Authenticity is a Con by Peter York

This slim volume is deceptively quick to read. The words flow easily past, and there are not that many of them, yet the invective in them is so dense than an enforced slower pace finds much to savour as Peter York lays into the modern love of presenting brands, products and people as ‘authentic’. Especially as ‘authentic’ often means ‘carefully presented to look authentic’ with phrases such as ‘hand made’ thrown around in order to give the impression of roots in genuine craftsmanship rather than mass produced production lines.

Authenticity is a ConThe prevailing assumption is that authentic is good even though, as Peter York points out:

What if your heart, your God particle, took you jihad or serial killing, hardcore pornography production or paedophilia?

Authenticity – finding yourself – doesn’t, and can’t, allow for the idea that a fair few authentic selves might be authentically appalling and so much better repressed.

Even when authentic doesn’t come with those dangers, it is often still misleading – as Peter York recounts when including himself in the list of those to blame for fake authenticity:

[I suggested] to a soup-maker client that he should make his tinned soups look more authentic, more farmers’-markety, by cutting the vegetables in a more free-form way. At the time, the carrots and swedes and so forth in vegetable soup, scotch broth and similar lines featured root vegetables diced into tiny perfect cubes – so obviously RoboChef rather than rural kitchen.

The different sections, on PR, music and so on, are not really strung together into one continuous narrative but the section on the fake ‘authenticity’ in the music industry where people fake earthy origins is particularly good. Lead Belly, for example, preferred to wear a suit but went on stage in prison clothes, playing up to a fake image of the ‘authentic’ blue singer.

It’s a fun read, even if (or rather especially because) it is mostly about poking fun at others rather than a serious consideration of the causes and solutions to the malaise he assails.

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Buy Authenticity is a Con by Peter York here.

Note: a review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher.

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