Authenticity and its Contemporary Challenges : On Techniques of Staging Bodies
Abstract: In this thesis I investigate what ‘authenticity’ means in a contemporary popular context and how it is used in the staging of bodies. Furthermore, I analyse works of dance and fashion from the past fifteen years with a focus on their strategies of challenging the notion of ‘bodily authenticity’. When ‘an authentic body’ is sought by participants or demanded by judges and ‘experts’ on popular makeover and casting TV shows such as The Swan (Fox 2004) or Germany’s Next Topmodel (Pro 7 2006-present) this refers to the physical visualisation of what is perceived/presented as the participants ‘inner self’. I scrutinise the staging techniques and the codes of appearance that bodies have to comply with in order to be deemed ‘authentic’ on the shows. To define them and place them in the history of the idea of ‘bodily authenticity’, I complement my study with an outline of how ‘authenticity’ was understood in the Enlightenment and what techniques were used to stage the body when the concept gained currency, for instance in the writings of Rousseau. My analysis makes clear that 'bodily authenticity' on the two TV shows is achieved by strictly following gender-normative codes of beauty and by a depiction of 'working hard'. But various techniques also mask the hard work, for example by showing a participant ‘having fun’ performing it. Contemporary works of dance and fashion challenge the problematic implications in the notion of ‘bodily authenticity’. I analyse three strategies of undermining the ‘authentic’ ideal in a total of seven pieces. These strategies are hyperbole which exaggerates the beauty code implicit in ‘authentic appearance’; multiplicity which undermines ‘authenticity’s’ essentialism and estrangement which denies the notion of individual authorship. In conclusion, I place the staging strategies used in my examples in a wider cultural context and highlight potential problems inherent in their critiques.
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