In recent decades, authenticity has become an American obsession. It animates thirty years' worth of reality TV programming and fuels the explosive virality of one hot social media app after another. It characterizes Donald Trump's willful disregard for political correctness (and proofreading) and inspires multinational corporations to stake activist claims in ways that few "woke" brands ever dared before. It buttresses a multibillion-dollar influencer industry of everyday folks shilling their friends with #spon-con and burnishes the street cred of rock stars and rappers alike. But, ironically, authenticity's not actually real: it's as fabricated as it is ubiquitous.
In The Authenticity Industries, journalist and scholar Michael Serazio combines eye-opening reporting and lively prose to take readers behind the scenes with those who make "reality"—and the ways it tries to influence us. Drawing upon dozens of rare interviews with campaign consultants, advertising executives, tech company leadership, and entertainment industry gatekeepers, the book slyly investigates the professionals and practices that make people, products, and platforms seem "authentic" in today's media, culture, and politics. The result is a spotlight on the power of authenticity in today's media-saturated world and the strategies to satisfy this widespread yearning. In theory, authenticity might represent the central moral framework of our time: allaying anxieties about self and society, culture and commerce, and technology and humanity. It infects and informs our ideals of celebrity, aesthetics, privacy, nostalgia, and populism. And Serazio reveals how these pretenses are crafted, backstage, for audiences, consumers, and voters.
About the author
Michael Serazio is a journalist and Associate Professor of Communication at Boston College. In addition to writing for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and elsewhere, he is the author of The Power of Sports: Media and Spectacle in American Culture (2019) and Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerrilla Marketing (2013).
"This book offers a compelling, important inside view of how professional image-makers perceive and attempt to manufacture authenticity. An ambitious survey of the rising currency of 'authenticity' in contemporary life."
—Laurie Ouellette, author of Lifestyle TV
"This book is crisp and often playful, yet theoretically and historically robust. The interviews with the people who work to produce authenticity make this a truly unique and compelling book—a must-read for those in the media and cultural industries."
—Sarah Banet-Weiser, coauthor of Believability
"An incredibly engaging, deeply researched book that details just how our taken-for-granted mediated realities are strategized, constructed, and managed—and provides necessary solid ground for understanding how perceptions of authenticity shape 21st-century American life."
—Emily Hund, author of The Influencer Industry
"Serazio adds a crucial industrial perspective to the growing literature on authenticity in contemporary culture. He pulls back the curtain on fascinating, tension-filled considerations that drive industry practitioners to craft and parade various versions of authenticity in the media."
—Joseph Turow, author of The Voice Catchers
"Written with Serazio's trademark eloquence and drawing on insights from politics to pop music, and from industrialists to influencers, this timely and incisive book reveals why the ideal of authenticity animates so many spheres of social and civic life."
—Brooke Erin Duffy, author of (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love
"A fascinating, commended academic exploration of the ways in which products and experiences are marketed to consumers."
"The internet now feels like a place whose sole purpose is selling you something. And it's not going to change—in fact, it's going to get much, much worse... [Serazio] explores the commodification of identity, why 'selling out' has no meaning anymore, and why amateurs—that is to say, regular people on social media—make the most effective salespeople."
—Rebecca Jennings, Vox