Trench Life: When the Transcendent Meets the Authentic
"Just be authentic."
We hear this phrase everywhere and it's so interesting to me.
Take this photo of Tyler Joseph from Twenty-One Pilots. It is a horrible picture of he and his wife. It's blurry. You can't tell where they are. Both of their faces are in that awkward mid-smile.
This puppy has nearly 800 THOUSAND likes.
We all take awful pictures, but the fact that this celebrity is doing it makes us love him for just being normal. For being authentic.
Now if an unknown artist just starting out takes the exact same picture, we wouldn't look twice. In fact, you'd probably say, "Dude, hire a professional."
It's a weird paradox.
We praise the celebrity when they show their human-ness and we urge the normal to be more like the glamorous. Or put another way...
We long for the transcendent to be authentic and for the authentic to be made transcendent.
Theologian Tim Keller talks about how we all desire to be both fully known and fully loved. But we're mortified of being fully known, because we're afraid of being rejected. However, we can't be fully loved without being fully known because then it's just superficial.
What's really interesting is how this desire plays out in fan-cultures.
Let's use Twenty-One Pilots. They sing songs that are so moving, vulnerable, and intimate that the listener thinks Tyler is singing about them. So they experience the "transcendent". They feel known just a little more fully, so they love the band.
But in interviews when Tyler shares about his own personal struggles with depression, that same listener who was moved by his music, loves the man for his authenticity. For his human-ness. They feel loved just a little more fully, because Tyler was being vulnerable with them. And it makes the transcendent experience more meaningful.
We just love seeing the authentic transcendent!
But what's even more amazing is when the authentic (the fans) strive to be like the transcendent (the band) because of this experience.
I follow the Facebook page for Twenty-One Pilots fans, the Skeleton Clique. It is the most incredible fan base I have ever seen.
These kids from across the world dress up like their heroes for halloween, tattoo their logo variations on their arms, and are connected by their love for the band (the transcendent).
But for those who love the guys in the band (the authentic), their love doesn't only affect their attire. It affects their personality!
Because Tyler talks regularly about mental health and depression, the Clique (as they often refer to themselves) have created an environment of genuine encouragement. They feel free to share about their struggles with depression and anxiety and post freely about it. Then they are met with tons of words of encouragement.
People who are depressed don't typically do that. And yet here we have an entire movement of people doing it willingly.
That's what happens when the transcendent becomes authentic: the authentic strives to be transcendent.
A final caveat, however, is that the only way for this praise to continue from the fan base is for that "authentic" celebrity to continue making "transcendent" work. Once they stop, the authentic becomes merely human and unimpressive.
So as a company, what do we do?
We need to strive for both.
Be that transcendent idea that moves people, makes people feel known, wows, amazes, motivates, and inspires.
But we also need to be those authentic people who are real, honest, genuinely love people, know people, and meet them where they are at.
Because incredible things happen when the authentic meets the transcendent.