An example of how 'authenticity' is a new currency of propaganda.
Jay-Z's new YouTube documentary shows how 'authenticity' is a new currency of propaganda.
I woke up this morning to Jay-Z being humble all over the internet. In case you were lucky enough to miss this blogosphere circle jerk allow me to recap: Gawker posted part of a documentary about Jay-HOVA-Z in which he (gasp!) takes a subway to his last of eight concerts at the new, Brooklyn Barclays Center, and amiably chats with an older woman who doesn’t know who he is. He’s also surrounded by fans, people taking pictures, two burly security guards, and oh yes, a camera man. Because that is how people normally ride the F train to Brooklyn.
Given all this, I only have one question for the Gawker keyboard monkey, Rich Juzwiak, who posted this dingleberry of content: Did you cut a good deal with Jay-Z’s PR people or are you dumb enough to print this crap under your own name for free? Jay-Z’s new YouTube documentary is titled Where I’m From, sending the not too subtle message that even if a guy makes millions of dollars a year, then raps about all the money he makes in order to make even more money, he is still just a humble kid from the corner.
Mr. Z might have grown up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn, but I promise you that where he’s from now is called ‘The land of filthy rich entertainers who have turned their lives into brands so that they can become even richer.’ Now, I fully support the type of drive it takes for a person to reach the lofty tax bracket of Jay-Z, just don’t tell me that he got there by being humble. After years of rapping about slinging dope, fucking bad bitches, being super rich, and perhaps something of a messiah, don’t tell me that he’s the type of dude who likes to kick it with the little people just for the hell of it. He’s the type of dude who sells his baby’s pictures.
None of this is to try to say that Jay-Z (or Shawn Carter as his family calls him) is or is not a ‘good guy’. When someone has as much money in his personal image as Jay-Z it’s virtually impossible to tell what kind of person he is. His rap persona, his public persona and who he actually is are probably all quite different. Perhaps he actually does ride the subway a lot, but by filming himself doing it, he makes the act into something that is not just an innocent, everyman transportation choice.
What you see on this video is not a factual chronicle of Jay-Z spontaneously being a pleasant guy. It’s a video that he knew was being made containing the choreographed imitation of a humble interaction that was then cut, produced, dubbed in case you couldn’t make out the words, put on YouTube and diffused to the press with the intention of showing people how ‘humble’ this guy is. He isn’t chatting with a woman, he’s using that woman to gain adoration from his fans. This is basically the text-book definition of propaganda.
The internet has become an archive for videos like this: supposedly spontaneous, ‘authentic’ encounters that show people as they are, not as they are scripted to be. The appeal is at once voyeuristic and a little sweet; it’s life affirming to see humans just acting human, uncensored by the norms of TV or print capitalism. But, of course, the people making these videos and many of those appearing in them realised the value and the power of their products years ago.
Famous YouTube bloggers, for instance, have been exploiting this niche roughly since the website launched in 2005. Now videos are scripted to be unscripted, so to speak, but make no mistake: they are all trying to convince you of something. where it is to buy a product, support an entertainer or donate to a cause – authenticity is not what is used to be.
It’s not that authenticity is dying in our hypermediated age, but it is morphing into something more complex. When we can all take pictures and video then broadcast them through social media, we are all the stars of our own projects of artistic self-mediation.