Ehren Joseph Layne

Redefining Authenticity

I would like to offer a redefinition of the word “authentic”: inspired by Culler’s usage of authenticity as it pertains to the semiotics of tourism, I came about a line of thought for which I believe helps authenticity stand on its own. Culler defines authenticity as the state of something being marked as genuine, and therefore signifying genuine authenticity. Tourists are obsessed with going to places and seeing things authentically, even when their perceived notion of what is authentic is derived from the inauthentic. Culler explains how tourists are more than satisfied with the inauthentic, given that their reason for traveling – in many instances –  is to experience something not of themselves: the inauthentic. Even when dealing with the inauthentic, and being manipulated by the inauthentic, tourists still find themselves in locations deemed authentic because of these locations being anywhere but the home of the tourist. Because of this, tourism tends to blurry the view of what is authentic versus inauthentic, and even though semiotics provides us with an outline as to how we can differentiate between the authentic and inauthentic, I would much rather provide a more detailed definition of authenticity: 


Authenticity is the state of being in which anyone or anything is itself. No marker, nor signifier can take away from anything being anything but itself. The perception of authenticity holds no meaning: if anything is itself, no other perception of it is authentic – leading any other perception of the authentic as inauthentic. 


How I relate my definition to Culler’s expository on the semiotics of tourism is by stripping away the parts of semiotics that lead the authentic into inauthenticity: specifically markers and signifiers. I do understand that without markers and signifiers, there seems to be no way of telling if something is or is not authentic. Not only that, but signifiers and markers tend to help the authentic retain its own authenticity. With that being said, I argue that in order to understand the authentic, we must clearly define what it means to be authentic. Culler provides no clear definition for authenticity, and even though he dances around authenticity by using it as a tool for breaking down semiotics, his expository never reveals a thorough understanding of the authentic. I believe that this is because semiotics falls short of defining authenticity, and that our understanding of authenticity is heavily flawed by capitalism. 


Capitalism, and the commodification of sight(as explained by Urry in “The Tourist Gaze”) makes everything anything but itself. Once a landscape or townscape can be used as a means of gaining profit, it becomes a product. Once a product, that landscape or townscape is no longer perceived as authentic, but rather a product of authenticity. Tourists will come from anywhere to gaze upon said location, to buy its authenticity and make real the dream of being somewhere that isn’t home. The authentic becomes the product, and given my definition of authenticity, that makes any landscape or townscape made product inauthentic. Let me be clear: I am not trying to take away from the identity of different locations. Rather, I am trying to present a way of looking at authenticity that can, hopefully, bring power back to locations used purely as tourist attractions.


(I ended my thesis here but do have more I wish to share.)

One reply on “Redefining Authenticity”


I always enjoy reading and hearing your thoughts and insights. Just a couple thoughts here:

I really like how you frame your thesis as a response to Culler by first articulating his argument. I think you could improve by going further along these lines, in a couple ways.

First, how about some quotes to help unpack Culler’s complex thesis?

And, as per my last suggestion on thesis, I think this could benefit from a continued, extend, dialogical consideration of the counterargument or naysayer. Again, articulating fully how you believe Culler would respond to you–although you might think making the argument against your point would diminish your argument–is the best way to strengthen your own argument. Of course, you then need to go on and respond convincingly. Another benefit of this dialectical (and dialogical) approach to argument is that it works to generate text (that is, productively fill space).

I say this especially because, as I’m reading you, I think you are far more in agreement with Culler than not! Especially with regards to capitalism. One thing you might consider, as we discussed in our last class, is that without the “inauthentic” signs that point to the authentic, we can’t see the authentic in the first place, and, as one argument went, would likely even be “disgusted” by it! In other words, if “Authenticity is the state of being in which anyone or anything is itself,” how can we ever have access to this pure difference independant of our own cultural ideas, categories, and symbols?

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