Scott Brown, Ghost-Writing, And The Death Of Authenticity

Wendy Kaminer uses Scott Brown's pending memoir--which will be written with a collaborator--to talk about the conflicting demands of authenticity and inauthenticity that the consuming public demands of its political celebrities. Brown ran on an image of ordinariness for an office that requires extraordinary qualifications, because the public demands down-to-earth authenticity; now, his life story--a proof, of sorts, of that authenticity--will be carefully crafted with the help of a ghost writer. The worst part, Kaminer says, is that the public knows this is happening, not just with memoirs, but with speeches and policy points, and it doesn't care:

Ordinariness is supposed to signal the candidate's authenticity, but authenticity, in politics or publishing, is carefully constructed by agents, consultants, and other marketers--with the full cooperation of voters and consumers.  (Voting, as many have observed, has devolved into consuming.)  The construction process is surprisingly and disturbingly transparent.  You can sympathize with people who are tricked into buying what they mistakenly believe is the real thing, and you can strive to expose the tricksters.  But what hope is there for people who can see the man behind the curtain and believe in his wizardry anyway?...

When they're not getting credit for authoring openly ghostwritten books, politicians are identified with the language of their openly ghostwritten speeches.  The emergence of the celebrity speechwriter is an even odder, more troubling phenomenon.  Crediting a star athlete with authoring an "as told to" book is a lot less consequential than crediting a candidate for a vision of governance that we know someone else articulated.  Politics matters.  Celebrating Ronald Reagan for what we knew to be Peggy Noonan's eloquence mattered.  Political consultants openly fashion "stories" and "narratives" about candidates, as if they were fictional characters engaged in metaphoric quests. And we oblige them by reacting less like citizens than members of an audience, willingly suspending our disbelief.

Read the full post at Kaminer's Atlantic Correspondents blog.