109 Pineapples for Being Authentic
Old media holder-onto-ers often speak of this strange animal called "authenticity"...
Now, first, my apologies to Jason, since I'm lifting the meat of this post directly from an email I sent to him the other day... (But, I promise, I'll build off it.)
So, the other night I'm half-watching the Oscars, and they do the award for Best Animated Short. There are two CGI nominees and a hand-drawn nominee (and I mean really hand-drawn... like pen&ink outlines with very minimal shading).
Moderate-length story made short... the hand-drawn short won. Upon accepting his award, the creator launched into this oration about things being authentic and hand-drawn and so on and so forth. And the audience was eating it up like it was laced with truffle oil and smothered in Godiva.
"LALALA-Cheers for things being real and true and autheeeentic."
But why- what? Because you used a fucking pen? Um, and a computer, and huge video screens, and supercoded editing software?
My rhetorical query is twofold:
1. Even if authenticity can be graphed as a continuum of some sort... can anything but, say, carbon, be placed anywhere but somewhere in the floaty middle? And, at our current point in techcentric history, isn't everything such a layer-upon-layer-upon-layer amalgam that the embedded carbon has, if not lost all elemental value 4,000,000 years ago, walked out of the room because he was so pissed off at the other shit weighing him down? (And yes, carbon is male.)
2. Why, as a culture, are we so wooed by almighty authenticity? Now, I'm the first one to admit that I find more pleasure in making a table than buying it, pounding my silver sheet into a cuff bracelet rather than selling my soul to Tiffany's, growing my green beans and steaming them in sunlight and eating them with the grapes that I just fermented into a fine merlot all by myself...
But is all this totally missing the point?
Am I talking about self-sufficiency, or, more broadly, human capability, rather than authenticity?
Okay-- so that's where my mind was three days ago.
And then, yesterday, I read this article about Topps making baseball card collecting interactive.
My emotions went like so: angry...[4 minute pause]...contemplative...[3 hour pause]...pleased as punch...[still paused]. And I'll tell ya why.
So here's the thing: Topps and I go back-- way back. When I was 8, I met Mike Greenwell at a baseball card show at the Bayside Expo Center (please note: this was a classy one, considering my dad and I would find one nearly every weekend-- even if it was in some scary cellar in Lawrence). I wrote an article about how nice and cool Mike was (the guy wrestles alligators, for goodness sake), and it was published in Joe Cotton's kids column in the Boston Globe. A crowning achievement! Not to mention the pictures I have of myself and Mike (and, hey, one with Louis Tiant) against picturesque Giant Glass backdrops.
The point of this? My published article also earned me a box of Topps wax packs. Now if that ain't pure joy, I don't know what is.
So, other than the fact that my parents' basement is stockpiled with ordered sets in labeled binders (see- I was even OCD then), it'd been a while since I'd thought about Upper Deck Black Diamonds or Fleer Future Stars or the unparalleled thrill of getting a hologram card or, better yet, an error card (hey- remember the Bill Ripken 1989 Fleer classic?).
But then, after a shitty day about a year ago, I sought solace by buying a box of 1987 Topps (cheaper than shoes, safer than crack). You know-- the ones with the faux wood-grained border and the all-caps comic sans font?
I chewed that fricking hard-ass gum as if it was the best thing made of methylcellulose ever... (Now that word has come up twice in posts... I have so totally monopolized that as a google search term.) Even though it was too stale to even shard apart and so the act of chewing resembled gnawing at a clarinet reed, it was monstrously enjoyable.
My point is this: Authenticity is relative, and authenticity is personal. So, for some people, sure... it may mean "animated short drawn with pen." But for me, it's hard to describe it in any other words than:
"Fuck yea. I got two Bonds rookies in that box."
And if Topps wants to reinvigorate baseball card collecting, I say a big fat amen. Because even though my definition of authenticity may include gum made of sandstone and formica, there's no reason why 7-year-old Billy can't cling to his interactive video stream just as sincerely.
Who are we to stick this "authenticity" animal (which, by the way, vaguely resembles a gerbil) on an arbitrary timeline? Authenticity is one of those concepts that's only timeless because it's evolving, intimate, and malleable. I betcha those Willard Scott birthday celebrants ain't thinking 'bout faux woodgrain baseball card borders when they think "authentic." They're thinking about Lawrence Welk or the milkman or stickball... or, heck, I don't know because I'm not 109.
And that's the beauty of it.
**Thanks baseball-almanac.com for the baseball card img from the Jackson era (uhh-- Andrew, not Michael).