. Only Obama's quarters are counterfeit ones that are the government's multi-trillion dollar debt that are pulled from American's wallets and the balloons are his back-firing foreign policies. What most people can't grasp is that the debt is deliberately impossible and the policies are going according to plan. That is a nihilist at work.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Norman, everything is political and politics is nothing

Anon, most people sit by the side of all ideological conflicts

Leo, everything can be deconstructed, the problem is that there are no more consensual baselines

Dennis, good riddance, to a vanity press that is, they are often parasites.

Edward, a consensual illusion

Anonymous said...

Those with "faith" have already fallen for the inauthenticity of a comforting illusion -- which lacks the dignity of authentic but inspirational fictional heroes -- and therefore smugly assume that anyone who declines belief in their gods must "believe in nothing". But then, an illusion is never truly a failure if it makes enough people "feel good", is it?

Anonymous said...

Good Morning, Daniel.
You wrote: "JFK won by looking good on camera."

I recall learning the meaning of the word, "charismatic" from my Junior High School's American History text-book's lauding of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The impression made was that no other politician pre-FDR had ever charmed a constituency!

Later, the same text referred to JFK as "the first television President" alongside the complimentary qualifier, "photogenic," both of these propandistic ideo-grams (which would later serve as foundations for an entirely fake "Camelot" mythology) first came to my attention in late-primary school texts.

All of which only serves to say that the faculties for propagating partisan fantasies for long-term political gain is not limited to the usual culprits, those ugly sisters "paid media" and "higher-ed."

And that, regretfully, we'll need to prune deeper than we first thought.
-steveaz

Shlomo ben Shmuel said...

We can be, and often are, aware that most of what we are fed are lies, and the winner is the one who is the most successful liar. The trouble is that that not every one of the false images that are shoved down our throats is innocuous. Some of these people end up in real positions of power. We get saddled with people like Obama, who believes his own lies and thinks of himself as der Führer. The real problem is that he actually has much of the power of der Führer, and is using it to establish many of his fancies. The worst part is that so many people voted for his falsehood even after seeing how incapable he is for four years. I'm starting to wonder how important it is for me to vote - for this crook or that crook.

Anonymous said...

This blog is right on the money. What a wonderful country we did have. I can't believe what it has turned into so fast.

Kirk said...

Why is obama, Elizibeth Warren, the Clinton's, Al Gore ect, ect, big lie any different from Lance Armstrong? They all tell the big lie about who they are and what they've done yet some are destroyed and others are exalted

Dennis Latham said...

That's why I mentioned Vantage, the vanity publisher. They scammed so long people began to believe and with e-books started their own mass publishing scams and brought the whole thing down because you can't exist on lies forever, but you can destroy everything good while you sell those lies. Obama fits that mold.

Anonymous said...

In Obama Land, nothing is as it seems and "painting the white roses red" is commonplace.
For them and their cronies, those roses are real, simply because they say they are.

ELC said...

By an odd coincidence, perhaps, just this morning I decided to renew my acquaintance with a work in a very similar vein:

".... Again, persons who have not attended to the subject of morals, or to politics, or to matters ecclesiastical, or to theology, do not know the relative value of questions which they meet with in these departments of knowledge. They do not understand the difference between one point and another. The one and the other are the same to them. They look at them as infants gaze at the objects which meet their eyes, in a vague unapprehensive way, as if not knowing whether a thing is a hundred miles off or close at hand, whether great or small, hard or soft. They have no means of judging, no standard to measure by,—and they give judgment at random, saying yea or nay on very deep questions, according as their fancy is struck at the moment, or as some clever or specious argument happens to come across them. Consequently they are inconsistent; say one thing one day, another the next;—and if they must act, act in the dark; or if they can help acting, do not act; or if they act freely, act from some other reason not avowed. All this is to be unreal.

