The New Authenticity
Now that POMO is dead, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. During the 80’s, 90’s and Aughts I pretty much drove myself to distraction with loathing for POMO (without really knowing what it was, mind you!) but now that its gone, I’m the one throwing histrionic tizzies at the funeral. Damn, I’d throw myself on its coffin if I could....”Noooooo, my darling, bury me with youoooooooo!!!”
Oh well, TOO LATE! And welcome peeps, to The New Authenticity. Now, I am no Stradamus, but I am predicting this (and gawd knows, if it comes to pass, I sure as heck want to be able to point to this essay and scream “told ya so!”)—sort of based on this article....although, recently I saw this and I dunno if it proves or disproves my point!
"The New Authenticity" is wonderfully welcome for one reason alone and that is I think we will see a return to craftsmanship—HOORAY! WOOT WOOT, let’s hear it for the home team!!!! But, ultimately, it will be expounded in utterly ghastly directions. I think, at its worst, it will get construed that imagination, abstraction, metaphor, symbols and myths are suspicious and should be eliminated. Terminator style, preferably. In this way we imagine (how ironic!) that we can triumph over terrorism and other inauthentic enemies that are dogging us. But tilting at windmills won’t authentically address what's ailing us as a culture! So the New Authenticity promises to be very inauthentic.
What killed POMO and paved the way for The New Authenticity? The market crash, 9-11, No Child Left Behind and the inevitable swinging of the pendulum from favoring one type of fashion to its opposite.
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The Market Crash
A sudden craving for authenticity is, in part, a response to the poor economy. We want our durable goods to be effing durable, dammitol! In the most literal way possible. People are getting sick of outsourcing now that our economy’s tanking. If real estate isn’t the real deal, then please, for goodness sakes, don’t lets also buy a crappy imported car.
POMO, because it refused to make hierarchies, defaulted to letting The Market decide everything. So it got very commercial. This explains why hippies disappeared (until they were revived as a fashion style) but punk never did. Punk just got mutated into fashion the day after is gasped its dying breath in 1977. But at least back then, there was a presumption of a literate consumer at least kinda-sorta. As good post-millennial, post-POMO consumers, and goodness knows we want to be good consumers, we (mostly) know enough to understand that our voracious desires are being manipulated. In short, we know we’re impulsive suckers and we’re a little weary of our corporate overlords cuckolding us while they rake in their obnoxiously overblown salaries. Not weary enough or powerful enough to overthrow them, mind you, just enough to demand “real” stuff. Why real? Because we’ve obliterated nature and reality. Absence makes the heart grow fonder! Having, for the most part, achieved virtual reality and genetically engineered food, we recollect real reality with warm affection!
I have already heard that porn sites featuring “real women” (i.e. people you might actually see on the street should you look up from your smart phone) are gaining popularity. Given the chance to f/make it with a celebrity or a porn star? No one wants the (pseudo) pressure!!! They want lumps, bumps, bruises, scars, pimples and wrinkles and all the signs of non-virtual reality. I like this. This seems truly like a refreshing and positive shift! Of course, this is porn and porn isn’t real even when it is. But whatever. Anything that makes a guy like a pimply, wrinkly girl can’t be all bad.
And there’s more good news! What’s The New Authenticity gonna be like for art? Can I hear a big round of applause for the welcome return of craft and skill?! There’s already a trend afoot to demand the artist be the creator of the work (as though that were a guarantee of “authentic”--which it resoundingly is not, but artist/fabricators are not the same as and do not make the same type of work as artist/designers. Allowing them into the dialog is a positive change. There should be room for both.)
Hooray: (Or maybe that’s “Boo hoo hoo”) just in time for a trend towards integration of curriculum in art schools, the Master and Slave...er, apprentice system is gonna come into demand! Or perhaps the atelier school model, if we are lucky.
As for skill? That will come back as well. For at least five minutes. That’s how long I predict it will take before skilled craftsmanship is seen as inauthentic, too mechanistic and slick, to unattainable by “real folks”. Skill is still for show offs who flaunt their superiority in yer face. The new crafetishism will be for poor craftsmanship.
Plan on hearing the words “authenticity” and “authorship” used to death. All this access to everything, leveling of playing fields and the breakdown into indistinguishiblilty that POMO was will convert into some sort of sickening false nostalgia for the good old days when things were a little more definite and less relativistic. The relativism of POMO entailed, in part, an acknowledgment of “the other” and by extension, the awareness that our established hierarchies are worth examining (if not demolishing). It was so much simpler when we could equate “The Other” with “The Bad Guys”! I know, let’s do that again! Beware of “authenticity” becoming a so-called agent for the good guys. Can you say “authoritarian”? “Authenticity” can’t be measured. It’s neither a set quality nor a quantity and much depends on context. One person’s “authentic” is another’s steaming pile of bullsh*t. It just depends where it’s coming from; after all, it couldn’t be more authentic than it is coming fresh from the bull’s behind.
Truth is as much in the eye of the beholder as beauty...but try telling that to Homeland Security.
