From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Displays of Authenticity—Introduction

[a] Blizzard variety

What?  Displays of what? Theoretical insight sometimes comes upon us in strange ways. On an April evening, five years ago, I eased the Honda Civic onto the exit ramp and pulled into the Iowa 80 Truckstop outside of Walcott. My wife and I each ordered a Dairy Queen Blizzard (Heath Bar and Butterfinger, for the record). We paid, and then watched while the attendant dumped in the ice milk, followed by the candied ingredients. We waited some more as she stood at the machine, blending the mixture into a frozen mass of metabolically volatile sugars.

As she returned to the counter, we held out our hands, thinking that we were about to receive the goods for which we paid (we had the basic economics down). Instead, we were treated to a scene that neither of us understood at the time (we don't get out much). She paused, looked straight at us, and (one Blizzard in each hand) turned them over in front of us.  The frozen sugars stayed in place, and we cheered inwardly as she handed us our cups. In terms of specific gravity, it looked something like this:
[c] Laws defied
[d] Commerce deified
[e] F = Gm1m2/r2
I have come to think of this kind of action as a display of authenticity.  This is my own phrase—meant to "catch" many elements of the situation. The words are an imperfect approximation of a wide range of activities,  but I suggest that there is something going on here that most social and cultural theorists have ignored—possibly because such things are all around us, all of the time. To me, this seems like the perfect reason to take it seriously as an intellectual question. It is around us all of the time; we take it for granted. Hmmm. Sounds like study time to me.

[e] Super-rich authenticity
There seems to be a pervasive "need" in society (especially in retail sales) to show that products or actions are "authentic." Without even thinking very deeply about the matter (yet), it should be clear that such little "displays" connect with broader issues, from commodification to globalization (and even some terms that do not reek of jargon, useful though they may be). I can see glimmers of "intersubjectivity" here, too.
[f] Political, blizzard
In this Round and Square "department" we will consider other "displays of authenticity," and connect them to a range of "theoretical" questions that should be of interest to anyone who thinks about society, culture, economics, and, well, gravity. In future posts, I will discuss social actions that require a bit of showmanship. These range from the way that the tattoo artist conspicuously opens the clean needle package in front of the customer (so I am told) to the way that a master sommelier extracts the cork of a sparkling wine bottle with nary a sound.

I look forward to hearing more examples in the comments section, and slowly building a better understanding of this fascinating little asterisk in our lives. Think about it. When do you need to show that your actions are authentic (or just that you know what you're doing)? How do you show it? There are deeper matters lurking beneath the surface here, and I intend to explore them on these pages.
[g] A simpler time, when tipped cups dripped

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