Is it Real?

This post was inspired by three things: a review on the music blog Pretty Much Amazing about Lana Del Rey’s newest album, a video by South African Zef-rappers Die Antwoord, and a comment by an unnamed friend about a new article of clothing I recently received.

The del Rey article (here, if you’re interested) ultimately concludes that her new album, “Born to Die”, is a relative letdown. Her original songs, Video Games and Blue Jeans, still hold their magic, but apparently the rest of the music is pretty uninspired. But I haven’t listened to the album, and that’s not what this post is about anyway. The article led into its review by explaining the anti-hype about Del Rey, led by so-called music critics, who decry her lack of “authenticity”. “To her haters, Lana Del Rey is the construct of dirty cash, the product of unscrupulous corporate marketing, a rich brat swathed in Anthropologie, a gilded Rebecca Black, a phony-hipster Wicked Witch to be doused with bucketfuls of righteous indignation.” To these haters, it doesn’t matter if Video Games has any musical worth or attraction because it’s not real. God forbid they listen and like it.

The second thing that made me think about “reality” was this self-created video about Die Antwoord (Straight From the Horse’s Piel). In their early stages of development, they were pelted with the question “Is it real?” They have spent a huge amount of time answering this question by describing Zef culture, explaining their orientation to various social issues, and producing more music. Regardless of your feelings toward their talent (Die Antwoord in the NYT) or their videos (Fok Julle Naaiers or Enter the Ninja), they are producing music that some people enjoy. The cries of “authenticity” have been dogging artists since the beginnings of time, regardless of their viability as a means of judgement.

I was gifted an article of clothing by a family member a few weeks ago. I really like it. I think I have a fairly malleable style – conditioned partly by the fact that too often I care very little about what I wear – and don’t fit too well into any clothing stereotype. So when one of my friends saw me wearing my new outfit and commented in a way that suggested that he didn’t much care for it and didn’t know why I was wearing it. Briefly, I worried that I wasn’t being real. Am I allowed to wear neon colors, or will I look like an inauthentic hipster? Can I wear a flannel shirt or will I look like I’m dressing up like a crunchy Vermonter?

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that a person must choose between two perspectives: one from which nothing is real and one from which everything is real. As soon as Lana Del Rey or Die Antwoord or my clothing is classified as inauthentic, nothing else can be authentic. This person spends his entire life trying to make everything fall from reality, and consequently can never fit into reality himself. The person who decides that everything is real is free from the issues created when one thing or another is designated as unreal. This does not mean that the person who is stuck in unreality hates everything – on the contrary, he may love many things, but always risks discovering that something he loves is not real. The person who chooses to remove the real/unreal classifiers from his mind is free from this uncertainty – he can like what he likes and dislike what he dislikes without worrying that perhaps one day he will have to switch allegiances because something he was attached to has become inauthentic.

Securely in reality,