Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Blogging Every Day

Somebody told me, “You could have it made/But you talk too much.” – from “Secret Face”

If I’m going to blog everyday, I’m going to have to keep this stuff mercifully brief. Which will mean going against my nature.

Does that mean I’m being “inauthentic” and thus running counter to the very essence of blogging?

Anything is possible, however improbable.

Rush at the Garden: Why couldn’t they have been more like Liberace?

liberace1I went to see Rush at the Garden last night. It was good, but it wasn’t sublime.

Here’s the thing. I’ve liked Rush since I was a kid and in fact still listen to their music with an, for some, alarming frequency (my favorite album being Fly by Night). However, I never really explored their catalog, which I otherwise celebrate, beyond Moving Pictures, the mega-hit which sold over 4 million copies worldwide and put them on the classic rock map for good.

If I think of things from the standpoint of Geddy, Alex, and Neil, I realize that for them, Rush is everything they have done since they started playing together in something like 1968. In fact, early on in the show Geddy Lee joked that they had “400 songs” that they could play for us.

Unfortunately, for many of my generation—I recently turned 47—Rush actually boils down to the 4 or 5 songs (“Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” etc.) that we’ve heard a thousand times and, if you are a semi-fan like me, choice cuts from the preceding albums (“Xanadu” from A Farewell to Kings or “The Necromancer” from Caress of Steel). Aside from “Subdivisions” off Signals, I couldn’t really name a Rush song recorded after 1980.

It was for this reason, and a couple others, that the first lengthy set Rush played was a bit of the hard slog. Kicking things off with a very corny, though highly produced, film clip that set up the “time machine” theme of the evening, the band launched into one of their biggest hits, “Spirit of the Radio,” and it was exhilarating. When you hear a band play a song that has been kicking around your ears for thirty years it is undeniably powerful and I was, for about 4 minutes and 50 seconds, transported. Read the rest of this entry »

The Really Real, Totally Authentic Thing

2385429026_062f5691ef_mIf you don’t have time to blog then don’t. Ghost blogging is inauthentic & the antithesis of everything social. #dontbeafake cc @mitchjoelAvinash Kaushik

When I was in graduate school, there was a lot of talk about the “death of the author.” Such talk was driven primarily by French, post-structuralist thinkers like Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and Lacan who had an intensely nuanced and complex notion of writing and authorship that tended to highlight the supra-personal in any putatively “personal” utterance or authorial gesture. Steeped in such thinking, I became very skeptical of attempts to say with certainty who the “who” is when we ask, “Who wrote this?”

Barthes et al. were responding to various French philosophical currents of the 20th century but especially, I believe, existentialism. Whereas existentialism had put the individual human being at the center of (an ultimately meaningless) existence, thus hoping to establish a new moral center following the death of God, the post-structuralists chose instead to show that the individual was not the center of anything but, rather, the effect of many things (language, culture, discourse, the unconscious, etc.).

The French were not the first or the only critics to suggest that the individual (sometimes called “the subject”) was epiphenomenal. Freud had certainly pointed in this direction when developing his psycho-analytic theories as had Nietzsche a decade or so before him, Marx a decade or so before that, and Hegel at the very outset of the 19th century. But even these gentlemen were not the first to insist on the essentially contingent nature of individual identity which, in one form or another, can be traced back to the teachings of Buddha and even the Vedic authors before him.

Which is all to say that when I read things like Mitch Joel’s recent blog post on “ghost blogging,” my philosophical buttons get pushed.

Conceding that there may be practical value to ghost blogging (“I get that people Ghost Blog and it works”), Mitch shows that his opposition to it is, more than anything else, a matter of faith. Like a Luther for the Twitterati, he writes, “I believe this one thought (and I will stand by it): corporate Blogs being presented as a personal space to share insights have a predisposed and inherent understanding that the person whose name is on it is the actual author.”

You see, Mitch is less concerned with the value of ghost blogging than he is with values or, as he puts it, “ideals” (“I do think that there are some commonly held ideals within Social Media”) which he also refers to as the “pillars of what makes something ‘social’.” These pillars being, “transparency, openness, honesty, human and real voices (not corporate mumbo jumbo) and a culture that embraces sharing between these real voices.”

In other words, Mitch is a moralist who even indulges in the classic rhetorical move of the moralist, the value-laden leading question: “Why is everyone who defends ghost blogging so afraid to state that ghost blogging’s first act is one of deceit and misdirection?”

The philosopher in me wishes merely to point out that expressions like “actual author,” “real voices,” “human,” “social” and so on are not unproblematic.

What, after all, is an author and how does an author, generally speaking, differ from an “actual” author? What makes a voice “real,” particularly when we are talking about written texts (blogs) where the notion of “voice” itself is metaphorical? What attributes belong to the category “human” and what happens when “humanness” is invoked as an ethical category? Since when is the “social” defined by “honesty, transparency, and openness” rather than by concepts like “convention” or “conflict”? Etc.

I’m not sure that Mitch Joel is interested in the history of philosophy, let alone the history of the “ideals” that he invokes. Indeed, I’m fairly certain that he would dismiss my argument—that, in essence, concepts like authorship, or authenticity for that matter, are over-determined, social constructs which in no way represent uncontested, universal values—as equivocation. I am, after all, a ghost blogger whose work goes undisclosed by my clients. Thus, in the eyes of Mitch Joel, Avinash Kaushik, and others, I’m an aider and abettor of unreconstructed frauds and deceivers.

