Will the real original please stand up?

The Japanese love getting married at Disney World Tokyo, but they head for Disney World Florida instead if they can afford it – it’s just more authentic.

The Xerox principle creates copies of copies, the trail of which can often be clearly traced. In the suburbs of Beijing, locals can now choose to live in the Latin Quarter, Trastevere or Munich. At some point, the lines become blurred as to what can be referred to as “original”. Take Neuschwanstein, the castle to end all castles. More than a few tourists (and not just those from abroad) are disappointed when they glimpse the citadel for the first time and discover that it’s not quite as dreamlike as its seemingly architecturally implausible copy on the other side of the Atlantic. Thanks to Hollywood, most of us have a clear idea of how princesses and fairy tale heroes should live. Though having said that, King Ludwig, who commissioned Neuschwanstein, probably had a pretty good idea himself.

If you are tempted to talk up that superior European cultural sensitivity at this point, you are running blindly into the authenticity trap – because authenticity is in the eye of the beholder, and nowhere else. Venice is a prime example. As beautiful as the city is, real life has long since migrated to Mestre at the other end of the lagoon. But who wants to go there?

What we consider to be the original has long become little more than a theme park kept alive by art biennales, carnivals and cruise ships. But we don’t care, we love Venice. We climb the steps of the Campanile on the Piazza San Marco and can almost taste the history. Yet the Campanile is in itself only a copy – the original structure collapsed in 1902 and was rebuilt “true to the original”, just like the Campanile at the Venetian in Las Vegas. And once again, there are plenty of people who prefer the versions in Vegas or Macao – the replicas of a reproduction from city which is now just as far removed from real life.

So who’s to say what’s original and what’s a copy? It’s hard to say. That’s why anyone who proudly claims to be authentic almost certainly isn’t. The truly authentic don’t just refer to themselves as such, but instead simply allow the authenticity to be experienced and labelled but never laid claim to. In rhetorical terms, “the authentic” is an enactment which attempts in every which way to hide its enacted quality: “In order to appear authentic, the speaker has to create an ethos suggesting genuineness and realness.” Note the word “suggesting” – that’s the trick.