Last week I realized that riding my bikes, the ones I have with my name on the down tube, just doesn’t feel the same. I think it’s because of an underlying fear that in all likelihood, no matter how the Serotta trademark is used, or its story told, it is leveraging a past authenticity to validate current and future business by people who don’t understand the true meaning of the word.
I was disappointed to find that Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary didn’t even recognize the word, rather spilling out four versions of the word authentic. Authenticity was referenced down the list in 5th position.
Curiously, the four definitions for authentic seemed to have been scrutinized by marketing executives who were given the opportunity to provide ample justification for lack of originality of something that was once created with a heart and soul. An authentic replica seems to me an oxymoron.
Wikipedia provided gratification:
Authenticity is a technical term used in psychology as well as existentialist philosophy and aesthetics. In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures; the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. A lack of authenticity is considered in existentialism to be bad faith.
Now we’re talking!
A couple nights ago I was watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series, a great attempt IMHO of delivering interesting, honest material that’s both entertaining and thought provoking. It is authentic, original programming and unrelated to the story lines, it just makes me feel hopeful that integrity is still alive.
But the Mad-Ave version surrounds us everywhere without relief, from politics to an endless array of consumer goods and most of us act like the ignorant morons, willing lemmings the purveyors wish us to be, moved by 10 to 20 second sound bytes.
That same evening, there was a commercial that began with a pair of hands finishing off some nice authentic-looking hiking boots, cut to a group of hipsters rising pre-dawn, getting decked out in a full array of brand new never-seen-a-trail outfits and climbing into their new Jeep. Yeah. This rugged, sexy-from-the-pages-of-GQ co-ed gang was on its way to being tough and rugged like their boots. With Starbucks in hand they drove to the edge of a majestic place and walked about 10 feet before watching the sun come up. Though the company’s web site has the A word sprinkled everywhere, my guess is there’s nobody left at HQ who knows what the boots were originally made for.
Many moons ago my high-school hiking buddy and I were headed up to the Adirondack Mountains for a short week of knocking off as many of the High Peaks as we could manage. Paul, who was far more seasoned than I at these feats, convinced me I needed some real boots instead of the half-rotted sneakers that I was wearing. So we stopped along the way at a small supply store Paul knew about where he assured me I’d find exactly what was needed.
Barely marked, the store was on the side of the road in a tiny Adirondack hamlet. Inside it smelled of high quality, well cared for leather and Woodman’s insect repellent. The latter, in its original form (late 60’s) could have simply been called a repellant. The deeply funky odor, had to have been developed by a determined hermit.
It was the sort of place you had to know about. The proprietress was a genuine older mountain-woman. She eyed me up and down with a semi sneer. I’m sure that if Paul, who was known as a regular, was not with me, she would have flipped her ‘Open’ sign to ‘Closed’ and sent me on my way with nothing so much as breadcrumbs. Here was a place that you needed to earn the right to wear mountain gear.
The Wise One selected the pair of boots that would be right for me. Made by New Englanders who understood what the spare-no-detail boots were made for, those boots kept my feet warm and dry for many years of slogging in the mud, slush and rock-strewn trails. They were boots that could only have been made by a company whose clear sense of purpose was to make the best boots for people who actually put them to the test.
That boot company is gone, having morphed into a much larger and more complex global brand. I’m not saying that anything today’s company puts its name on isn’t any good. By most accounts it has done rather well for itself. But using what was an authentic brand heritage to sell a vast array of made-anywhere and everywhere products to hit a variety of price-points decays the underlying authenticity. True authenticity is fragile. Most companies lose it on the path to success or just as often while simply trying to survive as a business by over-leveraging the brand’s soul.
But I think there’s hope for the future. Healthy skepticism is on the rise. The growing popularity of ‘local’ movements, from food to bicycles, is driven by people wanting to connect with something or someone real, meaning that what’s behind the product is something that can be seen or experienced directly.
In search of authenticity.
Soon I’ll be launching a second blog site, BestofCycling.com. It will be a non-commercial site where I share stories and review products and activities that represent the best of what the cycling world has to offer… and where true authenticity can be found.
Please write me with your suggestions or, if you are a builder of bikes, parts or accessories and would like to introduce me to your product and your story, I’d be honored to hear from you too. Or, just send me your stuff! Contact me through this blog and I’ll get back to you promptly with details.
Until then, here’s hoping to see you on the road,