On Saturday I watched Bruce Springsteen’s March 15th keynote address from the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival in Austin, Texas. He said a lot, but one thing in particular intrigued me.

“We live in a post-authentic world. Today, authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all just what you’re bringing when the lights go down.”

Contextually he was speaking about music, but the descriptor “post-authentic world” is reflective of a broader societal shift. Nowadays it is far more difficult to separate real from fake, sheen from substance. It takes work. Reality is constantly being distorted and thanks to the internet those distortions are perpetuated across a vast spectrum. There’s nothing new saying that anything promulgated as “truth” is suspect, but never before has the ability to manipulate and influence been afforded such an easy and enormous potential for distribution. Part of the inevitable fallout from the toxic ability to get anything into the public consciousness with such immediacy has been the explosion of misrepresentation. Misrepresentation of facts, people, places, events. It’s become so prevalent that when you discover something or someone was not what you perceived shock or surprise is no longer your first reaction. Quite the opposite.

You don’t need to look hard to find these distortions. “Reality Television” is about as far from reality as you can get. Photographs are constantly manipulated, then disseminated for social, political and promotional purposes. How often have you seen a celebrity on the cover of a magazine who was basically unrecognizable? And it’s not limited to the famous. With alarming frequency the average person is doing whatever he/she can to alter their natural appearance through surgery, miracle creams, tanning beds, coloring agents, et al. Information is regularly taken out of context and repackaged as “fact.” By the time this information is exposed as adulterated it’s often too late. The damage has been inflicted. While these types of behaviors are not exclusive to the 21st century today’s culture allows them to be more commonplace than ever.

Everything has an angle, everyone is marketing. As Springsteen said, it’s all a house of mirrors. The Blogosphere is no exception. Each of us who contribute to the glut of information and misinformation bouncing about out there should pause and consider what we’re doing. We all brand ourselves in a certain way, showcasing a version we wish to perpetuate. Maybe it’s not phony, but most likely it is not an entirely accurate representation of who we really are. Anonymous bloggers (which my unscientific studies indicate represent the far majority) are probably more authentic since they are shrouded by the cloak of invisibility. Nevertheless, the mere fact many folks choose to be anonymous is in itself indicative of a post-authentic mentality. We’re real, we’re authentic, but we’re also hidden in the haze, protected by our anonymity. Like a faded photograph it offers a muted authenticity.

The more I think about referring to this aesthetic as the “post-authentic world” the more spot-on it feels. I imagine I’ll be using these words more often. They’re clear, concise and, more to the point, neatly encapsulate how culture and society is evolving. To me the description is perfect. I’d even go so far as to call it authentic.


Postscript I: Checking in at about 50 minutes, watching the entire keynote speech requires commitment. However, for those interested in an insightful appreciation of the meaning, history and evolution of popular music over the past 60 years or so it is well worth your time to check it out. And you don’t have to be a Springsteen fan, although if you are it’s an added bonus. You can see the entire speech here.

Postscript II: Thanks to Mark from Jersey Style Photography for bringing this speech to my attention. If you haven’t sampled Mark’s photography, take a peek. His Jersey Noir® work is particularly exceptional.

  1. Mark says:

    Thanks for the nod, John. ‘Preciate it the juke over to the JPS blog

    Funny what you said about people being surprised about how articulate Bruce is…he really does have a way with words, be it musically or spoken. I don’t know that it surprises me when I hear him speak as much as it almost gladdens me. Like he doesn’t disappoint me when he’s not singing one of his songs. I’d love to know how and when he wrote that speech – and I believe he wrote it, didn’t type it. In one of his notebooks? On a yellow legal pad? At the kitchen table in Colts Neck or on a plane flying someplace?


  2. […]  Read blogs.  This one is a good one today.  Made me think.  As much as I hate that so early in the morning, I […]


  3. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Well, Trask, you seem to always be consistently authentic. You get an A+ from me.

    I liked what Sandy said – appreciating the beauty that can be found in the flaws….so much better to me than ‘cookie-cutter’ perfect.

    I checked out your friend’s photography blog. (loved the old red truck photos) thanks for sharing.


  4. sparklebumps says:

    Aright, you got me. Red is not my authentic hair color. But I assure you the rest of me is real, especially my smart-ass attitude. 🙂


  5. I heard part of the speech on NPR the other morning. The part that I heard sounded like something from a poetry slam night.

    Great post!


  6. Too many people today do not live ‘authentic’ lives in the existential sense of authentic. Sartre felt true authentic living was taking responsibility for one’s actions and choices and living with those consequences. Today, many of us hide behind a cloak of anonymity on the internet or “improve” photos we take instead of admitting it was a bad photo or appreciating the beauty that can be found in the flaws. Sadly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recognize authenticity and to know what and who to believe.
    Excellent post, John.


  7. kayjai says:

    Thank you, John for a great post. Something to ponder as I go to write my next installment. I don’t think about the authenticity of my thoughts when I write…I just let it out. The way I represent myself in blog world is different than the real world, but only because in blog land I have the freedom to do so, where in reality, the eggshell stepping is constantly afoot.


    • John says:

      Blogging does give many of us a tremendous outlet whether it’s creative, emotional, or something else. Whatever it gives us an individuals can only be a good thing!


  8. Maybe that’s why we are drawn to blogs where real life and truth is paramount.


  9. savorthefolly says:

    so damn true. unfortunately hits awfully close to home for me right now too.


  10. That phrase is definitely accurate, unfortunately. I kind of wish I had paid attention to the years I was living in an authentic world – if I ever was.


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