The Cultures of Authenticity

Posted Thursday August 27, 2009 by John Gunders in |

Done. Just up to the examiners now.

This thesis examines the way in which the concept of authenticity is mobilised throughout popular cultural productions as a politically informed way of constructing value and meaning. It posits authenticity as a cultural category, the composition of which shifts according to the discursive and cultural contexts within which it operates, but whose significance lies in its capacity to signify the genuine, the real, and the fundamental. The thesis further proposes that three discourses are predominant in their participation in the construction and significance of authenticity: community, the natural, and creativity.

Through a series of three case-study chapters, the thesis tracks this definition through extended analyses of a variety of cultural texts of different genres and media, and in different topic areas. First it examines the discourses of community and creativity in relation to popular music, drawing on texts such as video clips and film, journalistic writing, and fan discussions, in order to demonstrate that fan communities draw on the commonality of experience and the expressed creativity and skill of the performer in order to draw their own boundaries around what they consider to be authentic and inauthentic. Second, it looks at the discourses of the natural and of community in relation to food television and theorises that a fundamental meaning within the discourses of community—tradition—is at the heart of many valorised food cultures, and that this valorisation is played up in most televisual texts concerning food. Finally, the thesis examines the discourses of community and the natural in relation to travel writing, looking closely at the subgenre of the “villa book,” and claiming that the success of the subgenre is largely due to the intersection of the two key discourses. Similarly, the discourses of community and the natural are obvious within the practices of package-tourism, particularly within online discussions of this sort of travel.

The thesis argues that in spite of an academic suspicion about authenticity as a valuing and explanatory mechanism, there is widespread use of the themes of authenticity—largely untheorised and undefined—within popular culture, and that the academy ignores these constructions at its peril. This thesis makes this examination, not in defence of authenticity as an essential, objective fact, but as a powerful, and largely unexamined, explanatory construction that is at the heart of what many people in this society consider important.

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