It was on the 12th of November 1990 that it was revealed that Milli Vanilli were not the vocalists on their songs that had become hits worldwide. It was a con, a sham. We had been sold a ‘package’ to find out sound and vision didn’t in fact come together. They were fake. The world was shocked. Give back the Grammy boys.
Nearly 20 years on and we live in a very different world. Fakery unveiling is now like a well-oiled machine achieving new highs in quality and quantity of fake exposés, but leading us to become inured to any ‘fake quakes’. The latest fake revelations have become mere tremors not catastrophes. The world of social media has offered us up so many fake gems. No surprise in an environment that flourished because it tapped into people’s desire to carefully curate, edit and filter their self-narratives, to construct more coherent ‘proof of best life’ stories. We have the retouched image, the filters, the influencer whose followers are bought bots, and the influencers who are themselves virtual influencers. Lil Miquela as the most famous of the computer-generated influencers, offers us up a perfect Russian Doll of influential fakery. If a computer-generated influencer falls over while promoting hair extensions in a forest and only fake accounts are listening, do they make a sound? More importantly, should anyone care?
Meanwhile, in another part of town cut to our new hero – real. The more we feel tricked by the simulacrum the more we swoon for the genuine. We fetishise and chase ‘real’ - the real story, the real deal, the real thing, keeping it real, it been real but I gotta bounce.
We want the teary backstory to all our reality show contestants unearthed – it’s impossible to concentrate on their talent without knowing that they were raised by their granny. We want a glimpse into the off-duty lives of our heroes, to search the slivers of ‘realness’ behind the persona so we feast on their feeds and watch them make phone calls in cars to other famous people while drinking a bucket of iced coffee. We hunger for real experiences, real food, real people. And brands want in on this action. Authenticity has been packaged up as the holy grail for brands too. If they can deliver on realness they might make the Global Authentic 100, their brand on a trajectory to greatness because their authenticity will give them an advantage over competitors who have less bankable realness.
Back to the forest and if we should care. What if we approached real and fake as a spectrum rather than binary concepts? Is there not an element of fakeness to the quest to ensure you keep it real and realness to unashamed fakery? The OED’s word of the year in 2016 was ‘post-truth’. If we live in a post-truth world where emotion can trump (pun intended) reason maybe we should accept a post- fake world where we accept the personal responsibility to decipher realness when it matters and enjoy fakeness when it doesn’t.