Our discussion in class on Friday about the ‘authenticity’ of Iggy Azalea inspired me to think more bout the role of entertainment and the formation of authenticity. Performs are judged by the public based upon a myriad of factors- moral behavior, treatment of fans, and authenticity. Being in the spotlight requires a certain ‘image’ to be presented, and this image must be deemed ‘authentic’ by the public in order to be accepted. However, as in the case of Iggy Azalea, what the public believes is or is not ‘authentic’ may not coincide with the the true ‘authenticity.’ Therefore, the concept of ‘authenticity’ is socially constructed, especially within the entertainment industry, and what is deemed ‘authentic’ is a story or image presented to the public and accepted by relevant others.
This is not a new idea; the relationship between authenticity and public acceptance has been around for centuries. In The Prince, a dejected and ostracized Machiavelli states, “a prince will not actually need to have all of the qualities previously mentioned, but he must surely seem to have them..I would go so far as to say that having them all and always conforming to them would be harmful” (69). For Machiavelli, ‘authenticity’ is a dangerous thing and it is more advantageous to emulate the image the image you desire, rather than reveal your true nature. The same philosophy is adopted by many popular music artists. They give the audience what they expect to see, and they are declared ‘authentic.’ We saw this with Black Minstrels, popular Hip-hop music, and Hillbilly music. All of these genres had specific images associated with their performance, and in order for the performers to be accepted by the public, they lived up to the audience’s expectations by wearing blackface, describing violent communities filled with crime, or wearing overalls, respectively.
How is something socially declared ‘authentic’? In music, the public has a general image or expectation based upon a basic working knowledge of each genre or group. But what factors play into this basic level of knowledge? Richard A. Peterson argues that ‘authenticity’ is based in ethic/cultural identity, the elasticity of group membership, status identity, the authentic experience, and the constructed self. I would argue that each of these factors is very influential in determine is a performance is authentic, but I would not argue that each of them is equally important for all groups. For today’s entertainers place heavy emphasis on the “constructed self,” where they remain true to a fabricated self that is deemed ‘authentic’ by the public but is not an ‘authentic’ representation of them as an individual. This creation of a public identity is an adherence to the same principles described by Machiavelli in 1532, where perception of the public is the most important thing to consider when in a position of social or political power. The individual must play the role of a ‘performer’ for the public rather than be a true representation of themselves. They are only an ‘authentic’ representation of the image the public has placed upon them.
The implications of the publics influence over ‘authenticity’ has several implications. One of the most apparent and worrisome is the changing nature of authenticity. ‘Authentic’ music is defined by the public and it can be changed by the public. This is clearly seen in our study of Elvis’s covers of R&B songs originally performed by black artists. The public believed that R&B was exclusively a black style of music, but when American youth responded positively to Elvis’s performance of R&B, the image of R&B and later Rock ’n Roll was changed forever. The publics change of perception influenced and defined genres of music who still influence the music industry today. Recognizing this influence makes me wonder about other examples of where public has lead to the success and failure of musical artists. It also makes me question the integrity and ‘authenticity’ of music as a representation of the artist/perform themselves. Is success an indicator of a loss of self, forfeited at the price of fame obtained by being molded and shaped by the public?