are public figures genuine

Authenticity and being in the public eye

Larry King is a great interviewer. Lately, he has been talking to increasingly questionable characters. Keeping an open mind, I watched his interview with Dan Bilzerian. [For those who aren’t familiar, Bilzerian has 20 million Instagram followers as of early 2017. He makes his money through poker and spends it in extremely unreserved ways – documenting some of it on Instagram.] At first, the interview seemed surprisingly good.

I am always curious about public personalities – how much of what they say is an act? One would imagine that Bilzerian is either a very calculated act, or not an act at all.

Bilzerian said you need to sign an non-disclosure agreement to walk into his house. Fair enough, he values his privacy – after all he has ridiculous numbers of people in his house all the time. He really surprised me when he said that Trump is raw and unfiltered. Could he, a poker player, really think that? I don’t think so. This casts a shadow not on his intelligence, but on the extent to which he is genuine. Hence, it is now a tougher judgement call to interpret what he says. I’m not sure what Bilzerian stands to gain from this statement about Trump. Perhaps, he would associate himself with Trump as they do have some features in common – but that’s obvious as is. Perhaps, to endear himself to Trump supporters? After all, Bilzerian does have more Insta followers than One Direction. Perhaps, it is that both of them use the same marketing strategy – an appearance of being unreserved and unfiltered – and therefore worthy of trust.

One of the things that attracts me to the writings of N.N. TalebΒ is that they appear to be quite genuine. He is yet to say something that seems completely contradictory to me.

However, I am increasingly suspicious of public figures. Actors are able to laugh at the same joke during the 10th take and still look like it’s real. I wonder if there’s anyone in the public sphere who the audience can afford to take at their word? Suggestions are very welcome. However, it is also possible that being authentic and being in the public eye aren’t compatible.

There’s an inherent contradiction here: people don’t gain a platform to expose their thoughts, they gain it to accomplish something.Β Being in the public eye has certain risks attached, so it is unlikely that anyone does it without expecting any benefit.

What if a celebrity already has a platform and then decides to use it for some other purpose? It is hard to separate support of good causes from self-promotion through associating oneself with good causes. At best, we are left with uncertainty.

are public figures genuine

17 thoughts on “Authenticity and being in the public eye”

  1. Trump is a strange one. An obsession with his own image, an inferiority of not being man enough, and a lack of empathy if you are not behind him. Yet, not a complete narcissist. I’m not sure what he is but a careful observer of weaknesses in himself and others.

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  2. Yes. I’m really conflicted myself with this. He appears bipolar at times but knows how to gain empathy but true narcissists do not have empathy. You see? Trump is just, strange.

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  3. Hi Martina. Some thoughts on aspects of this:

    Bilzerian is really quite authentic in one sense – he is not trying to pretend to be other than what he is: a caricatured man’s man: poker-playing, gun-totin’, surrounded by scantily clad silicone-enhanced women, guns, cars, expensive mansions. It is a fantasy life straight out of a movie and for your average unreflective adolescent male this is an ideal of heaven. However, for any notional authenticity he displays, it is also a *very empty* life. There is no significant human connection, there is noncommittal sex and fetishisation. There are possessions and money and there is scandalous spending. It is 100% superficiality, image and bluster. It is completely pointless consumption and excess selfishness. The worst aspect of his life is that the stereotypes and aspirations it portrays (and rampantly publicises) are unhealthy and his apparent exploitation of women is normalised within the visual culture of Instagram – it is his trademark and it is also very popular. This fantasy-of-masculinity requires this fantasy-of-female – it is anchored and dependent upon it (i.e.

    I am not in any sense a fan of Bilzerian but where he refers to Trump as being a bit raw, I don’t think Bilzerian goes out of his way to offend people for self-interested gain in the same way Trump has done. Trump is a peculiarity – his authenticity lies in the fact (or carefully polished perception) that what you see is precisely what you get – self-interested bluster and unashamed self-promotion aligned with a willingness to trample any and all who get between him and his self-perceptions of success. Voting populations are all too familiar with politicians who are one way in public and another in private, who conceal their authentic selves behind sound-bytes, advisors and carefully crafted images. Trump is a wild card in that the image he has constructed, or portrays naturally, is that there is nothing (other than financial records !) being hidden behind the veil, there is no sleight of hand – there is only bluster and self-interest and this publicity inversion appears to have worked well for him – people consider him as authentic because he professes to show himself as he really is.

    There are two American Dreams in play here: the Playboy and the Tycoon. I think Donald Trump would like to have been Dan Bilzerian. It would perhaps have been better for all of us if he had have been. In the interim, perhaps we could see Trump appoint Bilzerian as Secretary for Women’s Affairs, this would seem to fit the current political spectacle quite accurately…

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    1. I liked your article on Apollo and Daphne a lot – but that’s a whole other topic. I think Bilzerian is staying within his caricature, but that in and of itself is a constructed/contrived image. He talks about how he can no longer buy pleasure because it got old quickly, how he feels used by women no less than he uses them – revealing thoughts one may not usually associate with the caricature. On balance, I feel he is more contrived than genuine.

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      1. Yes, contrived. I must watch the whole interview for a full perspective. I get the feeling there is potentially an embodied moral allegory here, a tale of sensual gluttony arriving at its inevitable apotheosis: an ultimately destitute emotional emptiness, paranoia and loneliness. Perhaps the Buddha was correct in psychological synopsis – life is suffering and it is precisely because of our desires that we suffer. Feasting on desire does nothing to plug the hole and in the end only makes the pain more acute. ∞


  4. Super good point about public figures. I can’t imagine what it takes to be that public, but one’s ego really must be a motivator. And if the ego is in overdrive, whomever is being scrutinized is surely putting on some sort of false front. A persona, if you will (from my Jungian training). I, too, seek authenticity in my interactions. But I don’t expect it from anyone except those I have come to trust. People are so complex, are they not?!

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  5. There’s this thing that young writers do, especially ones who want to write creative nonfiction like memoir and personal essay. They write about themselves. They write their stories. Which is what the genre is all about, except that what sets literary creative nonfiction apart from Keeping Up with the Kardashians for example is that there is a universal truth or message being shared through the retelling of a personal story. I would argue that anyone who is using a platform to do some sort of external or Universal good, or someone who’s telling their story in order to illustrate something universally true or relevant is someone who is being authentic publicly. It’s a really fine line to walk but just as when you’re reading a Memoir or essay, at least for me, I get this gut feeling and I either like or sympathize with the author or don’t. I think that same gut feeling tells us which or public figures are posers and which are genuine. But in the end we’ll never know. Not for sure.

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  6. Trump shares similarities with Steve Jobs who was a megalomaniac. Right wing conservatism also has traits of megalomania with links to constant persecution, conspiracy to persecute, and eventual triumph. I believe that is Trump’s core and the narcissism is secondary. He is a product of 80’s wealth which had more interest in power and flexing of power.

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