Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Pointlessness of Authenticity

The famous "Surgeon's Photo" of the Loch Ness Monster, from 1934, revealed to be a hoax over 60 years later. By that time the image has become well-known and evocative of something wonderful and mysterious.

It was better than real. The "shared" memory of the creature was so prevelant and widespread that it had become a cultural lynchpin, an event of history... not of something so quodition as a prehistoric creature in the water, but of a larger happening everyone appreciated, valued, and "remembered."

There were (and are) over 500 reported sightings of Nessie since and thousands of snapshots to go with many of them. There's nothing like photographic evidence to back up your claim.

In 1995, found alien autopsy footage, along with some reconstructions, was aired on Fox, produced by the famously suspect Ray Santilli. The show was broadcast in 30 countries, and half a dozen television and cable specials followed in its wake, analyzing and investigating the veracity of the footage and visits by aliens. I was able to find 20 websites specifically devoted to the original footage. Millions of viewers have seen and chimed in on this show, special effects experts and film archivists alike.

Now it has a life as a historical event that reverberates through popular culture. The authenticity of the original is not important - the effects of that broadcast continue to be felt in the culture at large, in the dialogue we have with documentaries and with "reality" television shows. Is it real? Is it entertaining? Are other people talking about it? Should I know about it?

The existence of discourse out in the mediasphere, where reporters, bloggers, or citizens are talking about popular culture events, creates as much content as hard facts about who won the Grammy or got kicked off the island. (And their level of authenticity is as much in doubt as ever.) "Buzz" is enough to create meaning for events that are not technically "historic" - simply popular. It is easier to pretend to be important nowadays because on the Internet it is so easy to merely exist.

The binary relationship between document and mockument has been diffused, both by the inability to discern the nuance between them and a frank lack of concern about the difference.

With the infinite duplications possible in the digital realm, there is no more original anyway. There is no need to revert to the original source when there's copies everywhere. And nowadays, what people adopt as their folksonomies is creating a forceful authenticity all its own.

It doesn't matter that it's "fake."

We all just want to enjoy the ride.

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