Monday, January 16, 2012

The illusion of authenticity

We are our customs, at least in a certain sense and at least for a part. We have seen it in my blog last week. Customs belong to those things that make us the persons we are. It is not only so that the customs we encounter already immediately after our birth “force” us to follow them. Usually we have the feeling that they really belong to us and that they are right. We support them so that they continue to exist. We have interiorized these customs and we believe in them. Once this is so, we can say that our following certain customs is authentic.
Customs (especially those we call “traditions”) are often typical for certain cultures. Maybe we understand why certain customs in other cultures exist and what they mean, but they are not part of us; we haven’t interiorized them. For instance, I, as a Dutchman, believe in St. Nicholas but not in Santa Claus. For me, St. Nicholas needs to be respected; Santa Claus is just a man in special clothes.
Many people in Western countries have a feeling that they miss authenticity. They have a feeling or they think that what they do does not come from themselves, but that many things they do are enforced on them by the circumstances or by other people around them; that they do what they do because they are expected to do so, although they do not want to do it; or because they are in the rat race; and for a lot of other reasons. I do not want to say that they are unhappy, but there is a feeling of superficiality and a feeling of missing something that is described as authenticity. So, what do they do, if they have the money for it? Travelling, and especially travelling to other cultures, looking for something that is “real”. Therefore more and more “corners of the world” are discovered and uncovered by them [For those living in these “corners of the world”: forgive me the expression, for in fact, it is quite colonial; but so Western people often think]. Or do more and more “corners of the world” lose their “innocence” in this modern age?
One of the “corners of the world” flooded by Western tourists is the Dogon Valley in Mali and one of the authentic traditions there is a dance of death, which is performed every twelve years. What is more to be wished for a Western authenticity seeker? Especially if s/he can order the dance for 60 euros from the village chief, three times a day, if s/he likes. And as soon as the tourist and his/her group have left, the chief calls the next village with his cell phone: “Take your masks, they are coming!” And what do they do with the money earned? Buying what they need to live and investing, of course, and making holidays to Europe for feeling the culture of their customers.
(Source: One World, Dec. 2011; pp. 16-17)

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