YANSS Podcast – Episode Five – The Authenticity Hoax

The Topic: Selling Out

The Guest: Andrew Potter

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Andrew Potter is the guest on this episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast. He wrote the book The Authenticity Hoax and co wrote The Rebel Sell.

Both books present an upside-down view of the quest to avoid the mainstream and seek out the authentic. The books help explain how it came to be that so many people seem concerned about selling out both as a consumer and a producer. Most interesting though is Potter’s assertion that there really is no such thing as authenticity when you get right down to it. As he puts it, “there could never be an authenticity detector we could wave at something, like the security guards checking you at the airport.” Oh, and he says countercultures actually create the mainstream they rebel against.

According to Potter, a giant portion of modern people living in industrialized Western nations eventually notice just how much consumerism and conformity intrudes on their daily lives, and they seek release. The average person watching an interview of a reality television star on a 24-news-network following a musical performance by the latest winner of America’s Top Pawn Wife after a breakdown of what is trending on YouTube while commenting on an Instagram photo on Facebook on an iPad on a treadmill in the gym between advertisements for antidepressants and movies about mall cops who befriend talking ferrets will understandably feel a bit overwhelmed from time to time. The urge to walk away from all of that and get lost in the most obscure thing you can find, the most distant and untouched landscape you can visit, the least processed or marketed product you can put in your body, is strong and understandable and healthy, but Potter says it is ultimately futile.

For this segment of society “the search for the authentic is positioned as the most pressing quest of our age,” writes Potter. This urge leads to those things that have earned the most anti-mainstream adjectives like local, organic, artisan, indie, all natural, underground, sustainable, free trade, slow, holistic, green, and so on. Yet, that ideology, that quest for the authentic, is the very thing that causes the world to seem so unreal and staged. People can’t stop themselves from competing for status. It is branded into the side of the brain before you are born. As a primate, status hierarchies are a part of life, and when you remove yourself from the competition in the mainstream you just join the competition in the counterculture. As long as there are clusters of people bent on avoiding what is most popular, within those clusters people will compete for status through conspicuous consumption of art and fashion, music and movies, furniture and gadgets, signaling to insiders the quality of their taste or the ingenuity of their search for the authentic, and signaling to the outsiders that they are not one of them. Whether you are a Juggalo in Kentucky or a Kogal in Tokyo, the internal affairs cool police are always on the prowl for posers.

Potter explains that, yes, modern culture can be hollow and self-absorbed and obsessed with consumption, but the competitive pressure to be more real, more authentic, and less conformist is no less exhausting or misguided. It’s a fascinating and challenging point of view. I think you’ll like the interview.

After the interview, as in every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of the YANSS book (now available in the UK!), and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Michael Buswell who submitted a recipe for Chewbacca’s Chocolate Chip Vegan Cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Links and Sources:

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

The YANSS Pinterest Page

The YANSS article on selling out

The article on hyperactivity mentioned in the podcast

The Oswalt/Cross debacle

The Authenticity Hoax

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