“Would you buy a used car off this person?” That used to be a general rule of thumb when it came to the question of authenticity. It seems quite quaint now, a throwback to a more innocent time when greater stock went into reading a person’s face for signs of trustworthiness.
Things are so much harder in 2017, as society desperately seeks new guidelines to make such judgement calls. The world around us seems to have been exposed as one filled with wolves in sheep clothing – on the one hand professing authenticity, while on the other behaving in ways that contradict. We need not look further than the current President of the United States, who earned the job on the promise of a new age of genuine politics which put country and people first. Earlier this month, Mr Trump boasted to CNN that he was the inventor of Fake News.
So who is authentic these days? Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Wills and Harry, David Beckham, Alan Sugar, the latest dude in a polo neck peddling the Apple dream? On any given day, and with a particular spin and polish, any of these candidates could lay claim to being authentic. In the golden age of information we all now have the means to project an ideal image of ourselves. However, as many have also discovered, at the same time we have also lost control of the means of how we are judged.
For example that photo of your breakfast you posted on Instagram this morning was supposed to reflect the authenticity of your enriched life, and yet if I don’t know you I may assume that it reflects something is actually missing from your life instead… Have we reached the point where there are just too many angles, too many bases covered, for us to really be able to reliably call a spade a spade anymore?
Politicians are struggling to adapt to this new landscape. The rampant spin doctoring of the early Noughties must take some of the blame for peeling back the curtain, Wizard of Oz like, on the reliability of claiming to be authentic. In the 2010s, that curtain has disappeared altogether, flambéed in the great bonfire of the vanities that social media has fanned.
It seems that we are presently suffering a collective confusion regarding the question of authenticity; as Harvey Weinstein’s authenticity as a Hollywood player is being so grotesquely exposed, the genuineness of the show of solidarity (#metoo) is being derided by some commentators sniping about the laziness of hashtag feminism. Meanwhile, statues of ‘authentic’ historical figures have become symbols to protest against as the murkier details of their successes are laid bare.
So what is authentic? I shall reach for the hackneyed device of quoting a dictionary definition here, and they don’t come more authentic than a hardback Oxford version from 2000, when facts were stringently checked before appearing on an expensively printed page!
Authentic adjective of undisputed origin; genuine.
Perhaps this reveals more about our current struggle to define authenticity than anything else. The problem we have today is that we just have far too many tools with which to dispute origin.
As we muddle along and try to adjust to this new way of projection and perception, the next generation of politicians, business people and movie producers should take heed of the legend of the Sword in the Stone. A fresh faced and innocent boy named Arthur succeeds in dislodging the sword that the Kingdom’s self-entitled and self-perceived finest had previously failed to dislodge. His success, legend says, was down to the fact that only he was ‘fit to rule’.
True authenticity comes from being true to oneself and to one’s values. To get ahead, in this new post-authentic climate, those stepping into their careers would do well to start as they mean to go on…
Luan de Burgh
Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.