Saying “Yes”

They’re discussing “authenticity” over at Pandagon, in a way that should interest you people who love country music. (Weirdly enough, it was another Marcotte discussion about authenticity years ago that led me to conclude that women can’t be authentic, especially in country music, because femininity itself is always a performance, always already fake. We are disqualified from the authenticity race before the starting gun.

Anyway, one of the commenters over there linked to this, which I love, in deeply complicated ways. I do think there’s a lot of bullshit behind this whole notion of selling out. And I really like it from that angle.

But, the more it moved from speaking abut the specifics of artistry to a kind of general life philosophy, the more I disliked it. For many people, being able to say “no” is a great and freeing force, and one worth practicing.

5 thoughts on “Saying “Yes”

  1. Oh, obviously masculinity is also a performance, but the point of a performance of masculinity is to seem as much like a “real man” as possible, which means as “naturally manly,” as possible, to seem as if you are doing nothing but being in your natural state.

    But for a woman, a performance of femininity is obviously about doing something to yourself which you then are judged on–shaved legs, hair done, make up on, behavior conscribed. You are expected to be in a certain, uniformly understood as unnatural, kind of performance.

    Trying to talk about “authenticity” in general is stupid, but it’s stupid in a way that at least falls in line with the paradigm in which men are socialized–y’all can, presumably, “keep it real” and be performing your gender correctly.

    Women cannot “keep it real” and properly perform femininity. So, in art forms, like say, country music, which place heavy emphasis on female performers’ proper performance of femininity, it’s impossible for women to be authentic.

    So, there you go. It’s a fools’ game–this search for authenticity. But it’s not even a game women can play.

  2. That Eggers thing is remarkable.

    I think, though, that there are two different sets of questions being conflated in this discussion. Or two different fields of authenticity. There is the authenticity of the self, and there is the authenticity of the genre. When Bonnie Bramlett put on blackface to be an Ikette, she was inauthentic personally, but Ike Turner certainly found her to be authentic enough musically to ask her to do it. And he would have known, ya know? Whereas there are plenty of folks with a great story that fits a musical genre’s stereotypes, but they try to play that music and everyone says that they don’t sound authentic.

    To say nothing of other art forms that care about authenticity.

  3. I was reading this and your other earlier post; I agree completely about the performance of femininity as incompatible with “genuine authenticity”, as it is CURRENTLY understood.

    Looking over a list of Grand Ole Opry stars, I see they are overwhelmingly male, and I remember that even Dolly Parton wasn’t a solo act to begin with, and I agree that the current signifiers of authenticity (B.O., plaid shirts, dipping snuff, etc.) are largely masculine.

    But I have to say I think you are selling short the Carter Family and Loretta Lynn. Admittedly the Carter women became famous in part because of Johnny Cash, but I don’t think their authenticity was questioned at the time. Perhaps the halo of “family” protected them.

    And Loretta Lynn did wear the bouffant and false eyelashes, but this was in the context of the sixties and seventies, when EVERYONE was wearing Nudie outfits, makeup, hairpieces, elaborate makeup, etc. Ditto with Dolly Parton. But their elaborately feminine appearance did not seem to clash with the question of whether they were authentic performers. Ditto Joan Jett and Tina Turner. And really, weren’t Tony Alamo and the later Elvis just as corseted, bespangled, etc?

    Minnie Pearl is also a case in her own right because she subverted “femininity” in such an interesting way by wearing frilly skirts, a “fancy” hat, etc., but mocking the feminine qualities of passiveness, lack of sexual aggression, etc. And I think today she is seen as deeply authentic which is of course ironic given her patrician background.

    My point, I suppose, is that signifiers of “authenticity” change over time, and that right now we are in a time where performance of a role, preparation/makeup/rehearsal/training/etc. of any kind is widely denigrated — “s/he uses a teleprompter,” “carefully rehearsed stage patter,” “fakeness,” of any kind is anathema.

    But we are only a few decades away from a time where “Give ’em a real show!,” “Putting On The Ritz,” and Busby Berkeley productions that no one IMAGINED could be spontaneous were considered the height of good stage form. A performer who didn’t have his/her act down pat would be booed off the stage. And I think that THAT has been the norm throughout most of theatrical history, from Noh plays, to Homer’s recitals, to William Congreve, to Chinese opera, to the Andrews Sisters.

    The concern for “authenticity” seems to me to be very much an artifact of first the industrial age (viz. Dickens and Thomas Hardy’s lament for the pastoral, and secondly of the 50s and 60s. I’d be interested to know if there are other examples in history, but at the moment I cannot think of any.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

  4. In fact, after thinking about it while singing an inauthentic lullaby to the baby, I would say that for almost all the other contexts of performance that I can think of, successful artifice that is recognized as artifice is the standard for a good performance, not an indicator of fraud. Bollywood, HongKong cinema, ancient Roman plays, classical French plays . . . in non of these contexts was authenticity or “naturalness” any sort of virtue. And interestingly, to me, personal anecdotes, scandals, gossip, etc. about the players was considered part of the enjoyment of the plays, said to enhance the audience’s appreciation of each actor’s performance, much as the chirons running across the bottom of the evening news are supposed to enhance our sense of having apprehended the world entirely.

    A concern for authenticity seems to me to be a unique artifact of the Industrial Age and its critics the Romantics and the emerging political left.

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