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The Authenticity Hoax: Why the "Real" Things We Seek Don't Make Us Happy [Paperback]

Andrew Potter
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (3 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061251356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061251351
  • Product Dimensions: 20.5 x 13.6 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 265,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

The Authenticity Hoax Originally published: New York: Harper/HarperCollins, c2010. Full description

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looking for oneself 25 Nov 2010
By Hande Z
Format:Hardcover
24 people voted for one of the 8 reviews of this book. In contrast 52 read one of the 20 reviews of Mike Robbins' "Be Yourself: Everyone Else Has Been Taken" (which was a phrase by Oscar Wilde). The latter is a book by a motivational guru who sets out to help us look for our "authentic" selves. He derides the fakes and tells us how silly and futile we are trying to be someone other than ourselves. His readers love him and his book. It is a very positive book full of opsitive and helpful advice - like speaking one's mind and not be diplomatic because we think that's not expected of us. Andrew Potter's book is the antithesis to Robbins in a way - that is, if we are seeking our authetic self in the same way we seek authentic everything else in life, then we do need to re-examine ourselves. We need to start by understanding why it is that we seek something, and not by asking what it is that we are seeking, be it an object of art, a watch, a rare book, koi fish, the iPhone 5 6 or 7 or whatever is the latest gizmo on sale. Potter, in a way, is a deconstructionist and Robbins a constructor. Although these terms describe what they do in their books the implications are different. Unless we understand what Potter is saying, and we destroy all the superficial ways of thinking and approach to life, we might likely construct a "fake" authentic self. Thus the depth of Potter's book is greater and his book deserves greater attention. It does not tell us the step by step way we can become authentic - that's up to you - but he casts the bright light on all that we value and forces us to reconsider our values. Otherwise, "being ourselves" might turn out to be another hoax.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting! 10 Jun 2013
By CDHB
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The authenticity Hoax was Very very interesting and thought provoking perceptions on authenticity, and the quest for authenticity that marks our society. It is very nice put together and easy to read, and so captivating! so read it now.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Culture? That is something we do for tourists." 12 May 2010
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The above quote is from this book's seventh chapter. Not only are we all multiculturalists now, but the idea of being 'authentic' is simply part of our every day vocabulary. Bestsellers like The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Dilbert and The Office lampoon the inauthentic desk job, and a robust consumer market of 'authentic' everything (from jeans to organic produce) grows by the year.

So, why challenge it? Andrew Potter gives us several good reasons. First, he suggests that seeking for authenticity is as self-defeating as it is phony. It is self-defeating because when one quests for the authentic, one tends to get lost in the search (which is the opposite of focusing on any 'true self'). It is phony because, all too often, seeking the authentic - buying organic food, appreciating different cultural artifacts, etc - is every bit as much about appearing to be authentic to others as it is achieving authenticity for the self. The first several chapters (minus the first, which explores the emergence of authenticity as an ideal, explore these themes).

Next we come to some chapters that question the very distinction between authentic and inauthentic, on epistemic and ontological grounds. Ontologically, it is simply arbitrary to call x natural and y authentic when, in reality, they may be both made from the same stuff. What makes, say, an original painting authentic and a reproduction inauthentic? Now we get to the shaky epistemology. The original painting is real, says Potter, not because of anything about the painting, but EVERYTHING about our expectations of the painting. Several studies reviewed by Potter, for instance, show that one's appraisal of a thing is often wholly dependent on the background story it is presented with. (Tell everyone a wine is one of a kind, and the bottle of Yellow Tail just tastes better.)

In this sense, Potter suggests that authenticity is somewhat of a sham game. If the search for authenticity was REALLY about authenticity, after all, it would not matter for our enjoyment whether the painting is an original or a reproduction, or the wine is rare and old or common and new. Any search for authenticity that seeks eclecticism, uniqueness, non-conformity, for its own sake isn't a search for authenticity at all, but a drive to feel different, even if it means FORCING oneself to be what one isn't. Ironic, huh?

My favorite chapters are six (Vote for Me, I'm Authentic) and seven (Culture is for Tourists). In chapter six, Potter is skeptical about whether, despite the lip service, we really desire authenticity in politics. After all, while we like to talk about our desire for straight talk, we still devour the sound bites (especially the gaffes). We could say the media is responsible for this, but Potter reminds us that the only reason the media collects sound bites is because we watch 'em. Chapter seven points out the irony that while progressives used to be cosmopolitan, the age of globalization - a cosmopolitan's dream - has now turned many of them into communitarians. Similar to arguments made in Fish's article "Boutique Multiculturalism" (The Trouble with Principle, Potter makes the point that multiculturalism has somewhat become a caricature of itself: when culture is, as he puts it, treated as a museum piece rather than a way of life that one does rather than watches, it becomes a thin replica of itself. Once again, the quest for authenticity is more about appearances than realities.

