With the departure of Scott Forstall from Apple – a skeumorphic kick-me sign taped to his back – maybe it’s timely to say something about authenticity and the digital. I’m still working through my categories and such, am out of practice, but the useful criteria from my previous thinking still seems, well, useful.Authenticity depends on a distance. (Not a new idea. One of the primary concerns of post-colonial theory is authenticity played out through displaced culture and trade)
1) This distance could be spatial; tortilla chips boasting “Authentic Mexican Taste” only make sense outside of Mexico. Parts of major cities devoted primarily to one ethnicity (Little Italy, Chinatown, etc.) are homely for some precisely because they are not home.
2) The distance could also be temporal; the fantastically precise set-and-costume design of the 1960s in the tv show Mad Men demonstrates that the je ne sais quoi of authenticity comes from poring over old design magazines and advertisements. Even those of us (especially those of us?) who weren’t alive for most of that decade feel that something “true” is being staged. The useful past comes from the future. It’s the performance that is authentic.
Walter Benjamin talks about the authentic in somewhat similar terms when he complains that the aura of authenticity “withers” in the age of mechanical reproduction such that
:"the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. "(“Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” The Critical Tradition 1235)