Friday, December 18, 2009

does authenticity matter?

If we keep going as we have been going, moving more deeply into a world of virtual entertainment, rather than real meaningful service to others, we might just as well pack up and head for Silver Dollar City. There amidst the holiday Christmas lighting, you will find stuff for sale made by "old time craftsmen" going through the motions of making stuff. Of particular note to woodworkers you will find the furniture shop which claims to have equipment from the original W.O. Perkins Mill in Eureka Springs.

Thankfully, this is not really the case. They had tried to buy it all years ago... the tools and equipment that built many of the fine Victorian homes that continue to grace our lovely town. But not having actually acquired the equipment, they lie about it. They got their system of belts and pulleys from another location that cared less about history and authenticity.

There have been cases in the news lately of "stolen valor" in which attention hungry individuals parade in medals they did not win and in uniforms of national service they did not serve. You can be arrested for that. In the case of stolen authenticity, as long as it serves the cause of making money, I guess it's OK.

As we live more and more in the shadow world of moving electrons, finding ourselves in idle entertainment, perhaps a lie is no real significance. And why should the matter of authenticity stand in the way of marketing if there is money to be made?

What kind of authenticity will children raised in a computer game culture know? Perhaps we should follow our parental inclinations to over protect and prevent them from coming in contact with real reality. Some parents are already there, ready to implant artificial authenticity into the lives of their children. At Silver Dollar City, they have beautiful water falls emerging from the tops of fake mountains, and the tourists line up to have their photos taken amidst the backdrop of pure and everlasting sculpted fake beauty. I am reminded of the grown-up who arrived at Kings River Outfitters and asked guide/owner Ernie, "I want to take my family for a float, but let me get this straight..." pointing downstream he said, "We get in the canoes and go there," and then pointing upstream, he asked, "and we come out there?" He thought he was in Silver Dollar City amusement park land where artificial rivers bring you right back where you started. "No, this is a real river," Ernie patiently explained. "If you put in there and you never stop, you will go down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, but it will take months."

But does all this matter? This is the life we are creating for our kids. But in the basement of W.O. Perkins Mill you will find real authenticity if you peek through a dusty window at the back. The very old diesel heart of the matter. To start it up, you had to build a fire in the cylinder to get it warm. The engine would fire only when needed to maintain the selected RPM. When the load was light, the explosions in the motor would happen at a slow cadence. Whoomp..... Whoomp..... Whoomp.... When the equipment at work pulled power from the line of belts and pulleys, the explosions would gain in frequency. Whoomp... whoomp, whoomp, whoomp... whoomp. The wonderful machine could be heard all over town as W.O. Perkins milled and shaped the materials to build this small city. You might agree with me that authenticity is worth whatever effort is required that it may be preserved. Or perhaps not.


  1. Anonymous7:32 AM

    Authenticity does matter, and no amusement park will show people, kids or adults, what life is really like when things are being made.


  2. OK, I nearly choked on that one. That you would mention Silver Dollar City at all came as quite a surprise and a small shock to my system. Yes, the place is a very odd mix of the true and the false but it has had an equally odd place in our lives. My husband, Richard Frazier, whom I recently told you lost his job of twenty years at Colonial Williamsburg got his first job making historic firearms at Silver Dollar City/Dollywood in Sevierville, Tenn. He worked there for five years and was present when the transition was made to Dollywood. He had a boss who was especially respectful of his work, got him raises when he could and basically left him alone to build his portfolio. We all spent a lot of time on the park and knew a lot of traditional craftsmen. Yet we were eager, when the time came, to move away and out of the amusement park atmosphere. Without Dollywood, Richard would not likely have been able to build up his skills while supporting a wife and daughter and take the CW position in a timely manner. "Silver Dollar City" is a mouthful of bitter-sweet memories!

  3. I spent some time at SSD in Branson, as a guest artist an selling my work during the national crafts fair. The crafts there are real, but the landscape is not. I didn't care much for dressing up in country duds. But over all, the people were friendly and having a good time. No harm done, except that people don't always have a clear sense of the difference between verisimilitude and reality.