"Again, there cannot be a more apposite specimen of unreality than the way in which judgments are commonly formed upon important questions by the mass of the community. Opinions are continually given in the world on matters, about which those who offer them are as little qualified to judge as blind men about colours, and that because they have never exercised their minds upon the points in question. This is a day in which all men are obliged to have an opinion on all questions, political, social, and religious, because they have in some way or other an influence upon the decision; yet the multitude are for the most part absolutely without capacity to take their part in it. In saying this, I am far from meaning that this need be so,—I am far from denying that there is such a thing as plain good sense, or (what is better) religious sense, which will see its way through very intricate matters, or that this is in fact sometimes exerted in the community at large on certain great questions; but at the same time this practical sense is so far from existing as regards the vast mass of questions which in this day come before the public, that (as all persons who attempt to gain the influence of the people on their side know well) their opinions must be purchased by interesting their prejudices or fears in their favour;—not by presenting a question in its real and true substance, but by adroitly colouring it, or selecting out of it some particular point which may be exaggerated, and dressed up, and be made the means of working on popular feelings. And thus government and the art of government becomes, as much as popular religion, hollow and unsound.

"And hence it is that the popular voice is so changeable. One man or measure is the idol of the people today, another tomorrow. They have never got beyond accepting shadows for things...."

Bl. John Henry Newman, "Unreal Words", June 2, 1839 (yes, that's not a typo: 1839)

DenisO said...

You learn quickly to spot, and beware of, a phony when you are in, or near, combat. That is why few vets have any tolerance for the Left. Not to disparage non-veterans, but it is something that only combat training and experience brings immediately to the fore; sharpening an instinct not easily forgotten.

Who believes in the ubiquitous frauds? Always, children first, and then other phonies, it seems to me.
America hasn't seen bloody conflict, at home, since 1865, and there is no fear of survival here, no need to be protective or suspicious of those who lead, --no reason to fear.
Europe had widespread blood and all the miseries of war, up close and personal, but more than two generations ago. They love phonies now and promises of "free lunches". Poland, Georgia, and the former Soviet block are not as far removed from war, nor are they quick to tolerate foolish Leftist leaders and their promises. It seems each generation must learn the hard way, if their elders don't instill the survival fear of politicians.
Regards,

Empress Trudy said...

As they say in Hollywood "if you can fake sincerity you've got it made!"

Keliata said...

There is so much truth contained in this article. One of your best.

Keliata said...

Oprah Winfrey isn't a journalist but she plays one on TV. Okay, maybe she was one once upon a time as a newscaster.

Either way she violated a cardinal rule in journalism--to question the motives of her sources. You don't grant anonymity to a source without questioning his or her motives and veracity.

Oprah's interview with Lance was certainly a puff piece and PR. Lance admitted that he wanted to compete again. That's the bottom line. He could have easily issued a press release explaining what he had done and his regret. Instead he went on TV before a pop psychologist media personality (not a reporter) to portray himself as a broken man in need of sympathy and forgiveness.

It didn't hurt that he had a serious illness at one time. Pet peeve but having a serious illness tends to elevate people to hero status.

I feel for the man and wish him the best but that doesn't excuse his conduct or media manipulation.

jayeldee said...

"The faint media echo of the values of what was once a great civilization singing itself to sleep." Amen to that. Except, I don't hear any "singing"--and haven't, in the "culture" at large, for decades. Only raucous racket, amidst the sighs of the dying.

Very fine essay.

DAG said...

The left has taught that there is no truth content to language. Language is to be judged based on the effect on the listener, hence, an Obama speech can be internally inconsistent-giving each targeted audience something without any shame. Re-read President Obama's speech to the Muslim world given in Cairo.

Anonymous said...

I always like reading your posts. Our president is a false man. The sad part is people don't care. It goes even further than what people see, but the unseen. I really believe so much is spiritual warfare. Unless people start waking up, so much of their freedoms will slowly be taken away. First by regulations, then taxing, then they will persecute Christians. Moral values will cave for the relative philosophy. Sadly, it is a fight, but worth fighting for the souls of so many that are lost. I hope I am fighting it better this year, and winning others bit by bit. That God is the only answer, and He sent His Son.
thanks again,
Arlene Billson

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