Put simply, this is an interesting piece of contrarian writing. I am inclined to agree with most of it and despite minor flaws (I think his interpretation of Rousseau in chapter 1 is a bit off), would recommend it to anyone who wishes to see a dominant cultural assumption challenged a bit.
41 of 49 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars New examples but no real new philosophical ground 17 Jun 2011
By Fairweatherassult - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The author's status as editor with a Canadian business magazine, and that the National Post calls him 'smart', should give you your first indication of what is this author's perspective (one he never self-critiques). This is from the point of view of centre-right, pro-global corporate thinkthanking.

So, it becomes very evident quite quickly that by 'authenticity', the author is not offering a complex understanding for the 'search of self' from a psychological, religious, or even philosophical point of enquiry. Instead, 'authenticity' as a pursuit is quickly shelved under a collective disdain for ecofeminists, organic chefs, and other loony lefties looking for alternatives to big business. In the author's view, they're dupes of faux liberalism that, contrary to their claims to being alternative, in fact enforce their own capital of elitism by claiming to be the morally superior.

I'm willing to listen. We all know that 'Eat, Pray Love' spawned an industry of 'Shop, Buy, Consume' in terms of pasta machines and yoga mats. But here's where the author's need to dump pop culture reference gets sloppy. Naomi Klein is lumped alongside Deepak Choprah. Fair trade coffee enthusiasts share a Titanic ride with home-schooled adventurers who die at the hands of Somali pirates off the coast of oil soaked shores. It becomes very clear that, far from being a philosophically astute work on identity politics in a digital age, this is simply a screed against those who don't agree with his economic policies. And this is where the book is terribly unoriginal in its diagnosis: to sweep away discussions on self-realization and authenticity as little more than 'rainbow-chasing' or sound-bite sentimentality is hardly original. He might as well have called the book, "Tree huggers, get outta my way."

On many occasions, the author's incapacity to question his own methodology is painfully evident. He brags about having an iPod jammed with thousands of songs that he never listens to, with band names he's never heard of. (One wonders how he amassed his library, and if the artists whom he ignores received 'authentic' royalties for their efforts.) Elsewhere, he laments his hard drive stuffed with DVD rips that he never watches. (So why did you waste the bandwith to acquire the media?) This is really the kind of attack made by people in a position of privilege: "I'm comfortable, I'm safe, I'm housed . . . and from this bubble I can do away with cliches like self-discovery and inner truth." There's no middle ground in the author's argument. No real, no fake, no good, no bad, no self, no other. So buy your next cup of disposable coffee, and randomly friend people on FaceBook.

Tellingly, this attack of 'authenticity' never seems to veer towards the people likely to be the author's readership. The author never attacks the marketing of authenticity by mainstream religion: "The only authentic life is one completely surrendered to Jesus Christ." Moreover, he never acknowledges how the biggest manipulators of the desire for authenticity are the very corporations who publish in his magazine: "You're great, you should dye your hair, because you *deserve* it." That people instinctively feel a need to feel individually realised, and that various forced manipulate and exploit that desire, is hardly new. THe author dumps on Thoreau for being cliche. Well, Jonathan Swift already gave the argument that the author here is forwarding, with much better humour.

It's a shame. If the author's prodigious references and pop cultural references had a lot more analysis behind them, this might have been more interesting. He's trying to pull a Zizek, with a lot of fail. All we get instead is paraphrases of the Fight Club quote, "Self-development is masturbation."
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Full of stuff, but missing stuff 29 Aug 2010
By J. Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Bad: Several of Potter's personal positions go unexamined throughout the writing. The writing itself often feels undirected (and unrelated to the core thesis) from chapter to chapter. And Potter often spends so much time explaining previous findings and other arguments that his actual point gets lost.

The Good: There's a huge amount of stuff in here linking a wide range of philosophers to particular societal behavioral patterns that have played out over the years. I suspect that this book would be more valuable for people than most 100-level philosophy college courses. Really, I loved how much large portions of this book shifted my perspectives so that I could think about things in different ways.

