Mediated Authenticity

How the Media Constructs Reality

by Gunn Enli (Author)
©2015 Textbook 164 Pages


This book explores the paradox of mediated authenticity – the idea that our understanding of society is based on mediated representations of reality. Enli argues that mediated authenticity is established through negotiations between producers and audiences in what is coined the ‘authenticity contract’. Sometimes the contract is broken, leading to authenticity scandals and the need to renegotiate this contract. These moments of truth, some of which are analysed in this book, are important moments in media history. Through case studies, this book examines mediated authenticity in broadcast and online media, from the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, quiz show scandals, to manufactured reality-TV shows, blog hoaxes and fake social media, and the construction of Obama as an authentic politician. The book demonstrates that authenticity has become an increasingly important factor in the media, and that solving ‘authenticity puzzles’ – separating the fake from the real – has become an inherent practice of media use.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. The Paradox of Mediated Authenticity
  • Mediated Authenticity
  • Authenticity as Trustworthiness
  • Authenticity as Originality
  • Authenticity as Spontaneity
  • The Main Concepts and Arguments
  • Authenticity Illusions
  • The Authenticity Contract
  • Authenticity Scandals and Puzzles
  • Plan for This Book
  • Chapter Outline
  • Chapter 2: Genres as Authenticity Illusions: The War of the Worlds
  • Chapter 3: Money, Fraud, and Deception: The Quiz Show Scandals
  • Chapter 4: Ordinariness as Authenticity: The Reality TV Genre
  • Chapter 5: Fake Personas and Blog Hoaxes: Illusions in Social Media
  • Chapter 6: Performed Authenticity: The Obama Campaigns
  • Chapter 7: Towards a Theory of Mediated Authenticity
  • Reader’s Guide
  • Chapter 2. Genres as Authenticity Illusions: The War of the Worlds
  • The Rise of Radio Broadcasting
  • A New Sense of Authenticity
  • The Zen of Listening: A Cognitive Shift
  • Political Communication: The “Fireside Chats”
  • Authenticity Scandal: The War of the Worlds
  • Authenticity Illusions in Radio
  • Interpreting an Authenticity Scandal
  • Negotiating Authenticity
  • Chapter 3. Money, Fraud, and Deception: The Quiz Show Scandals
  • The Rise of the TV Industry
  • The Birth of a TV Nation
  • Audio-Visual Authenticity
  • Ordinariness
  • Repetitiveness
  • Liveness
  • Authenticity Scandal: The Quiz Shows
  • The Big Money Quiz Shows
  • Authenticity Illusions in the Quiz Shows
  • Negotiating Authenticity
  • Chapter 4. Ordinariness as Authenticity: The Reality TV Genre
  • The Rise of Reality TV
  • Ordinariness and Authenticity
  • Cinéma vérité—Truthful Cinema
  • Reality TV as a Cultural Shift
  • Celebrity and Ordinariness
  • Authenticity Puzzle: Susan Boyle in Britain’s Got Talent (2009)
  • The “Ugly Duckling” Story
  • The Ethics of Constructed Ordinariness
  • The Negotiation of Authenticity
  • Demolishing Authenticity Illusions
  • Defending Authenticity Illusions
  • The Authentic Participant
  • Chapter 5. Fake Personas and Blog Hoaxes: Illusions in Social Media
  • The Rise of Social Media
  • Dilemmas in Online Trust
  • Authenticity in Social Media
  • Authenticity Puzzles in Social Media
  • A History of Blog Hoaxes
  • Constructing Fake Personas
  • Storytelling in Social Media Hoaxes
  • Unmasking Fake Bloggers
  • A Dialogic Authenticity Contract
  • Chapter 6. Performed Authenticity: The Obama Campaigns
  • Performing the Role as an Authentic Politician
  • Authenticity in Branded Politics
  • The Authentic Candidate
  • Intimacy: Confessions and Storytelling
  • Consistency: Barack Means “Blessed”
  • Spontaneity: Image-building in Social Media
  • Allies in Authenticity
  • Oprah: Queen of Authenticity
  • Michelle: Lady of Ordinariness
  • Negotiating Authenticity in Political Campaigns
  • Chapter 7. Towards a Theory of Mediated Authenticity
  • Summary of Main Findings
  • The Case Studies
  • A History of Mediated Authenticity
  • Towards a Theory of Mediated Authenticity
  • References
  • Index

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The concept of authenticity is everywhere. It’s a buzzword used in sales slogans for everything from jeans and coffee to holiday destinations and lifestyle coaching. Yet, authenticity is also about socially constructed notions about what is real, and the media play a key role in this construction of authenticity. My aim with this book is to investigate the notion of authenticity in relation to mediations of reality.

