Off Topic: Elusive Origins — In Search of The Authentic
Why does our culture place value in that which is deemed authentic or original? What happens when we find out that the thing we have enshrined as authentic is determined to be nothing more than a copy? How does our relationship to the ideas of authenticity and originality impact the decisions we make from what dungarees to buy to which presidential candidate we vote for?
In this Episode…
Miles Orvell, Professor of English and American Studies at Temple University discusses the rise of authenticity in American culture at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Orvell is the author of The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940 (University of North Carolina Press), which deals with literature, photography, and material culture.
Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Biblical scholar, and author of numerous bestselling books–including Forged, Misquoting Jesus, and God’s Problem–explains how 2000 years of transcription, translation, and interpretation have made it virtually impossible to talk about an “authentic” version of the New Testament.
Murray Ross, artistic director of Theatre Works, speaks to questions of authorship with respect to the Shakespearean oeuvre. Was there really a single man called Shakespeare? Did he really write all the plays that we attribute to him? Was he stealing from his contemporaries? Does it matter?
Ryan Banagale, musicology professor at Colorado College, tells the story of the song, “You Are My Sunshine,” and how it came to be the ubiquitous tune it is today. Even the the most familiar folk songs have a history, but whether they have a definitive origin is a different question altogether.
Thomas Frank, founding editor of The Baffler magazine, columnist for Harper’s magazine, and author of many books–including The Conquest of Cool, and most recently, Pity the Billionaire–discusses the surprisingly symbiotic relationship between “authentic” countercultures and the corporate interests that supposedly co-opt them.