October 2, 2007

Authentic?

Part of last week's discussion, combined with a few random thoughts about some of what we talk about in the program in general....

We always talk about communication as being authentic vs inauthentic and in a variety of situations it means different things. Most of our discussions when we turn to this term, or paradox if you will, always focus on trying to determine what makes some form of communication an "authentic representation." When it comes to studying visual images, what or who is the key piece on the path to being considered authentic? Is it the creator, do they need to have the appropriate vision/idea that is seamlessly portrayed to the audience? Is it the subject - chosen to represent something/someone or an ideal - what needs to be the authentic piece of the puzzle? Or, is it the audience that needs, interprets, or even creates what is authentic?

I believe a lot of this can go back to the Hall piece and connotation and denotation. (which, I am still having slight confusions on, so please let's discuss!) Is attempting to determine the signifier and signified Hall's labels for unpacking the authenticity of the visual representation? If we come up with the exact answers the creator of the image intended, is it authentic because we agree? Or, does the real authenticity lie in the differences?

In some ways, I feel like a visual image is authentic as long as it resonates with someone, even just one person. So much of what makes visual images so powerful, both positively and negatively, is because just one person taking it as an authentic, or true, representation can cause these material consequences we chat about.

Yet, we are all individuals operating within an ensemble, and collective authenticity is more than likely going to dominate, even if it's wrong. So, does analyzing the authenticity of an image come down ultimately to a power and ideological struggle? Is that what Hall is trying to show?

5 comments:

Through A Retina Darkly said...

What do you mean by "authentic"?

Do you mean "truthful" - as in the verity of the image?

Do you mean that the person who makes the image has an identity that permits them to claim authenticity?

Or do you mean the audience's experience of a "real" sentiment or emotion?

Or do you mean something else altogether?

Dan said...

I agree with the questions above, namely a true definition of "authentic". Look at a lot of images that we see today, they are manipulated, staged, created for a specific purpose. Is an advertisement authentic since it create/depicts a message? What about the yearly family Christmas card photo when you are forced to look happy and jolly so that family friends will think you are a great and beautiful family?

Of course, in that sense, could a truly authentic image be that which is candid in nature? If so, what message does it confer?

Juli said...

czI actually think authentic can apply to all of those questions posed. I guess a lot of how we might answer them would be when we attempt to relate it back to someone's school of thought, as suggested largely with the three various weeks surroudning semiotics.

In response to whether or not I would classify the audience's experience as authentic...I never really thought of it as an emotional response per se, whether a right or wrong one. I guess we can take that angle: look at how advertising specifically toils with one's emotions, in efforts to push a product/service. If they entice you in the right way, and you purchase or partake in the commodity, then perhaps you fell right into the "real" or authentic emotion. However, this could then psosibly take us back to the question of the creator and their authentic intentions.

Much of what I really meant with the notion of authencity among the audience was when we judge/analyze the subject. Who are we to determine if our reactions or seemingly logical explanations are the basis for comparison about what is right? And while it seems the semiotic readings suggest so much of our reaction and/or perceptions are predicated on our culture, then by determining or labeling our interpretations of said image, are we entering into a level of elitism that implies our culture, and in essence our reading of the image is the "right" one?

George said...

I'm thinking authenticity is a problematic term in this discussion and definitely warrants specifying. There are scholars who have argued that any form of technological mediation of communication makes for an impossibility of authentic communication. I remember running across several articles when I was writing a paper on virtual communities that took that stance, and I remained pretty frustrated by the seemingly myopic vision of the world inspired by their use of "authentic" as meaning "a trait devoid of technological intervention." This would imply that the only way to authentically (without clues to what the term actually means) engage an audience is with face to face interaction.
I take authenticity to be an approach to the other that takes into account their personhood and the necessity to always treat them as an end unto themselves. This would come from a more utilitarian perspective, although it is probably the only aspect of utilitarianism I would agree. As such, a symbolic or technologically aided form of communication remains authentic as long as the communicator remains sensitive to the audience and their humanness (or being-ness, as not to privilege humans over other forms of intelligent life or possibly intelligent life). As Dan notes with the family photo example, even a picture can be construed as inauthentic, a purposeful mis-representation of experience to an other (for the case of the individual who is, in fact, not happy with their family situation). However, should we go as far as to state all persuasion or representation is inauthentic? Is there a way to ethically and consciously persuade an other while treating them as an end unto themselves?
Further, issues of symbolic communication are laden with the ability to be misread, even if a communicator is considered to approach the other authentically by sharing their experiences. Assuming the audience will be able to "read" a message correctly assumes the original communicator using the symbol can account, a priori, for all possible meanings of that symbol and can rule out every meaning contrary to the content of what they want to communicate.
This goes back to Juli's original questions of how do we determine the validity of a message, whether by the audience's reception or the intention of the author. To the question of whether authenticity means we all agree it is authentic (perhaps a matching between interpretation of the audience and sender of the message)or whether it is a quality of the message itself (something intrinsic to symbol, perhaps) I would add a third distinct possibility. Maybe authenticity is when both the audience and author are able to, and are willing to, discuss the possible meanings of a symbol or text and continue the conversation over whatever medium it is able to take place(which speaks to Socrates and his dialectic).

Meg said...

Juli suggests an image can be “authentic as long as it resonates with someone, even just one person..and that “collective authenticity is more likely to dominate, even if it’s wrong..reminded me once again of The Falling Man and why that image was pulled…because it was seen as controversial? Should it have been pulled off the pages of media? Could Tom Junod be seen as controversial because he felt compelled to write aobut it? Is he “authentic?” or was his audience..or his naysayers? George suggests “… a symbolic or technologically aided form of communication remains authentic as long as the communicator remains sensitive to the audience and their humanness” so then what about the question of moral obligations and suffering??