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The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves

by Andrew Potter

In The Authenticity Hoax, Andrew Potter, Maclean’s columnist and co-author (with Joseph Heath) of The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed, rehashes all of the same resistance-is-futile thinking from that earlier book in another strident defence of free-market consumer capitalism.

The book’s thesis is that “there really is no such thing as authenticity.” To posit an authentic self or lifestyle independent of the market is a delusion – silly at best and at worst a threat to Western Civilization. In fact, it may even make you a terrorist. History really has ended and we need to grow up and accept the world we’ve made for what it is – a lesson Potter seems to have gleaned less from Francis Fukuyama than an episode of Mad Men

The Authenticity Hoax begins with a pop-philosophy backgrounder, taking us through a casual history of the creation of the modern world that is predictably vague and simplistic. There is some improvement in subsequent chapters dealing with authenticity in the art world, online, as a marketing tool, and in North American politics, though these chapters stand alone as separate essays and don’t fit together to form a coherent intellectual framework. Finally, two chapters dealing with suburbia and the triumph of western capitalism are long on rhetoric but only tenuously connected to the book’s supposed theme.

The book takes on an air of exhibitionism as Potter drags into his argument the size of his iPod playlist and things he did on his European vacation. Presumably this is all done to make the author appear more authentic, or cool, as he embarks on a take-down of various left-wing writers he doesn’t like. Some easy points are scored here and there, but for the most part Potter is only tackling straw men. Particularly egregious are his attacks on the environmental movement, which he sees as consisting of nothing but latter-day hippies and eco-terrorist cranks. Nature doesn’t score any points for being authentic, either.

Of course, a book with as settled a political agenda as this isn’t meant to persuade anyone not already onside. And since the essence of Potter’s argument necessarily relegates anyone with a dissenting point of view to a role outside the, yes, authentic cultural mainstream (the one fashioned and made inevitable by free markets), criticism seems particularly irrelevant.

Still, a more rigorous and balanced approach would not only have given his argument more credibility, it would have made for a more enjoyable read.