Phony Authenticity

[O]ur longing for “authenticity” also bears a suspicious resemblance to the latest plot twist in the story of consumer culture: the tendency to rapidly replace the squeaky-clean franchise with the “authentic” franchise. The leather seats in our sport-utility vehicle caress our stonewashed jeans as we put some blues-tinged pop on the radio and drive to the local Joe’s Crab Shack. It’s a ramshackle dive that you might think would fall down any minute, if you hadn’t seen it being built just eight months ago by a speedy professional crew that travels around the country building Joe’s Crab Shacks… Just down the road is the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, a homey, weathered place where a welcoming fire emanates from gas nozzles. On the walls at Cracker Barrel hang nearly 1,000 pieces of Americana, lovingly collected and restored to a suitably worn appearance. Each one has a bar code… I do not have time to tell about the freshness of the salsa picante at the unassuming burrito joint wholly owned by McDonald’s, or the rustic pleasures of the Italian grill where concertina music floats through the air, and good, simple wine is poured from oaken casks. Nor do I have the budget. But all of these experiences, as much as they improve on the chain restaurants of a few decades ago, only reinforce consumer culture’s latest trend: the good life, the “authentic” life, is available for purchase, and all the hard work has already been done.

The Christianity Today article from which this was taken reminded me of this Doug Wilson comment:

Wealth generates the false analogy that I can choose my religion the same way I choose my restaurants. My faith becomes simply another item for me to consume… Can you imagine a hardscrabble church in the Appalacians going emergent? Or a persecuted house church in China? Read David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise, and take his insights about rich hippies trying to look like authentic peasants in that calculated, burlap book bag kind of way, and apply that insight to rich Christians in an age of expensive authenticity and fine cuisine. Try to imagine the emergent church without lots of money.

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