Keeping it Real: UNOrthodox speaker talks about authenticity


After years of studying the concept, Dr. Todd Richardson theorizes that authenticity is both rare and romantic. During a speech with UNOrthodox, he shared that authenticity can be hard to understand,.

UNOrthodox: Talking Outside the Box is a lecture series put on by Student Government and the Student Life and Leadership Development office. UNOrthodox was created in spring of 2011 and allows student-nominated faculty who are dedicated to enhancing the social environment to give a talk sharing their passion and knowledge about topics that affect the world and society today. Last week’s lecture took place at CPACS on Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. and provided free pizza for all who attended.

Entitled “A Ghost is Born: The Rhetoric of Authenticity.” The speaker was Dr. Todd Richardson, a professor in the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Goodrich Scholar Program. Dr. Richardson received his bachelor’s degree in religion and a PhD in English with a specialization in folklore from the University of Missouri.

After an introduction from Student Government President Martha Spangler, Dr. Richardson began his discussion on what “authenticity” is and means for today’s society. Dr. Richardson has published a series of articles and essays in both scholarly and popular journals on the idea of authenticity. His studies often focus on different ways that the concept has been defined throughout time.

Richardson’s pursuit of learning more about authenticity began when he was in graduate school. “I knew I wanted to write about authenticity from the beginning,” Richardson said at the event.

Even more of his ideas about authenticity generated while  Richardson was writing his dissertation. He wrote about “tough ideas that seem to always be on the move.” During his talk,  Richardson warned the audience not to be frustrated if his concepts were hard to understand. “Know that it often doesn’t make sense to me either,”  Richardson said. “Every time I revisit these ideas, I see them from different points.”

Richardson discussed the fact that authenticity is not synonymous with reality and that it is “not an immutable truth.” Richardson also drew parallels between his definitions of authenticity with the popular series “Star Trek.”

Another major emphasis of the importance of authenticity was the separation between authenticity and sentimentality. ’t.” Dr. Richardson also used the analogy that while Husker fans are sentimental, authenticity is a romantic value that is “loved because it’s doomed.”

According to Richardson, society refers to many things as ‘authentic’ today such as black and white photos, ghetto-raised rappers, anti-establishment politicians, and dingy bars.

“The appeal of authenticity becomes closest to being located here,” Richardson said. “But it can never be located. At its core it is a romantic conceit. It is cherished because it’s endangered.”

Some theories have also proposed authenticity as a quality of experience and as the way people claim to see the world. Even Rousseau hinted at authenticity topics when he said, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”

Another major aspect in Richardson’s lecture was authenticity in respect to the American dream, going from having nothing to everything. “We don’t focus so much on the nothing that makes it,”  Richardson said.

Tupac even spent most of life chasing authenticity and “keeping it real”. The thought-provoking lecture left listeners with more different ways to think about authenticity. As Richardson said, “Authenticity says more about the authenticator—the person that identifies it—than whatever it is the person is calling authentic.”