When I was looking up clips of Fight Club for my first blog post, I found an interesting related video on YouTube. In the clip below, the pick-up artist and personal development guru “Tyler Durden” is giving a speech about the importance of having an authentic identity.
“Tyler” starts off by talking about the liberation he has experienced ever since he decided to entirely stop caring about other human beings and unleash his inner asshole (he doesn’t put it in quite those terms, of course). He implies how this was a wonderful step forward towards becoming more authentic, and now teaches men to be authentic assholes just like him, for the purpose of having meaningless sexual conquests with HB’s (pickup lingo for “hot babes”). You too can become an authentic asshole by attending one of his “bootcamps”…yours now for only $2000!
The ironies run many, many layers deep.
This very confused man has given himself the name of the fictional character Tyler Durden from the movie/book Fight Club. Certainly assuming another person’s name and identity is not authentic (e.g. an Elvis impersonator). To assume the name and basic identity of a fictional character as “Tyler” has done is to copy something that was never real in the first place (e.g. trekkies dressed up as Klingons). This man’s “authentic identity” is a copy with no original, a simulacrum.
Tyler Durden is not only a fictional character, but a fictional character who himself is a fake-authentic projected identity of another fictional character, who–even more ironically–is unnamed and unidentified (without an identity), and is searching for an authentic identity (just like the unnamed pick-up artist in the video) while also inauthentically attending self-help meetings he has no business attending. Yes, my head is also spinning.
It gets worse. This “Tyler” is teaching men how to have an authentic identity in order to pick up women. In other words, his “authentic” image is a ploy to get something from others, the very opposite of what is meant by authenticity.
Clearly the unnamed man in the video above is deeply, horribly confused about what it means to have an authentic identity. This would be a hilarious joke if he wasn’t obviously very serious, and if he didn’t make big bucks as a well-known teacher of “inner game”–i.e. how to deeply transform yourself into an “authentic” pick-up artist just like him, so that you can deeply and authentically manipulate women into sleeping with you. Chicks dig “authenticity,” or so I hear.
“Tyler” is clearly not living his own authentic life but a well-crafted illusion based on Chuck Palahniuk’s imagination and the culturally constructed notions of a badboy player. The tears at and nervous laughter starting around 7:55, and the big, phony smile at 8:24 betray the cool, uncaring identity he has adopted for himself as his “authentic” self.
The Price of Authenticity: Now for Only $997!
Like it or not, “Tyler” is a personal development guru who teaches “authenticity.” While he is focused on “authenticity” in order to pick-up women, other personal development gurus focus on “authenticity” in order to become financially successful, to sell people things, to create fame, etc. Consider this testimonial from Laura Roeder’s “Creating Fame” sales letter:
Laura reframes personal branding in a way that was exactly what I needed to hear at the time, and gave me permission to market myself in an authentic, non-salesy, fun way.
Roeder’s personal branding course costs $997. All this authenticity is getting expensive! After I get back from the $2000 bootcamp where I learn to authentically trick ladies into having intercourse with me, I’ll be sure to fork over another thousand to learn to authentically name drop and starfuck my way to social media fame. Only $3000 more for Frank Kern’s course on pretending to give things away for free in order to create cognitive dissonance in customers and I’ve got lust, pride, and greed covered for only $6000.
Seeking fame certainly has a price, but usually it is not found in your wallet, but instead in how much it costs your soul:
“If you come to fame not understanding who you are, it will define who you are.” ~Oprah Winfrey
“Fame and tranquility can never be bedfellows.” ~Michel de Montaigne
One of Roeder’s “personal mentors” is Eben Pagan. Eben Pagan began his internet marketing career writing and lecturing as a pickup artist guru under the pseudonym David DeAngelo, using a fake name not unlike “Tyler.” Indeed Pagan even interviewed “Tyler” for his “Interviews with Dating Gurus” monthly CD series. (I know all this because I am not without sin myself! I purchased Pagan’s original eBook Double Your Dating as well as several other products. They always felt a bit sleazy to me, but seemed at the time like there were some good points amidst the slime. Now I’m not so sure.)
