An authentic cuppa with Key
15/02/2012 § Leave a comment
I never got worked up over the tempest in a teacup, the pre-election meeting between John Key and John Banks. I wasn’t worried about it at the time, and the affair of the secret recording didn’t pique my interest, either.
Now comes Crooked Timber with a good explanation of why I couldn’t be bothered, although it focuses on Mitt Romney in the US. Describing the ‘fallacy of political authenticity’, Rich Yeselson writes:
All of this is a crock. We—the astute writers noted above, and pretty much everybody else too—are fetishizing one of modernity’s most potent fantasies: that there is a deeply internalized “authenticity” which dramatically reveals our true, inner selves. Yes, we want to know, truly know, who these people are and who can blame us? And the task of excavating this “authenticity” seems especially urgent in the case of those few who wish to be our president.
It was the same with the two Johns. The media, and possibly the voters, wanted the tape to be the big reveal. They wanted to see the man behind the curtain. They wanted a nugget of authencity that would anchor the campaign in general and the Epsom race in particular.
Interestingly, the media focus was on Key. He was the enigma for which the tape would provide the clue. Banks, it seemed, was already understood, already known.
The reason we are searching for that authentic nugget is that we think it exists for each one of us. This is a key insight from Lacanian theory. We think that there is a ‘real’ us that we can’t quite access. We are cut off from it by all the miming and posturing and conventional behaviour that fills our daily lives. This idea permeates our culture.
Yesterday, Valentine’s Day, is dedicated to the idea. It promises us true happiness with the one who really knows us, who sees us for who we are (and loves us anyway). Exercise and weight loss programmes talk about the ‘real you’ inside, the skinny you, the healthy you. That is the authentic us that we believe exists as a sort of Platonic ideal, external to the world of experience. This myth of authenticity also allows us to do wrong without being bad. Sure, I may have jumped the queue, dinged someone’s car, or returned a broken DVD, but that doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.
The other curious Lacanian detail of the Epsom cuppa is that it all happened in the open. The men met in public and invited the press. The fight over the tape just highlighted their attempt to hide in plain sight. This is Poe’s story of The Purloined Letter, which was the basis for one of Lacan’s seminars. In fact, the purloined letter is basically a MacGuffin and so was the tape. It didn’t matter so much what was on the tape; only its existence as something to focus on and fight over mattered.
The search for the authentic Key is ultimately a waste of time. Politicians and parties are what they do. The National Party was very clear what its platform for the next three years would be. They were elected, and now they are pursuing their agenda. No reading of tea leaves required.