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Mediated Authenticity

How the Media Constructs Reality

Gunn Enli

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.


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Chapter 1: The Paradox of Mediated Authenticity


· 1 · the paradox of mediated authenticity 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 construct- ed, 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 au- thenticity, which refers to how authenticity is a currency in the communi- cative 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. Authen- ticity 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 2 mediated authenticity 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...

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