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Why Inauthenticity Destroys American Cities

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Any major city in America that’s worth visiting, exploring or moving to is usually rich in culture. There’s a certain accent or walk that gives its residents a distinct flair that beautifully differentiates them from other places where big buildings gather beside people whose dreams are even bigger. 

But when money comes, everything changes. 

A divide begins to develop…

The neighborhoods filled with people, normal people who do normal shit, are replaced by the descendants of wealth. These high income people aren’t necessarily bad by any means, but their points of reference are skewed by media depictions of what a city should be. So they behave in an inauthentic way which robs them of their ability to develop a genuine connection with the people who are actually from there. 

A divide begins to develop. Wealthy people are equally terrified and fascinated by the poor. The fascination stems from an inherent spontaneity that comes with having less to lose socially. New cultural trends come from an ability to look stupid. When you have little, when you’re an outsider to some extent, you already believe that other people think you’re stupid. There is a freedom to this that allows experimentation. 

For most who grow up on the other end of the class spectrum, there is little room for experimentation. Rich parents force their children into a life of rigidity. Structure dominates them and then they are sent off to college and they get a job… Once they get this high paying job, they want to experience life. They want to go to a place that looks like the things that gave them the little joy they were allowed to have in their youth and they want to become one with it while maintaining themselves in a way that would allow them to reap the benefits of their sacrificed adolescence. And they inadvertently destroy them. 

people that grew up in major cities don’t live in fear of being bland, because no one ever told them that they collectively were.

This isn’t just about gentrification in the sense of rising rents and shops aimed at newcomers, but a weird obsession with novelty that most people trying to live their lives can’t really relate to.

Most people born and raised in San Francisco or Oakland or anywhere really are ultimately similar. They go to work, they have families, they go to local bars and they do their best to live their lives. The difference is, people that grew up in major cities don’t live in fear of being bland, because no one ever told them that they collectively were. 

Those who come from the upscale parts of suburban America have a fear of being out of touch, so what do they do? They move to cities and make that their personality. They grow silly mustaches and ride unicycles. There’s nothing wrong with a mustache or a unicycle, but one has to wonder, did they ride a unicycle in their hometowns? Probably not. 

This perpetuates the divide in cities, not just economically, but individually. If you behave inauthentically, you’re building a wall around yourself and most people will find it hard to connect with you.

I personally have never seen anyone who wasn’t an actual clown ride a unicycle… and then I visited Portland, Oregon and saw several men on unicycles. A few years later, I saw a dude on a unicycle in Oakland. He was dressed similarly to the men I saw in Portland.

This perpetuates the divide in cities, not just economically, but individually. If you behave inauthentically, you’re building a wall around yourself and most people will find it hard to connect with you. 

If you’re an actual weirdo, it’s refreshing. If you’re a fake weirdo, it’s nauseating.

You know when someone takes you to a neighborhood that isn’t touristy and is generally middle to working class and someone describes it as “the real San Francisco,” or whatever city you’re in? It’s because the people there are less likely to do attention seeking bullshit. 

If you’re an actual weirdo, it’s refreshing. If you’re a fake weirdo, it’s nauseating. You know the difference. When you meet someone who looks fascinating and creates amazing shit, you gravitate toward it. Basquiat is a great example of someone who looked interesting, and actually was. If someone is displaying their truth, it is usually attractive, and if not attractive, it’s at least respectable. 

This insecurity bleeds into all kinds of weird shit, most notably activism.

Why do we see so many Black Lives Matter signs in the wealthiest parts of urban America? Because they’re insecure in their allyship. If the wealthy were sincere, they wouldn’t just appropriate the mantras of the oppressed, they’d use their collective influence to make things better. They’re not. 

Don’t scream for change publicly and hope it fails privately.

Everyone in San Francisco agrees homelessness is a problem, and everyone in San Francisco is a self described progressive, yet our problems persist. 

If you’re not sure about who you are, just say it. Don’t cover your body in tattoos that mean nothing. Tattoos are cool, but generic tattoos are boring. Just as boring as the beige and taupe outdoor malls that you ran away from. You don’t have to look like an artist to be an artist. You just have to make art.

If you don’t like the idea of oppression, but scared of losing the shit you’ve got, tell the truth. Don’t scream for change publicly and hope it fails privately. 

This is the problem with gentrification, it’s not just the rent, it’s the perpetual participation in a masquerade that no one admits to participating in. 

Just be honest. America’s cities depend on it.

The best conversations are the honest ones. The best art is the art made spontaneously. The best stores are the ones everyone can afford to shop in. And the best people are the ones who aren’t trying. 

So be yourself, it’s the most interesting thing you’ll ever be. 

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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff is a San Francisco-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, BrokeAssStuart.com. His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground will be available early 2022.

1 Comment

  1. Moi
    April 25, 2022 at 4:39 am — Reply

    You realize, Mr. Woodliff, that making claims about authenticity are fraught with paradoxes.

    Is being poor authentic? How about being rich? Do people move to places they didn’t grow up in originally? What is the time frame for them to be placed in the authentic category?

    I dunno. Some of your points resonate with me. But then you backslide into easy-feeling jabs: “If someone is displaying their truth, it is usually attractive, and if not attractive, it’s at least respectable. ” Who are you to judge what a person’s truth is or should be? Perhaps their truth is that they are an SOB. And then what? Perhaps you just don’t like them. Does that make them any more or less authentic? “Most people born and raised in San Francisco or Oakland or anywhere really are ultimately similar. ” Really? Hasty generalization much? And that casual observation actually helps to further some of the problems that you argue you are attempting to eradicate. The Bay Area is fraught with divides–class, race, politics, sex, etc.–that such an observation casually passes by on its way to the ‘I schooled you’ observatory.

    “The best conversations are the honest ones.” Fair enough. Now be honest.

    “The best art is the art made spontaneously.” I have no idea what this actually means, save that art should be made as it happens. When is it not made as it happens?

    “The best stores are the ones everyone can afford to shop in.” Last time I checked, there are stores for people of all varieties. But we could do better by providing more sorts of stores, in more places, for more people. So I kinda’ see your point.

    “And the best people are the ones who aren’t trying.” I have no divinity degree, nor do I aspire to one. But I would be hard pressed to denigrate another person for ‘trying’, when all that means is that I don’t like them, their wealth, or how they talk and dress. Me? I would say: “that X is a Y! I have no need for them.” That would be honest. But are they ‘trying’? How the hell would I know? And just trying doesn’t make you authentic. Which I think is actually one of your points: people try to be the person they want to be. Many fail. Some succeed. But who am I to check boxes and label them . . . vaguely, coyly, with a whiff of condescension? Yuck. Then I am just as bad as they are, and I don’t even have the stones to ‘man up’ and say it to their face. That’s weak.

    “So be yourself, it’s the most interesting thing you’ll ever be.” So what if you dislike my authentic self? Then what? When you think you are digging deep, but only offering fortune cookie bromides, you start to look a tad less authentic. Then again, as to my point, you do you. Who am I to judge? But stand up and say it without the halo-glow of a ‘knowing’ nod and wink, that actually is a smirk, that you think is telling, when it actually is . . . but not in the way you think.

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