Marketing “Authenticity”

I stop using Head & Shoulders because I think it is giving me dandruff. I’m just too addicted to the stuff, it seems. The front of my scalp agonizes and shudders off in huge flakes like cereal when I cease to use Head & Shoulders shampoo for a day. It has to be a scam, I think, like how Proactiv supposedly just gets your skin addicted to Proactiv so you can never stop using it if you want a clear face. If Procter & Gamble really wanted to cure dandruff, surely they could find a more effective measure. But here I am, like all the other chumps, lathering shampoo about my head when I possess a free scalp perfectly capable of cleaning itself. So I run out of shampoo one day and just don’t buy more, first out of laziness, then out of curiosity.

I visit my parents in Pasadena, where they are staying for the year. My mother has a fellowship to study 18th century Atlantic literature. We visit Rosa, my old babysitter, who has started a family of her own in Santa Monica. Rosa’s youngest boy is best friends with a girl, Eva, a dusty blonde with some missing teeth who guesses that I am 13 years old. Eva’s mother is a brighter blonde, a TV executive who asks me, politely, my real age. I tell her that I’m 24.

“Now is that Gen Z?”

“I’m actually in a weird spot, since I’m technically the first year of Gen Z, depending on who you ask,” I answer, revealing the fruits of a recent Google search. I thought I was a millennial for a long time, as I believed it was an all-encompassing term for young people. But it turns out I’m at the arbitrary beginning of something else–a newer understanding of youth. Eva’s mother begins to cast aspersions on millennials, to which my mother asks if she has genuinely experienced millennial behavior as typified in boomer rants.

“Oh yeah,” she says. They show up late to meetings, she says. They’re entitled, she says. My mom asks her about Gen Z.

“Oh Gen Z is great. They’re totally different. Like advertising to them? Everything needs to be purpose-driven, everything needs to be really authentic. Gen Z doesn’t trust companies, necessarily.”

I feel a little weird about her generational assessments, since the millennial complaints have, in my experience, been bullshit. But I do identify heavily with her Gen Z description. Probably I am reading myself into it the way I might interpret a horoscope, but I do sincerely distrust companies. My iPhone 5’s battery is beginning to crap out only hours after I leave the house with it fully charged, which I know is because Apple has programmed their products’ premature obsolescence to get me to buy a new phone. (Reading that I had an iPhone 5 in 2019 might be jarring, because Apple has programmed you, too.)

Of course, why would a company not do something like this, given that their main motive is profit? I feel keenly that companies are not acting in my best interest. When I look at an advertisement, I am mostly looking at the way it is trying to manipulate me, the grossly surface-level assessment it has made of who I am. Perhaps this is merely a feature of my generation. However, what I do not say to Eva’s mother is that there is no authenticity under capitalism! It will always be inauthentic to profit from equals (unless you are mutually aiding each other, in which money need not be a factor, merely trade). If you authentically believe that a good you have made is useful to others, why wouldn’t you just…give it to them? Maybe let them return the favor, something equally valuable to you? Under capitalism, profit is the motive. Your measure of success is not sustenance or maintenance, but turning a profit: by definition, taking more than you need. And what is authentic about that?

I give up my Head & Shoulders experiment. It has been three months and I still have dandruff. My scalp thanks me, but the paranoia continues to itch. Will I have to do this with everything I buy? It is exhausting, but the work of consumption must be taken seriously when everyone’s out for profit. Millennials and zoomers around the world are organizing to hold people accountable, are constructing companies and technology and politics whose primary goal is not wealth. It feels exhausting to be young in 2019, but the exhaustion feels important, too.

Sophie Dillon

Sophie Dillon


is still figuring it out.

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