I have not investigated the notion of mediated authenticity without support from the research community and fellow media researchers. My sincere gratitude goes to the highly competent scholars Daniel Dayan, Knut Lundby, Peter Lunt, Hallvard Moe, Ole J. Mjøs, Vilde S. Sundet, Trine Syvertsen, and Espen Ytreberg. Thanks for the inspiring comments.

A key to success is the publisher, and I am indeed thankful for the pleasure of working with editor Mary Savigar at Peter Lang Publishing. Likewise I have had the pleasure of working with brilliant people, such as language editor Nils Nadeau, research assistant Anne Nordheim, and my colleagues at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo.

I dedicate this book to my three favourite people: my daughter Oda, my son Johannes, and my partner Kjell-Olav. Thanks for encouraging me to write the book, and for being a perfect support team.

Oslo, January 2015

| 1 →



Sincerity—if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

—George Burns

The paradox of mediated authenticity is that although we base most of our knowledge about our society and the world in which we live on mediated representations of reality, we remain well aware that the media are constructed, manipulated, and even faked (Boorstin, 1987; Weaver, 1994; Luhmann, 2000; McChesney, 2013; Ladd, 2012). With this paradox as its starting point, this book seeks to launch and discuss the concept of mediated authenticity, which refers to how authenticity is a currency in the communicative relation between producers and audiences. Mediated authenticity is a social construction, but it traffics in representations of reality.

Mediated authenticity is achieved through production techniques and authenticity illusions, which range from minor adjustments such as lighting and sound effects to drastic post-production editing and photoshopping. In the process, raw material is manipulated so as to be compatible with the aim of reaching a large audience and fulfilling the media format’s criteria. Authenticity illusions are, for the most part, both accepted and correctly interpreted by the audience. For example, TV viewers understand that canned laughter, or the laugh track, is a technique for enhancing a comedy show, not the ← 1 | 2 → unavoidable outbursts of a real audience. I define this tacit understanding or agreement between producers and audience as an authenticity contract, but it remains a social construction, one that is based on a set of genre conventions, as well as established practises and expectations. When the authenticity contract is challenged, or broken, we face an authenticity scandal or, less dramatically, an authenticity puzzle. These two concepts both refer to a situation where the audience is uncertain of what is real and what is fake, but “the scandal” differs from “the puzzle” in that the former is about various degrees of deception, while the later is about various degrees of ambiguity.

This chapter has four main parts. Following this part, the next defines mediated authenticity and discusses its primary subcategories—trustworthiness, originality, and spontaneity. The third part further elaborates on the book’s main concepts—authenticity illusions, the authenticity contract, and authenticity scandals/puzzles—and outlines the key arguments related to these terms. The fourth, and last, part presents a brief plan for the book and a chapter outline.

Mediated Authenticity

Authenticity is a dominant tendency of contemporary culture, and our obsession with “the real,” “the genuine,” and “the authentic” interests scholars in various disciplines (Dovey, 2000; Fine, 2003; Guignon, 2004; Baudrillard, 2008). A common treatment of the term authenticity in academic literature is to position it in opposition to whatever is fake, unreal, or false, and further to acknowledge its multiple meanings. Authenticity is also seen to be an ultimately evaluative concept, and even though we try to develop value-free methods for evaluation, there are always subjective judgments involved (Van Leeuwen, 2001, p. 392; Lindholm, 2008, p. 2). Likewise, and quite paradoxically, in context of the media, authenticity is generally seen to be positive, and audiences appreciate seemingly raw and unscripted moments.

The concept of authenticity is deeply rooted within cultures, and as culture changes—and with it, tastes, beliefs, values, and practises—so too do the definitions of what constitutes “the authentic.” As such, authenticity is a moving target, meaning that the concept is continually adapting to changes and trends, and it is impossible to capture its meaning with any single, static definition (Vannini & Williams, 2009, pp. 2–3). One result of the multiple meanings of authenticity and its various applications in various academic disciplines, is that many scholars choose not to define it but rather to simply ← 2 | 3 → acknowledge its complexity, such as Sarah Banet-Weiser (2012), who wrote: “The authentic is tricky to define. Its definition has been subject to passionate debates involving far-ranging thinkers, from Plato to Marx, from Andy Warhol to Lady Gaga” (p. 10). There are, nevertheless, comprehensive definitions of the term, such as the specification of a genealogical or historical (origin) meaning, whereby something’s origin defines its authenticity, or a reference to identity and correspondence with facts (content) meaning, as with an original signature or document (Lindholm, 2008, p. 2; Vannini & Williams, 2009, p. 2). In their highly practical orientation, however, these definitions are less suitable to analysing the media than to analysing, for example, someone’s legitimate right to the royal throne (Geary, 1986) or the viability of a Munch painting.


ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (August)
Negotiation Media history Authenticity Representation
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 164 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Gunn Enli (Author)

Gunn Enli (PhD, University of Oslo) is Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo.


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174 pages