AMBIVALENT TO AUTHENTICITY?
To be authentic is to be of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine. (dictionary.com, 2017) However, is an idea ever truly unique? Everything comes from inspiration, knowing the world around us and understanding the culture we live in, so how can something be truly genuine.
Today we discussed how, within society, we decide whether a brand is authentic or not. If a brand is true to its roots, origins and location of creation it has provenance but does that mean it is authentic? Take Kelloggs cereals verses Dorset Cereals. Do we know the origin of Kelloggs? As consumers are we notified of this on the packaging to bring a sense of belonging. No we aren’t, but Dorset Cereals on the other hand capitalise on the origin of the product to be their unique selling point. This is expressed through simple, sophisticated visuals and witty copy. In contrast, however, we raised the question of ‘standing the test of time’. Kelloggs was founded in 1906 and after 110 years the brand is still going strong. Dorset Cereals was established in 1989, so despite still being a well grounded brand it doesn’t have the same ingrained family home name behind it. So could we argue in this case that Kelloggs is more authentic.
Authenticity does not stop with product brands. To further understand the ideas of authenticity in terms of a place, we ventured out of uni to explore the “authentic culture” of Elephant and Castle.
Quickly becoming engulfed by central London, Elephant and Castle in the borough Southwalk sits wearily on edge of Zone 1 and 2. A blessing or a curse? The history of “Elephant” as it is known has left the area with a uncertain air. Other Londoners label it as rough, rundown and unsafe, however, a quick walk around the central roundabout and you see the sense of community and the authentic origins of its people. A sea of market traders adorn the space around the questionable shopping centre, local traders who have spent their lives under these tarpaulin stalls just as other marketers across London have. However, walk just 200 metres down New Kent Road and the scene changes dramatically. Lendlease are in town. This multi million pound investment company are fronting the project of commercialising Elephant and Castle. Step aside the rundown shopping centre and market stalls and make way for brand spanking new tower blocks with “organic food stores” and airy balconies. The big city is moving in and there is no space for authentic locals.
Harsh and unjust; that is the feeling amongst the community of Elephant and Castle, as the graffiti on the railway bridge reads “Southwalk council + Lendlease = Criminals”. The upheaval of hundreds of residents knocking down council flats to make way for new builds they could only dream of affording is uncomfortable to contemplate. However, consider this; what is authentic about London in the 21st century?
Bring a tourist to London and they want to see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, a telephone box and a red bus. Ask a resident anywhere else in Britain what they think of London and they’ll tell you its the business capital, it’s where the jobs are or it’s where to go to ‘make it big’. Whilst it seems such a shame to push the locality of Elephant and Castle away, there is no disputing the fact that London is expanding and, more importantly, the working city is growing and these big city business men and women need places to live. Furthermore, in comes capitalisation and commercialisation, big spenders means big potential for global brands, in the same way that market traders capitalise on locals. If the people are given the opportunity to spend they will. Brands monitor this and as soon as the demographic of Elephant and Castle residents changes they will move in. Some are then going to argue that the authenticity of Elephant and Castle will be lost and yes this is true but has it made way for 21st century authentic London? The global entrepreneurial city that makes ground breaking discoveries, influences and gateways to the rest of the world. Will the society of 3017 write about this new Elephant and Castle as being authentic in the same way I write of the market, creative town of Elephant and Castle being ‘the authentic’ now? The aim for SE1 is for it to be reified, lose its stigma of being south of the river and allow it to join the big city that is ultimately just a 30 minute walk away.
Being passionate about authenticity is dangerous in my opinion. Being ambivalent to change is restrictive. We live in an ever changing world. Day to day we make new findings and strive to obtain the ideals of living. Does constantly aiming to be authentic hinder this and cause us to come to a stand still?
Here is a selection of images from a walk around Elepahnt and Castle: