Is Authenticity Being Abused as a Marketing Ploy?
Genuine narratives don’t need empty buzzwords, do they?
Why are humans becoming brands, complete with taglines?
As our interactions become increasingly monetized, everything gets commodified, including people. In a country where celebrity is the only measure of success, there’s no shortage of wannabes vying for our eyeballs and validation.
To attract attention is the only goal, and it has to be achieved by any means necessary.
Now that we can all avail ourselves of the megaphone that is the internet at the touch of a screen, anything goes.
Applied to writing, this can lead to peculiar copy as earnestness, integrity, and humility occasionally lose out to grabby fingers.
Instead of using the individual experience to humanize universal issues, this kind of copy hijacks clicks and bucks with overwrought pathos to bring readers to their knees. Whether in annoyance at such transparent greed or from being overwhelmed with empathy for a fellow human’s suffering, we’re forced to react.
Often, it’s difficult to parse the emotions that arise when reading this material.
Does it monetize human misery instead of invite reflection?
Or is it a genuine, and thus credible, attempt to transcend difficulties and survive?
Woe is me is a popular personal essay trope.
Under the guise of honesty and human vulnerability, some copy reads as if it were only designed to hit you in the feels and the wallet.
Surprisingly, editorial quality doesn’t even come into play. As long as the copy is shocking, it doesn’t matter how poorly it’s written. We gobble it up without a second thought about whether it might be a little over the top, we even ask for seconds and thirds.
We enable this kind of writing as its success lies in human nature. It’s not our most attractive personality trait but we love to witness other people’s misery.
Schadenfreude, i.e. the ability to derive pleasure from the misfortunes of others, exists.
Denying it would be disingenuous, as it makes some of us feel better and superior when someone else has it worse than we do. We may be older but we’re not necessarily wiser or more compassionate. Sometimes, we’re still that kid who pointed at a peer that feel flat on their face in the schoolyard and went: “Haha, sucks to be you, loser!”
No wonder servicing schadenfreude is such a lucrative market.
But does this kind of writing help us better understand one another, or does it encourage the worst of human nature?
In the age of instant everything, are we losing our ability to be discerning?
Scanning, rather than reading online articles with attention, means we often miss out on tone as well as meaning and intention hidden between the lines. Worse, because we no longer do our due diligence, we take a lot at face value without questioning motives.
While some writers do a stellar job of articulating human distress without pretense, others just exploit it.
And many of us can no longer tell the difference between the two, which further muddies our understanding of shared humanness.
“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet” is a line we hear often, and with good reason. The most cynical say we live in the age of post-truth, where the most enterprising deploy authenticity as a shield and the rest of us end up lost in confusion.
So should the use of pseudonyms, personal tag lines, and too many buzzwords give us pause for thought?
It can’t if we don’t fully focus on what we read, or wonder who wrote it and why.
Alas, there will always be hucksters ready to cash in on our weaknesses because capitalism and individualism are hard drugs.
Regardless of our many unsavory traits, the human-animal is good, sensitive, and helpful. But we aren’t always as curious as we should be and often conflate authentic with genuine without realizing we are being sold to.
Authenticity doesn’t need to tell us what or who it is, it just is.
If something feels off, forget the hype and trust your intuition.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.