Manufacturing Authenticity

Constructing narratives of truth from lies

There is a trend towards using ‘authenticity’ to write compelling copy that converts to sales. Its the sales-copy version of Reality-TV in more ways than one. But is it really ‘real’?

Everybody wants to be naked and famous
— The Presidents of the United States of America

This was going to be an inevitable evolution of the use of social media for commercial purposes.

First, there was the copy that showed us the elements of success: life coaches sitting on beaches sipping margeritas (“I’m at the office today”) or consultants pictured behind the wheel of a Lamborghini, or even videos of inspirational monologues whilst walking around a lavish mansion (with all of the appropriate costuming in show also). The idea being:

Look how successful I am, if you follow my x-step program, you too can have all this!! By the way, ‘Click here for more info.’

We all got wise to that, of course. Because the glamorous life that is presented on social media is not always what’s happening in real life.

Keep it real

So with that wisdom, a new trend emerged: being authentic.

Sales-copy has become raw and honest. Flaws and failings are now trotted out to the world to sell:

I had so much to do today, but I just couldn’t get out of bed and adult because I’m depressed — so instead I made this video, and wrote a post about it.

The reasoning is that consumers are more likely to spend money on someone they can relate to. The ‘target market’ are flawed and broken, so they will respond better to someone who is also flawed and broken, and yet successful. This marks an interesting change in sales tactic – the selling of hope.

What began to flood the void of social media newsfeeds then was a torrent of misery porn. Petit-celebrités around the world starting to get validation and make sales based on how terrible and challenging their life was.

The deeper their misery, the harder the challenge to overcome. Now, you could pour your heart out to an anonymous audience behind your device screen, signifying your resilience, and a testament to how your product/service/app/x-step program helped you.

Most of us can’t relate to people with perfect bodies, perfect homes, and perfect lives. We are all flawed in some way, we all have something that stops us in our tracks. Finding other people  —  successful people  —  who share those fears and failings inspires us more than polished, flawless gems.

But imagine what might start to happen if people started to somehow create misery in their lives, merely to use it as a selling point; to create flaws and failings  —  and in some cases, illness  —  in order to get the most attention.

The dark side is when stuff like this happens:

Belle Gibson, fake wellness blogger, fined $410,000 over false cancer claims

Victorian Minister for Consumer Affairs Marlene Kairouz said Ms Gibson deserved the harsh penalty.“I think she carefully planned for this,” Ms Kairouz said.“She knew exactly what she was doing and thankfully there aren’t many people out there like Belle Gibson.”

The perfect flaw

Once authenticity becomes a sales game, the intrepid entrepreneur is going to seek to re-interpret anything in their lives to maintain the narrative of flawed perfection.

Any small event in their lives will be passed through the filter of popular psychology and turned into a drama or a nightmare.

Illnesses are over-inflated and dark-nights-of-the-soul become fodder for quasi-mythological quests.

Love affairs become divine operas, and break-ups become moments of deep, existential self-reflection. Every tiny little argument with a lover becomes a selling point for a workshop or program.

Every workout is recorded, every inch of body-fat lost is documented, and every calorie is meticulously photographed.

I don’t need to sell my soul, he’s already in me.
— The Stone Roses

Every minutiae of their personal life becomes part of the bigger sales game, creating a relatable persona that is leveraged to get you to buy something (usually casually mentioned deeply in the body of the text, maybe even in parentheses like this, or alluded to without any details but enough for you to notice as soon as the advert is released — this is a technique called ‘seeding’).

The flaws are real, they’re not lies. There is, in the recounting of these events, an authenticity. However, it is a contrived authenticity, because they have constructed their life to match the narrative.

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

What is happening here is the disappearance of any semblance of a private life, in exchange for a self-created public life. This public life can then be scrutinised without any fear  —  no fear of ‘skeletons in the closet’ when the closet doesn’t exist, and the skeletons are available for sale.

This public life becomes an easily tradable commodity: the person becomes the product (or the brand), which can be easily applied to sell anything.

It’s basically Kardashianism: one’s life becomes a carefully constructed narrative which can then be used to sell anything in the market to those who relate in some way to that narrative (the ‘target market’ or ‘avatar’).

Tear down the wall

There is a deeper loss in all of this  —  the value of a private life.

It could be argued that this is important to introverts only, however I would propose that we all need some privacy in our lives to a certain degree. Because in the privacy and anonymity, there is solace, stillness, rest, and mystery.

And whilst we may not need to live our life with impenetrable walls around us, isolating us from others, it’s not entirely healthy to be completely open to all and sunder who may pass. This suggests a lack of (healthy) personal boundaries.

Inspired by Barthes’ work, I find mystery to be erotic and enticing. Getting to know someone slowly, discovering the gems and flaws equally, is what endears them to me as a friend. In his essay on striptease, he states:

Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked.

Photo by Viliman Viliman on Unsplash

A private life is like a mystery behind many veils. Friendship is based on the organic (and slow) process of getting to know someone. This is as true for lovers as it is friends.

How can I get to know someone if every facet of their life is available for me to read on social media? Where is the mystery? Where is the shedding of veil after veil, and the deepening of an intimacy which leads to trust, gnosis, and love?

And if I do get to know them, and find out there is an incongruity between their public-self and their private-self  —  what then? Can I trust that person? If I’ve been attracted by the public-self and can relate to that, am I always going to be sold to? Am I truly a friend, or just part of their ‘target market’?

The thing is, people change. What happens when you’re fame is based on who you thought you were at some point, only to discover its not? What happens when your fans (they’re not really friends after all) don’t like the ‘real’ you? What happens to your sales? Where is the external validation for your true nature which is emerging (like veils being removed), which was once a vital part of your sales plan?

Here is the paradox: most of your ‘target market’ are not celebrities, and do not have a public life —  we have private lives. And we cannot relate to someone who does not have a private life.

This is authenticity — the skeletons, the closets, and the vulnerability to say “I don’t want anyone to know about this.”

Our shadow has [personal] power, yes. But if we give it away (or sell it), it no longer is a source of power. Owning our shadows is about accepting them, and letting those nearest and dearest know about it  —  but we can, and I would argue never should  —  seek to get rid of it completely.

Again, the paradox is that when we shine a light on the shadow, it stops being a shadow. Only vampires cast no shade in the light  —  and they are creatures who suck and drain the blood/life-force from their ‘target’ victims, and seduce others to become like them.

Vulnerability and authenticity are inherent aspects of our true nature. Whilst I won’t say it’s inappropriate for it to be known by others or deliberately hidden, perhaps there is a wisdom to not monetising it. Otherwise, you sacrifice your humanity to becoming a commodity. And in a society where commodities are seen as easily-disposable (consumables), this may cause you more harm in the long-term than good.

What do you think? Do you value your private life? Or is there really nothing to hide from the world? Your opinions are welcome in the comments section below.

Originally published by Petah Raven on .
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Exported from Medium on August 1, 2018.


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