In my “defense,” and in answer to Mitch’s inherently unanswerable question (shades of “How frequently do you beat your wife?”), I would say that, if I am afraid to state that my first act every morning is one of deceit and misdirection, it is because I fear saying something that I do not consider to be true. Rightly or wrongly, I actually believe that the people whose bloggings I facilitate are the “actual” authors of the posts that I produce. The ideas are theirs, the “voice” is theirs, the blog is theirs, etc.

That being said, on a “human” level I resent the jargon of authenticity which pervades social media. When someone says, in the imperative voice, “Don’t be a fake,” I bristle. Why? Because I find the division of human actions into “real” and “fake” itself dehumanizing. Where does the notion of “authenticity” come from anyway? It is a term of trade driven by the desire to differentiate the genuine from the counterfeit so that an item can be assigned a monetary value. “Authentically human” is just another way of saying “Genuine leather.”

When we demand that humans be “authentic,” or criticize them for being fake, it’s because we have reduced them to the status of commodities. In fact, I believe that the social media, rather than humanizing marketing, as Mitch Joel and others have long hoped, have in fact completed the total colonization of human thought and affect by market forces.

Given the absolute assimilation of our lives by the new media, down to the most trivial whims (“I just ate a donut covered in bacon!” “I hate Justin Bieber”), isn’t it possible that the only way to hang on to our humanity is through masks, personae, and “ghosts”?

Or, in the immortal words of Robert Plant, “When you fake it, baby, please, fake it right.”

Image Source: Nick Wheeler.

The Irony of Authenticity and the Authenticity of Irony

authenticity and social mediaSeems like nowadays, authentic is the thing to be.

Mitch Joel calls authenticity, “the cost of admission” in the Web 2.0 world, though he warns: “Being authentic isn’t always good. Let me correct that, being authentic is always good, but the output of being authentic [ie, revealing your flaws, shortcomings, and “warts” – Matt] is sometimes pretty ugly.”

HubSpot TV called the “marketing takeaway” of a notorious scandal involving a company paying for positive online reviews: “Be authentic. If not, you will get caught.”

When CC Chapman was among the Twitterati recently profiled by the Boston Globe, one of his Facebook friends asked, “Ever wondered why you have such a following?” He responded, “I wonder it all the time actually. I asked once and the general theme in the answers was my honest approach between life, family and work when it came to sharing things.” To which another friend replied, “Exactly right CC. You don’t try to be someone you’re not. It’s that authenticity that attracts people.”

Among the first to identify this flight to authenticity were James H. Gilmore & B. Joseph Pine II, who wrote Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (2007). What notably separates them from contemporary partisans of authenticity is that their take is tinged with irony, an irony most evident in their promise to define “how companies can render their offerings as “really real.”’

This irony is refreshing because invocations of authenticity regularly fail to acknowledge or appreciate what is inherently contradictory about the concept. Said failure begins with the mistaken equation of authenticity and honesty (see above). Honesty may be a characteristic of an individual, but it is not a characteristic of authenticity. For example, an authentically honest person is being “authentic” when she is being honest, but an authentically devious person is being just as authentic when he is lying.

Similarly, we don’t call a painting an “authentic Rembrandt” because it is honest; we call it authentic because it was really painted by Rembrandt, unlike the forgery which only looks like it was painted by him. In other words, we call it authentic because it is what it seems to be. Herein lies the essential contradiction of authenticity: Authenticity isn’t about being real; authenticity is about really being what you seem to be.

The centrality of “seeming” to authenticity becomes even more clear when we call a person “authentic.” Such a designation usually means, “the way this person acts transparently or guilelessly reflects who they really are.” Because our sense of their authenticity depends on an assessment a person’s behavior, we should pay special attention to the fact that authenticity is performed; as paradoxical as it may sound, authenticity is an “act,” in the theatrical sense. (Which is why I always say, “Be yourself. It’s the perfect disguise.”)

The bigger problem though, is that our notion of authenticity assumes we really know who someone is and likewise the imperative to “be authentic” assumes we know who we really are.

Our identity, “who we really are,” is always contingent, provisional, and changing. It is an amalgam of who we want to be, who we mean to be, who we’re supposed to be, who we have to be, and who we are in spite of ourselves. Moreover, no matter how much we’d like to think so, we are not the authority on who we really are since it includes much that cannot be known by us. Indeed, and again paradoxically, we can’t know anything about ourselves without assuming the perspective of another, that is by identifying with someone else and precisely NOT being ourselves.

Just as one must consult an expert to determine the authenticity of a treasured heirloom – it can’t speak for itself – we can’t call ourselves “authentic;” that is for others to decide. At best, and this is the irony, we can always only strive to “seem” authentic. True authenticity calls for acknowledging that “who you are” is an open question and, moreover, a collaborative work in progress.

In the end, we must distance ourselves from our claims or pretensions to authenticity. We must call it into question and even suggest, especially to ourselves, that it may just be a ego-driven pose. (Hey, it just may be!) This distancing, implicitly critical and potentially mocking (or at least deprecating), is the classic stance of irony. And though the dodginess of irony (“did he mean that or didn’t he?”) seems to put it at a distinct remove from authenticity (“this is exactly what I think”), it actually mirrors the open-ended, unresolved, and ever-changing “dodginess” of reality itself.

Which is to say that irony, as a posture, an attitude, and as an approach, is more authentic (in the sense of “really being the way reality seems to be”) than honesty, sincerity, openness, or any of the other qualities that pass for such. The tragedy (or irony) is, however, that it will always seems less than authentic due to the all-too-human suspicion of ambiguity, indeterminacy, uncertainty, and, lest we forget, the wily intelligence native to irony and the ironist.

Image Courtesy of Mary Hockenbery.