Pagan, like “Tyler,” teaches men to be “authentic” manipulators of women. He now makes over $20 million a year teaching men that women are “secretly wanting a man that is in control of himself, his reality, and them” (pg 13 of the Double Your Dating eBook, 2003 edition). Through his information products, Pagan teaches psychological tactics for controlling yourself, your reality, and other people–especially women, but also anyone whom you could get to give you money.
I wonder if Ms. Roeder, an independent businesswoman, would agree with her personal mentor Eben Pagan that she secretly just wants to be controlled by a man. In this social media interconnected age, there is no reason to guess, so I decided to just ask her on Twitter. I am eagerly awaiting her response. UPDATE FROM ROEDER: “I haven’t read anything from his dating business, doesn’t really apply to me! ” I guess Ms. Roeder is not a feminist then.
“Authentic” Marketing in a Culture of Lies
Whatever happened to simple honesty? Why the complex machinations of appearing to be authentic and “non-salesy”? I think it’s because of the ubiquitous matrix of lies our culture has become. We no longer trust marketing messages because we know we are being lied to, and we have become numb to all the lies that we no longer even get upset. Like “Tyler,” we have stopped caring.
Within marketing, the new buzzword is “authenticity.” From a review of a popular marketing book entitled Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want, we learn that…
“Goods and services are no longer enough,” the authors state in the introduction. What customers want today are experiences … But in a world increasingly filled with deliberately and sensationally staged experiences — an increasingly unreal world — consumers choose to buy or not buy based on how real they perceive an offering to be.
“Business today, therefore, is all about being real. Original. Genuine. Sincere. Authentic.”
Here we see the ideal of consumer hedonism in the notion that customers want authentic experiences, experiences that are crafted by marketers to be perceived as authentic. Perception is reality after all, right? This new Starbucks that appears to be an “authentic” locally owned coffee shop has already convinced a customer that “the culture is pushing back from the corporate establishment and moving toward more organic, small business.” This is of course the exact opposite of what is occurring, which is that the corporate establishment is pretending to be more like organic, small business, and successfully fooling us!
The notion of “personal branding” is an extension of the notion of the “authentic” brand to the selling of the self. Personal branding rigidifies the projected self-image, cultivating an appearance of authenticity in order to sell a product or service. Personal branding is currently quite popular amongst those in personal development, and is usually spoken of as equivalent to authenticity, as if managing how others view you is the height of being yourself!
Like the customer of the fake-authentic starbucks, we are being fooled by fake-authentic personal brands. A brand is a carefully crafted image that a company presents to the public in order to control the responses people have when they think about the company. Branding is pure public relations, and most people know and accept that brands (and the logos and taglines that are part of them) are generally empty of any real meaning.
“Tyler’s” personal brand is “authenticity.” He looks like he thinks you want an authentic badboy womanizer to look like, based on cultural ideas of what this means. Perhaps the deep and authentic selves we are seeking to find and create are just simulacra. As Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, “the trouble…is that when you get there, there isn’t any there there.” Can we really throw off the cultural conditioning we are so desperately trying to escape?
[Thanks go to MrTeaCup for the articles on Starbucks and fake-authenticity, as well as seeding many of my recent thoughts on this subject. Follow him on Twitter for more great Zizek-inspired social commentary.]
Your thoughtful and intelligent commentary is encouraged in the comments below. Stay tuned for part 2, “Personal Branding and the Standardizing of the Self,” to be posted tomorrow (probably).
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Tags: authenticity, Creating Fame, Double Your Dating, Eben Pagan, fight club, Frank Kern, identity, James Arthur Ray, Laura Roeder, Mass Control, patriarchy, personal development, PUA, simulacrum, Tyler Durden