Calculated Authenticity (Part 1 of 3)

Y’all.  I started this as part of a “shorts” piece and it has taken on a life of its own, and it’s way too long now.  I want to be sure I say what I mean, so as not to cause unnecessary offense, so I’m going to keep All the Words.  But I’m breaking them up into three posts in hopes that you’ll actually read all the way to the end.  Hang on for the ride!)

In response to Commonplace #2, Leslie wondered how I chose only one quote from that entire hilarious book to post.  Here’s the answer: that was one of two sections of the book that I kept thinking about a long time after I quit laughing my head off.

Despite the fact that “authenticity” is the hottest buzzword for communities everywhere, the truth is that we’re very calculated about which authentic self we’re going to present to the public.

There’s a way in which this is a good thing.  After all, one could get away with all manner of crudeness and inappropriate behavior under the cover of authenticity.  Putting on a bra, wiping tee-tee off of your guest toilet before your company arrives, singing along with your least favorite song at church, responding kindly to the person that annoys you, refraining from publicly posting a video of your child’s temper tantrum: all of these things are in a sense “inauthentic,” but we understand that they represent good manners or are a way of showing respect to others.

So it’s not necessarily deceitful to draw some curtains around private behavior or to put a filter over some of our less-attractive impulses (“Girl, your baby is not cute. Just keepin’ it real.”)

But I’m noticing that even as we confess our shortcomings more and more, and as we claim to be ever more authentic, there’s still a lot of image-management happening in a way that goes beyond courtesy.  I think it has a lot to do with Mindy Kaling’s Klutz philosophy: we want everyone to know we’re real, so we broadcast our shortcomings, but we only want flaws that are “palatable”; we want to be the 100-percent-perfect-looking Klutz.

Coming up next: Six Steps to the Perfectly Palatable Public Confession!


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