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Manufacturing Authenticity

Which is more "authentic," a counterfeit or the real thing? 

75 years ago, when John Dewey gave the series of lectures at Harvard that ultimately became Art as Experience, he argued that works of "art" are too often perceived and analyzed in isolation, apart from human interaction with them. 

Abe Burmeister at Abstract Dynamics makes a similar point about consumer goods.  Bored by the hype of artificial scarcity and the carefully cultivated images of luxury brands, he writes, "When it comes to telling a story you see, the counterfeits are the real deal, whatever authenticity they lack on the branding and legal sides they more than make up on their backstreets round the world journeys."  Interesting perspective, even if it perhaps underestimates the agency of global counterfeiters -- and no doubt a cultural analysis of the movement of fakes from original target selection to unmonitored factory to consumers with mixed motives would be quite revealing. 

On the other hand, do I perceive a bit of reverse snobbery here?  If we peel back the layers of public image management, the culture of creative designers and their material responses to the moment (high-tech accessories, eco-friendly fashion, and the occasional political statement, as well as more abstract responses to the zeitgeist) is an equally fascinating subject of study -- as are their clientele.  Certainly the recent popularity of fashion shows, the creation of documentaries and fashion reality TV, and the transformation of designers into public figures indicates a desire among consumers for this particular art as experience.

So which is more "authentic"?  Even if authenticity means gritty or small scale, as opposed to glossy or corporate -- e.g. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, rather than Manhattan's Upper East Side, or a local diner rather than Starbucks -- it's not clear that the massive trade in copies of certain goods is any less planned or manipulative than legal channels (even if it's less regulated, taxed, etc.).  The image of the rogue counterfeiter may be imbued with a certain subversive appeal, but the reality is at least as commercial and corporate as the real thing (without the advertising budget, true, but without the creative expression either).  Rodeo Drive and Canal Street both have "street cred" -- just in different forms.

As Rob Walker has observed (with great insight), selling oneself is no longer the equivalent of selling out.  A new generation has discovered branding as a personal attribute, and as the person becomes the persona, our conception of the authentic may have to change as well.