The meta-awareness of text, context, meta text and all that POMO was can destroy the suspension of disbelief at the expense of a sense of magic. This was POMO at its worst. But it allowed for the possibilities gained by admitting we might not be superior, good and right all the time. That maybe we weren’t always the nice guys or the right guys. Maybe we weren’t all guys; maybe some guys aren’t even all guy, for that matter! Ohmigosh, blow my mind!
But that’s all gone now! Wiped clean by 9-11. No more ambiguities. You’re either with us, or the terrorists. Those words killed POMO like a can of RAID sprayed down an anthill.
The fear of terrorism, it has been pointed out over and over again, is not based on a real enemy but a boogeyman abstraction*. One that cannot actually be vanquished. In fact, abstractions and metaphors, by their very nature, are inauthentic, imaginary, immaterial things. Not being capable of much nuance, we will now attempt to kill all abstractions and anything that could harbor a terrorist. We are desperate for something genuinely killable to remedy this and make us feel brave and strong again. Ha!
(*Obama was right. The only thing that can kill terror is hope.)
Irony and paradox died with 9/11 and at first it was refreshing...bye bye to the sarcasm and snark of POMO. No more winky winky nudgy nudgy of self-referential in-joking.
But where does this lead but inevitably to no more sense of humor at all? The attempts at fairness and political correctness POMO foisted about will be further codified into fear that you could be laughing at some marginalized group. Today’s nerds are tomorrow’s terrorists. That’s what Columbine taught us. Terrorism is serious business, no laughing allowed. No more Oscar Wildean artifice and sham that reveals a higher truth. No more playing fast and loose with identity. Mutable identity is a real problem for Homeland Security as well.
Authenticity is very serious stuff. Because it’s The Truth. Or so we imagine. But wait...imagination isn't real is it? Oh my, The New Authenticity is going to be very, very problematic! And what is the solution to problems like that? Illiteracy, natch!
No Child Left Behind
The New Authenticity will be predicated on the New Illiteracy. Its gonna really, really suck! By illiteracy, I don't mean not being able to read. I mean the destruction of the idea of "critical distance". Critical distance in art was ANNOYING, true! It led to mountains of self-referential crapola that was more about its own theory than it was about having a passionate or moving experience with deeply held collective subconscious myth etc. No more critical distance------YAY!!!!! Except for this: we will be complete, unabashed idiots.
The craving for "authenticity" will take advantage of the trend typified by "No Child Left Behind" towards eschewing interpretative and creative thinking in favor of “right answers" and fundamentalism. Right answers, after all are true and "authentic", no? Without being able to think analytically, we are as illiterate as one who cannot read letters and words. Without critical thinking, “reading” is a form of consumption. Gobble, gobble, gobble! Have fun with that. We’ll all be too busy texting to worry about text or meta-text! Because we are losing the ability to read critically and think analytically, its pretty much guaranteed we will remain consumers of superficial fashion and obedient to our corporate overlords. The status quo is preserved! The market will be saved!!!! Long live the USA! Three cheers for the New Illiteracy.
With illiteracy comes the ultimate powerlessness that people seem to be leaning towards since they decided to stop weaning their children. Responsibility? Oh man, whatta drag! Real learning? TOO MUCH WORK. Facing adversity? Too much risk. And when the new boss comes goose-stepping in, its “oh pleeeeeease don’t hurrrrt me!” So says a population that has abandoned responsibility of feeling, deciding, and acting for themselves. All that’s left is HOPE. As in I HOPE the new boss isn’t the same as the old boss.
The Inevitable Swinging of the Pendulum
POMO, as a late 20th c. intellectual phenomenon, was, in many ways, dreadful emotionally. It should have been a big costume party, but instead it was a dreary academic conference. Yeah, thanks, a lot for nuthin’ POMO!
We rightfully miss sentiment but whaddo we do about it? We have a nauseating tendency to substitute sentimentality in its place—the difference being sentimentality is a superficial, cheesy, cheap feeling without the messy clean up or heavy investment. You think we love kitsch too much now? The New Authenticity promises to leave one vulnerable to kitsch like you wouldn’t believe, because without critical distance you are a slavering Pavlov’s dog lapping up images and narratives that promise instant gratification at the expense of meaning; full flavored pleasure without the challenge or sacrifice. All the yummy nom noms and no uncomfortable questions or burning, itchy rashes.
All the endless waves of trans-this and multi-that exhausted everyone. We never could choose, so we let the market do it and, oopsy daisy, the market crashed. Time for an authority figure...who’s your daddy?
Politicos have been ushering in The New Authenticity since Reagan (or before). All this intellectual bashing! All this folksy, guy-you-wanna-slug-down-brewskies-with populism. ICK PTOOOI!!!!! This will give the ranting crackpots who are suspicious of what they see as a cabal of culturati crime bosses a leg up. Ugh. More people who, in the guise of “The Common Folk” seek to destroy what teensy inroads the brainy are able to make on the decline of civilization. Disdaining pseudo intellectualism has become equated with disdaining intelligence! The Idiocracy is now! Brawndo! Its got what plants crave.
Prepare yourselves! I’d invest in Brawndo stock, now.