The real thing

A few years ago, I was in France, within an hour’s drive of Lascaux, home of the oldest paintings known to man. These are the famous cave painting that everyone has heard about but few people have actually seen. We didn’t go and I’ve regretted it ever since.

Today I learned that due to the humidity caused by the breathing of tourists, you can’t see the caves anyway. Instead, you are shown a fiberglass replica in the visitor center. I’m told it’s a really good replica.

I feel better now. No way I’d drive three minutes out of my way to see a fiberglass replica.

And yet.

And yet when I go to a live concert, I’m not really hearing acoustic sounds. I’m hearing electronically amplified sounds, even if it’s classical music or a Broadway show. And yet, when I hustle to watch some live event on television, it may not really be live… there’s no way for me to tell, actually.

What’s the point of walking through Lincoln’s birthplace if it’s not exactly as it was—how many floorboards have to be replaced before it’s a replica? Marni Nixon sang the songs in West Side Story, the King and I and My Fair Lady. Was she the star or was it the face on the screen?

This goes beyond authenticity. It’s all about the story we tell ourselves. Hollywood makes it easy to believe that Audrey Hepburn was the star, while the fiberglass diorama in France doesn’t feel right. We want to believe about Washington and the cherry tree and about Lincoln and his never-said-it quote, "You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some
of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all
the time."

Consumers are begging to be sold on the authentic. The easiest way to do that, of course, is to be authentic. And yet, ever since they replaced the sugar in Coke with corn syrup, who knows any more… Being inauthentic is tricky, unpredictable and often wrong. But it also works.

The fact is, most of the people want to be fooled, just about all of the time.

[facts galore: Harry points out that the ‘Lincoln birthplace’ isn’t really. Margaret mentions that there are cave paintings in Australia far older than those in France. And Mary Ann and Ivan call me on the amplification of classical music. They’re often right, but I’ve got links.]