Monday, June 29, 2009

Making up the Authentic

This taste for the “authentic,” and for the control that goes with it, accompanies the petty bourgeoisie in its colonization of working class neighborhoods…By chasing out the poor people, the cars, and the immigrants, by making it tidy, by getting rid of all the germs, the petty bourgeoisie wipes out the very thing it came looking for.
The Invisible Committee
The Coming Insurrectin

We seek the real in the make believe. The moment we enter a carefully engineered, sanitary bubble we feel that we have arrived. Its sweet smell and kitschy décor tell us that we have stepped into a world that evokes a golden past when life was coherent and whole. The irony is that by stepping into that bubble, we leave the authentic, which is authentic because it grates on our nerves.

A visit to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia personifies this “authentic” bubble. The restored colonial village is peopled with actors in “authentic” costumes walking “authentic” dirt streets down which “authentic horses” pull “authentic wagons.”

There are, however, a few authentic touches missing. No chamber pots are dumped out second story windows onto the street below. The pungent odor of an eighteenth century people that believed bathing to be unhealthy is missing. No pigs wander streets clogged with filth. No butcher guts an animal and leaved the offal to rot in the noonday sun.

We prefer our authenticity sanitized just as we prefer our lives sanitized. So when working class neighborhoods are gentrified, they are fumigated and scrubbed clean. Families are uprooted and sent looking for affordable housing. Building are gutted, walls that have absorbed decades of memories and smells are torn down to be replaced by genuine, reproduction plaster walls.

What was once vibrant and alive becomes quiet and comatose; make believe always does, because, in the end, the search for authenticity is a flight from the authentic. A well-appointed condo, accessorized and color coordinated becomes a refuge and haven, from the teeming, chaotic, contradictory, nonlinear, cacophonic smelly, throbbing and alive world of the real.

We wander the land of the dead, finding solace in the zombies we pass, always careful to step quietly less we stir up some dust.

It is no wonder antidepressants are such a growth market. A dust mote on a dunghil is not noticed; a dust mote on the highly-polished lens of a telescope screams for attention.


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