Now’s not the time to fake it ‘til you make it
THE great, late American popular music critic Lester Bangs famously said Elvis Presley was the last performer everyone agreed was a singular talent.
This thought pops up because in the current national election there's seemingly endless fascination about the popularity or otherwise of the two prospective leaders of our country, Scott Morrison or Bill Shorten.
Shorten has been handicapped by very poor favourability ratings - he had a net satisfaction score of minus 18 in this week's Newspoll - and he's seen as a drag on the Labor Party's primary vote which is stuck in the range of 36 to 39 per cent.
Morrison has the skinniest of favourable scores - in just negative territory of minus 1 - which is where he's been since he took over from Malcolm Turnbull.
Very few Australian politicians have enjoyed popular opinion poll ratings that endure for more than one term of parliament. More often than not we have leaders who get, at best, grudging support from the public.
Is this because we do not see our politicians as authentic - the characteristic that is seen as the Holy Grail for those running for public office?
You find authenticity when looking for food - authentic Thai cuisine is more sought after than just a run of the mill Thai restaurant.
Also, everyone knows a musician who plays authentic Chicago blues is worth seeing over someone who just is labelled "a blues player".
Most recently, people want "craft beer" because it's authentic as opposed to stuff from a big corporate brewery.
Politics is no different which is why consultants and highly paid advisers give leaders tips on just how to be authentic.
When it is boiled down, authenticity is regarded as being the real deal which itself is seen as having credibility and sincerity which appearing natural and genuine.
In 2010 after her campaign all but imploded, Labor's Julia Gillard pivoted by saying she was going to be the "real Julia" from that point on. This only begged the question - who was she before - and it didn't help at all.
The popular presidential TV show, The West Wing, featured this grasping for authenticity in one memorable episode, using the theme of "letting Bartlett be Bartlett", referencing Martin Sheen's character, the fictional president Jed Bartlett.
The thing about political authenticity is that it's based on perceptions rather than something that's measured by empirical means. It's about perceptions, judgments, and beliefs - or as the lawyer character Dennis Denuto in The Castle said, "the vibe".
When discussing political authenticity, there are three traits of note.
Candidates standing for office need to stand out, to have something marking them as unique, perhaps even unorthodox.
They also need moral authenticity, seen in how they act based on morality and sincere belief.
Finally, people need to have a distinct type that gives the public a sound understanding of their behaviour.
How do our political leaders measure up if we take these traits as a guide to authenticity? Shorten stands out because of his daggy dad quirkiness. It can look awkward but it is easily recognisable. Morrison doesn't rate on this measure, but he seems to prefer not to be seen as a bit weird. He wants to be a very suburban everyman.
Morrison's carefully constructed back story as a practicing Christian, having joined an evangelical church just over a decade ago, gives him a cloak of morality which Shorten's more private religiosity (a private Anglican who shifted from Catholicism) can't match.
Morrison's type - the regular suburban guy who loves his footy, is a big Tina Arena fan and eats curry on the weekend - might be more than a little bit confected, but he fakes it better than Shorten.
French essayist and diplomat Jean Giraudoux described the gold standard for politicians when he said: "The secret of success is sincerity (and) once you can fake that you've got it made".
Shorten's supposed inauthenticity comes through in focus group market research while Morrison has his supporters and detractors but doesn't appear to provoke any passionate antipathy.
The best definition of what authenticity is and how you find it comes from rock legend Bruce Springsteen, who tackled the topic when he addressed the South by South West music conference in Austin, Texas in 2012.
Offering advice to aspiring musicians, Springsteen said there was no right way, no pure way, of doing it - there was just doing it. "We live in a post-authentic world," he said. "And today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It's all just what you're bringing when the lights go down.
"It's your teachers, your influences, your personal history; and at the end of the day, it's the power and purpose of your music that still matters."
That's the last word on this subject.
Dennis Atkins is The Courier-Mail's national affairs editor and co-host of the Two Grumpy Hacks podcast.