Tommy's Reviews > The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity

The Thing Itself by Richard Todd
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's review
Mar 17, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read from March 17 to 21, 2011

This book got better as it went on but the first couple sections, specifically the section about things irritated to more than I can remember being irritated by a book. And just to spout off (hopefully without ruining too much of the book).

1. The value of antiques (something he loves) seems to be beyond question. "Authentic" pieces have tremendous value and this should be obvious. Knockoffs are a travesty. Meanwhile the author cannot seem to comprehend why someone would pay more for a shirt with a recognizable logo or name on it. It's frustrating that he doesn't realize that these are essentially the exact same thing. The objects themselves are not objectively any more useful or valuable. Their value, in both cases, derives entirely from the visibility to others and the status that it brings. You are basically trying to impress people like you with your good taste so demand for an item increases therefore the price increases. To me, markets like this are frustrating because the ability to engage in these inflated markets to enhance one's appearance have huge overtones of classism.

2. The next part I don't like was his discussion about art and his statement to the effect that 'everyone' knows that art reproductions are vulgar but posters of art that reference a museum, exhibit, or event are cool. This, again, smacks of classism to me. While I am against the reproductions of art that are intended to pass as the originals so that they can sell for millions of dollars, I am incredibly supportive of reproductions that are sold at a much cheaper price so that a much broader audience can see the brilliance of the art. For instance, I don't think Van Gogh can be fully appreciated by a poster version of his work. His textures and brush strokes are so important to his art that the only way to get the full impact of a lot of his works are to either go to the gallery where the originals are or to see a good reproduction. Not everyone can afford to fly to Europe to see original works of art (ie poor people who often have less exposure to education and arts and culture). But if $100 reproductions were more prevalent I think that would be GREATLY preferable to a $20 poster which doesn't begin to actually capture what the painting looks like up close. But I guess Richard Todd the classist would hate "the masses" to be able to even get a glimpse of some of the things he gets to see because that would make him less important.

3. My third major issue with the book is the author's take on travel. He is very confident that everyone wants to be a "traveler" and no one wants to be a "tourist". I'm sorry but that is just blatantly false. If it were true how would places like Disney World and other theme and amusement parks stay in business? Hell, I bet most visitors to major world landmarks, especially those in the western world (Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa) are visited much more by tourists than by travelers. These things are money making machines. And then Todd has the audacity to claim that Las Vegas is somehow more "authentic" than Disney World. Really? One of the most touristy cities in the country (and possibly the world) is secretly not touristy, it is actually a bastion of authenticity? Todd is just a pretentious hypocrite who mistakes "authenticity" for "things that I like".

4. The last major problem I had with Todd was his condescending view of rural life. I'm sure he doesn't think it's condescending but that is half the problem. He was raised in a wealthy area of Connecticut but his family was merely middle to upper-middle class so he felt inferior so now that he's an adult he has moved to rural Massachusetts he knows he is authentic and living the authentic life. He's around 'real' people. He evens goes so far as to look down on people who live in his town (most likely longer than he has and possibly all there live) and he has the gall to say that they are violating some code of being 'authentically rural' by having a split level home or having lawn decorations. I have no idea where he gets the entitlement to tell people who live their life how they want to live it in the towns and areas they have grown up in that they are not 'authentic'. He is stereotyping people pure and simple and he's allowed to get away with it because it's based on something generic like being 'rural New England' instead of race, gender, religion, or sexual preference. I'd like to see Todd write a chapter about how an East Asian American isn't 'authentic' because they aren't good at math or that a woman isn't 'authentic' if she doesn't know how to cook. There is little to no difference with these statements and what Todd is doing. It's equally as ignorant and arrogant in my opinion.

The only reason, in my opinion, to read this book is if you're too happy and haven't been pissed off enough recently because this book delivers that.
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