The Transformation of Authenticity: How mass technologies change the way we think about Benjamin’s concept of authenticity

As the mass technologies are growing rapidly, the Benjamin’s concept of authenticity is now at stake. Walter Benjamin’s statement “the presence of the original as a prerequisite to the concept of authenticity” (Benjamin, 1970, p. 222) is no longer relevant since we are now living in an era in which reproduced and mass-produced images are part of our daily exposures. The consequence of living in such kind of era is the quality and value of reproduced image is fairly equal (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009, p. 199). Therefore, authenticity is not an essential part of art, popular culture or media anymore.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “authenticity is the quality of being authentic, or entitled to acceptance.” In addition, Benjamin defines authenticity as “the authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced” (1970, p. 223). He deeply concerns about the consequent impact on art of the mass technologies of reproduction (Caygill, Coles, & Klimowski, 1998, p. 134), especially photography.

Recently, the concept of authenticity is perceived more as something aesthetic, cultural or social worth. The lacking of uniqueness as believed by Benjamin is not a big issue as long as it can address people expectation.

Harry Potter series, for example, has been reproduced into many forms and styles as a consequence of market demand and pressure. However, these reproductions neither decrease the value of the novel, as the “original” form, nor increase the value of the movie. In my opinion, we cannot judge the Harry Potter novel as more authentic than Harry Potter the movie or vice versa. In fact, both of them have different degree of authenticity depend on the context and purpose of the reproduction itself.

Moreover, even if we are talking about the “aura”, a term which Benjamin believes as something irreproducible, in the reproduction process, the “aura” is actually transformed into a new and equal “aura”. Thus, in this case, I believe that both the Harry Potter novel and Harry Potter the movie are equally authentic.

Finally, we may find that Benjamin’s concept about authenticity is easy to be criticized today. Nevertheless, although his argument is no longer widely accepted, some of his points, such as the effect for the original image meaning and value, and the relationship changes in the ritual (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009, p. 199), remain valid.


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