What’s Authenticity and What’s Marketing?
When words still meant something, we could tell the difference
We’ve made our life into a reality show.
We don’t want reason or reflection, we want sensation and emotion.
Fear, anger, greed, and sympathy are a lot easier to evoke than love or empathy, and much more lucrative. How can we ever fight the stigma surrounding mental illness when we willingly humiliate ourselves to make bank and encourage others to emulate us by promising them a way out of financial desperation through words? Every single day, innumerable hopefuls tie themselves up in knots desperate to escape precariousness by writing about their feelings on the internet. Or what we, Gen X, once used to call blogging.
If the benefits of a regular writing practice on mental health are many, the impact of reckless words isn’t something many care to consider before fire-hosing the internet with emotional incontinence someone else will eventually drown in. Life is triggering, you’re in charge of how you choose to react to someone else’s words, it’s not a blogger’s problem. Codes of conduct and editorial ethics are for editorial pros — execution varies widely — and lawyers.
But how can you expect compassion when the words you write are optimized for spectacle and sensation? How can you expect compassion when the unwillingness to first extend it to your own self is effectively your stock-in-trade? Condemning yourself to constantly reliving the past in myriad ways because it pays is like hitting your head against the wall because it gets all the views and that’s how rent happens.
Unless, of course, the wall is fake and you’re a persona rather than a person.
Alex Jones is exactly that, “a performance artist playing a character”, at least according to his lawyer. If you believe he’s real, that’s on you, not him for leading you to believe in his ‘honest’ superpower.
Everything we share on social media is curated so our reality might be more palatable, more enviable, more monetizable even. The pictures we post are manipulated and filtered, the words we write are edited, and the conversations we have tend to stay within the limits of political correctness, a concept so arbitrary it serves no purpose other than to suppress voices seldom heard. As a result, we live in a culture that tends to silence whatever we lack the courage, open-mindedness, and compassion to face. We do not like being reminded of how vulnerable, fallible, and insufferable humans can be.
Nobody really wants authenticity. Some enjoy rubbernecking but nobody ever watches paint dry unless you can touch it because there’s a big sign telling you not to. It’s like finding out greed is eating the internet and immediately asking how much you can make: You would prefer people not to know and you don’t trust yourself to ask, do you? So there’s people who’ve made it their business to tell you and teach you against a fee. Only the business model is stealthy and stops short of the kind of authenticity their personal brand or tag line suggests or sells.
No disclosure, no accountability but heaven forbid you should try and warn other people because then you’re fake news.
No one really wants to deal with the nitty-gritty of the shit show that passes for life for most of us right now. We want escapism and big magic and outsize hope of the mostly financial kind, not stories about making $5 a day in the Western world while toiling for up to 13 hours in the trenches of the online attention wars. That kind of authenticity stops short of being so literal it becomes a danger not only our sense of self but also to our already fragile grasp on hope, the hope of ever leaving precariousness behind.
No one wants that kind of authenticity in person and much less in print: It reminds us of how vulnerable we all are. On top of the pandemic, it’s a bit much. We also take exception to anyone who dares suggest we might be a little gullible instead of being grateful to us for opening our eyes. Sooner or later, self-serving words will betray you.
Our true colors always show, which is why writing is such a powerful practice in a mental health context. If you want to figure out what you’re thinking, write it down. And if translating needs into words can conjure them up then congratulations, editorial alchemist badge unlocked. Authenticity is who you cannot help being, your essence, and chances are you’re not done finding out who you are yet. Self-inquiry is a lifelong process but it isn’t, alas, always a commitment because it takes immense reserves of self-compassion to accept ourselves as we are right now.
Mostly, we do not. We’re not loveless, we’re blissfully self-partnered and living our best life with our best self. We perceive the now as finite so instead of appraising the situation with detachment and focusing on facts and the potential for change, we sugar-coat them with many layers of spin.
The page is a stage where every word plays a part; all life is storytelling, not just online.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.