What does it mean to be authentic? For many, the search for the authentic provides a powerful source of meaning in a secular age, allowing a person a unique personal identity in a world that seems alienating and conformist. This demand for authenticity—the honest or the real—is one of the most powerful movements in contemporary life, influencing our moral outlook, political views, and consumer behavior.
Yet according to Andrew Potter, when examined closely, our fetish for "authentic" lifestyles or experiences—organic produce and ecotourism, bikram yoga and performance art, the cult of Oprah and the obsession with Obama—is actually a form of exclusionary status seeking. The result, he argues, is modernity's malaise: a competitive, self-absorbed individualism that creates a shallow consumerist society built on stratification and one-upmanship that ultimately erodes genuine relationships and true community.
Weaving together threads of pop culture, history, and philosophy, The Authenticity Hoax reveals how our misguided pursuit of the authentic exacerbates the artificiality of contemporary life that we decry. Potter traces the origins of the authenticity ideal from its roots in the eighteenth century through its adoption by the 1960s counterculture to its centrality in twenty-first-century moral life. He shows how this ideal is manifested through our culture, from the political fates of Sarah Palin and John Edwards to Damien Hirst and his role in contemporary art, from the phenomenon of retirement as a second adolescence to the indignation over James Frey's memoir. From this defiant, brilliant critique, Potter offers a way forward to a meaningful individualism that makes peace with the modern world.