THE DEATH OF AUTHENTICITY – How Seeking Validation from Without Compromises Who You Are Within

As a born and raised Southerner, I often speak in metaphors and similes.  Tasks that are nearly finished are “down to the short rows.” Folks who have a screw loose are “half a bubble off of plumb.”  And a man who married a woman who is out of his league “outkicked his coverage.” Part of what makes colloquialisms great is that they often convey harsher meaning in a humorous more lighthearted way. The other thing that makes them great is that they immediately identify you as part of a group who would know and understand how those phrases relate to the topic. It is sort of a verbal quid pro quo that allows two people unknown to each other to find a common bond. And this idiomatic badminton isn’t unique to Southerners.  You’ll find these phrases in every region of every country often passed down for generations.  The subtle nuances of how these phrases are to be used require something more elusive than the correct accent, they require authenticity.

In today’s airbrushed, photo-filtered world, the original Myspace selfie (you know the one – capturing your duck lips with the camera held high above your head so your booty is reflected in the mirror behind you) has evolved. It is now a group effort that requires multiple angles and shots before uploading to an app designed specifically to smooth out your skin, whiten your teeth and shrink your waist. And what do we get in return for all this effort? Likes and followers.

Speaking of followers, they aren’t enough. A real ‘influencer’ can’t follow too many accounts. The correct ratio of followers to following is debatable, but following an account for a few days and then unfollowing in hopes to advance your ratio seems to be standard operating procedure.  Social media has tapped into a vein of self-obsessed narcissism that somehow laid silent for millennia. As the casualties of this war for likes stack up, one death in particular was swift and silent – the death of authenticity.

Today it appears that conformity is the new sales tool. Find the successful account, app, product or service and just be like them. Ironically, critics in the early-to-mid 20th century suggested that media weaken the individual’s capacity to act autonomously.  The last 30 years have built a strong case supporting that assertion, by homogenizing our sacred diversity into exaggerated caricatures of our lost originality.

In the last decade specifically, we have crossed over from gullibility into pure affinity for sensationalism.  Reality TV doesn’t represent my reality and I doubt if it represents yours. Fortunately, there is a quiet reciprocity building momentum, sent from the depths of our most basic instincts to rescue us from our decent into delusion-masquerading-as-reality.  I have decided to call this the ‘Reciprocity of Authenticity’.

In order for consumers themselves to feel unique and special they must separate themselves from the masses (which is really just another method of conformity, but that is for another blog post). They are forced to ignore all those who shout their marketing message from the highest hilltop and social medium.  Instead, they must seek out the obscure, the genuine, the original…the authentic.

There is a reason why Man vs. Food has never hosted an episode from Applebee’s. And it is the exact same reason why Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, with 268 locations nationwide, has 121 followers on Twitter and Hot Dog Mike, Little Rock’s Coolest Hot Dog Cart, was recently featured on the Today Show and in Travel and Leisure Magazine – authenticity.

The most iconic brands in America scream this message as loud as they can. Coke – It’s the Real Thing. Wendy’s – You know when it’s Real.  Rolling Stone – Perception Reality.   They know that America hates a faker, or at least we used to. And we are particularly skilled at spotting them. That is why New Coke failed and forced Coca Cola to return to the recipe they have been using for 125 years.  That is why Jack Daniel’s ships 9 million cases a year from a town of less than 400 people.

Think of it like this. We need Journalists, News Anchors, Travel Writers and Bloggers to be authentic.  And Twitter, Facebook and Instagram need us to be authentic. Why? Because without the Reciprocity of Authenticity all messages become the same and the medium becomes irrelevant.  Ok, perhaps it would be ok for some mediums to become irrelevant and arguably many already are, but you see my point.

What is the lesson? Never sacrifice who you are in an attempt to grow or succeed. Never emulate.  If you’re just another Instagram account posting inspirational quotes over pictures of models, they will quickly follow and then unfollow you…for the ratio.  However, if you are an original, if you don’t give a damn about creating the appearance of an enviable existence and you are true to yourself, then people will follow you…for the authenticity.

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