some more highlights from Banet-Weiser’s Authenticity™

1. authenticity as an expression of “utopic normativity”

Banet-Weiser derives the term from Lauren Berlant’s description of “intimate publics”

2. brands as fashioning spaces of safety, security, and belonging, of inclusive participation

We cannot productively think about brand culture, or what brands mean for culture, without accounting for the affective relational quality—the experience—of brands. These affective relationships with brands are slippery, mobile, and often ambivalent, which makes them as powerful and profitable as they are difficult to predict and discuss. It is through these affective relationships that our very selves are created, expressed, and validated. Far more than an economic strategy of capitalism, brands are the cultural spaces in which individuals feel safe, secure, relevant, and authentic.

“a faith that despite convictions that everything is for sale, brand culture might enhance possibilities for individual identities, cultural practices, everyday politics” 

Not “despite” but “because”: these possibilities don’t pre-exist brand cultures but are internal to them: brand cultures articulate their own versions of what authenticity, identity, politics are. Their versions are not continuous with older notions of those concepts. Identity conceived within branding culture is not connected to an identity conceived outside it. NO identity pre-exists the constitution of identity in branding’s terms; consumer society means precisely this hegemony of self-branding practices. 

3. authenticity is “branded,” and only relates to brands 

Within contemporary brand culture the separation between the authentic self and the commodity self not only is more blurred, but this blurring is more expected and tolerated. That is, within contemporary consumer culture we take it for granted that authenticity, like anything else, can be branded.

“Blurring” is maybe not the best way to put this; my argument is that the authentic self is nested inside the commodity self. “Authentic” internalizes the idea of older anti-commercial values and operationalizes them without actually assimilating them. Subjectivity as it is structured in consumerism is cut off completely from any understanding of what a pre-commercialized subjectivity was like, but we can pretend we understand and call the commodified tokens of that understanding “authenticity”

4. Banet-Weiser wants to look at “ how areas of our lives that have historically been considered noncommercial and “authentic”—namely, religion, creativity politics, the self—have recently become branded spaces.” 

Again, “become” seems like the wrong word. Branded spaces are built to accommodate those ideas without drawing from their actual earlier historical configurations. “Real” politics isn’t evolving into “brand politics.” A form of brand politics is developed that supplants politics. It is not that there are “real” spaces and branded spaces and we have confused them; it is that the brand spaces are all we know, and they evoke lost spaces that went by the same names as their branded counterparts. We can’t purify or distill the brand spaces and ever reclaim the "real” spaces that they are presumed to be based on.   

That is to say branding isn’t taking noncommerical aspects of life and commercializing them. Rather brands operate as though our subjectivity is fully subsumed to commerciality. Brand logic precedes our imagining of the opposite logics that we imagine to have existed before branding. Brand logic dictates the alternatives we imagine to it and calls the ones that seem like they could have existed before or earlier “authentic.” 

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