The Ugly: Potter seems to run the entire book without tapping either existentialism or absurdism, which is a bit of a problem as they're directly concerned with answering to what is real about humanity, starting with the basic premise that Existence Precedes Essence (a.k.a. You are as you do, not as you think) and, as Sartre wrote "Hell is other people" not because they don't get the real you, but because maybe they do. Also, Erich Fromm might have been mentioned in passing for his work in Escape From Freedom, but not nearly enough to appropriately reflect his body of work on this topic.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenges assumptions. 8 July 2010
By M. Mazza - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a pleasure to read. To me, the author's aim is to help us question the assumptions that we either take for granted or otherwise cling to as though they were unshakable truths.

Enter "authenticity," a term that most of us define by describing what "it is not." This contrastive definition is a start, but it makes us come up short when it comes time to actually identify what "authenticity" really is, or at least what we mean by it. The truth is, there is no consensus; "authenticity" is subject to personal bias and psychological "framing," a term that describes the application of our preconceptions to the matter at hand.

Essentially, Potter shows us that to define "authenticity" is to negate it. With several examples, he shows how the "authenticity" we end up settling for is a branded product, courtesy of a consumer culture long tweaked to our psychological needs.

What we are really after, according to the author, is distinction--status disguised and marketed as "authenticity." It's sold to us because we want it--and perhaps even need it in such a fashion, so it is not entirely fair to lay the blame on the corporations that are experts at fulfilling our whims.

To me, the search for "authenticity" also masks a search for the self--and identity is a fragile thing. We might get "lost finding ourselves," but I'm not so sure we know what we're looking for to begin with.

In his chapter about politics, for instance, Potter poses one of the best questions of the book: do we genuinely want honesty? I don't think so. I'm reminded of two observations, one by George Carlin made long ago: "If honesty were introduced into politics, the entire system would collapse." The other one is by Ralph Ellison in his novel INVISIBLE MAN: "The more honest I was, the more hated I became."

Sadly, I have to agree. We say we want "authenticity" because psychologically, it fulfills a need (maybe one for moral status/ superiority?)--but when it comes down to it, we feed on stereotypes that satisfy our prejudices. We crave the familiar and love to place other cultures into nice, manageable, "exotic" categories. We might even feel superior if we eat "organic" foods and others are consuming fast food.

True "authenticity" is far too spontaneous to define. When it happens, it just is. It cannot be packaged, labeled, or purchased. That undermines its essence.
If it's status or self-assurance that we seek, then let's be honest--at least with our own mirrors.

Potter has given us an excellent, unpretetnious philosophy book that effectively refers to popular culture to pose relevant questions. This is one worth rereading.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Authenticity Hoax Is Provocative and Lucid Yet Heavily Flawed 28 Dec 2011
By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
The Authenticity Hoax is worthy buying for the first 60 pages alone, a concise, exhilarating explanation of the birth of modernity: industrialization, individualism, consumerism and how these elements result in alienation. Some people, Potter point, try to reject modernity and find a romantic and nostalgic solution: reject the modern world and search for authenticity. He points to Rousseau whose works have been misinterpreted to this end.

The problem with Potter's argument is that he lumps all critics of modernity under the same label: "declinists." These are in Potter's mind crackpots. But fringe extremists should not be lumped with political leaders, such as Al Gore and others, under the declinist banner so that Potter can propel his conservative polemic.

I find this gross over simplification and faulty comparison both illogical and insidious propaganda lacking the intellectual rigor for serious debate. And I find it ironic that this kind of intellectual dishonesty (from a writer who knows better) is behind a book that purports to be interested in uncovering a "hoax."

My other criticism is that Potter has not clearly defined "authenticity." He uses the word in so many ways that it almost becomes meaningless; worse, a lot of the chapters have no logical connection to the other as the "authenticity" as a reaction to modernity has no relation to the "authenticity" between art and creativity as discussed in Chapter 3.

As a primer for the birth of modernity, this book is worth getting. But as a polemic that lumps all critics of modernity as charlatans and crackpots, this book fails. A far superior book on the subject of the quest of false authenticity (not even mentioned in Potter's polemic) is David Brooks' satirical Bobos in Paradise.

Final Thoughts:

This is one of the few book's I've recommended in spite of its heavy flaws. This just goes to show that a book that fails as a whole may be worthy because of its parts many of which are convincing as ideas on their own. Probably this book would work better as a collection of separate essays.
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