Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mockingbird: The Authenticity Hoax--the perpetual Coolhunt & The Law of Keeping it Real

People can’t stop themselves from competing for status. It is branded into the side of the brain before you are born. As a primate, status hierarchies are a part of life, and when you remove yourself from the competition in the mainstream you just join the competition in the counterculture. As long as there are clusters of people bent on avoiding what is most popular, within those clusters people will compete for status through conspicuous consumption of art and fashion, music and movies, furniture and gadgets, signaling to insiders the quality of their taste or the ingenuity of their search for the authentic, and signaling to the outsiders that they are not one of them. Whether you are a Juggalo in Kentucky or a Kogal in Tokyo, the internal affairs cool police are always on the prowl for posers.

The application of this to any community is apt, including religious communities.  Ten years ago when I was still at Mars Hill Martians looked down on the outsiders.  Now people who would fit in the label "alienated by the institutional church" look down on the religious institutions they used to give their money to.  But the status-clambering has not changed on either side of the divide, has it?  If it had then, perhaps, a person could provide help or encouragement to people on that other side of the institutional divide in a way that does not dehumanize them.  Conversely, people still on that other side of the divide could look at those of us who aren't on their side and step back and think a moment about how we are not really any less "cool" than they are. 

The quest for authenticity would be a whole lot easier if we didn't so often have a reflexive desire to not express sincere affection for something without seeming to appear as though we're complete suckers for something.  We want to be "authentic" but if we seem "sold out" we might look a bit crazy or appear to be fools.  I have so jaded a perspective on a certain megachurch that people who express zeal for it come off sounding silly and naive to me ... but it's equally true that anyone who is going to actually go watch Atlas Shrugged Part 2 comes off as just as much a sucker (because they are). We're all suckers for something but authenticity seems to be a stance through which we want to say "I'm all for this Subject X but I am not a sucker." 

Adolescent passion seems to simultaneously be the measurement of "sincere" ardor and yet the measure of the coolest and cruelest dismissal of such ardor.  There are few things that seem to simultaneously be so easy to sincerely attach significanct to in music and so easily satirized in the same as adolescent attraction.  The self-authentication of our authenticity may be what dooms our authenticity more than anything else ... yet if we let others authenticate us we are subject to their judgment.  I could try to do some trite thing here about how it will matter whose authentication of your self you seek ... and sometimes the trite thing is the best thing to end with, mentioned without irony and without an attempt to say more.

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