Counterfeit Originality

Re-booters are an adventurous, creative bunch because we both dare to question our assumptions and imagine a new way to live our lives. I’ve been thinking a lot, of late, about what originality and creativity means. I suppose this is because I’m trying to re-invent my own life, so my need for innovation is great, but an off-shoot of such contemplation involves an assessment of what it means to be original versus being a really great mimic.


What in the world is she talking about?” you mutter.  (Trust me, I’m sympathetic.)


Part of understanding what originality is, is understanding what it is not. Think of all those fake handbags from China—some of them are beautiful and serve their purpose quite nicely. It’s one thing to deconstruct Shakespeare, but the trick lies in whether or not your approach brings anything new to our understanding of the story. For all the technical mastery a mimic may have, is what they do an inspired expression or merely a copy? Duplicating somebody else’s example is a lot like painting a picture from a photograph: somehow, the sparkle isn’t evident. While we all learn from examples, where originality enters the picture is what happens next; alas, the example is where many people stop. They don’t imagine beyond it.


What I’m talking about applies to everything from our attitudes, to how we structure our lives, to the way we go about forging something new. This is somewhat nuanced stuff, so bear with me. Where are you breaking new ground? Are you actually experimenting with something novel? For instance, I know someone who has upended her life to strike out on her own and become a hip-hop lyricist. She is determined, hard working, and it’s obvious talking to her that this dream will go unfulfilled. Why do I say this? Because, underneath it all, she’s simply mimicking what she’s heard—none of it is originally inspired. Not her rhythms, not her lyrics, not her concepts, not her expressions. She’s taking music she admires, teaching herself all about it, and then making a pale copy that will resonate with no one. Forced attempts, no matter how fervent, cannot soar like original efforts.


They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but I beg to differ. A duplicate never has the same ooompf of a piece that truly works. The challenge is that so much of our culture has decided that mimicry is the most assured way to garner approval and make a buck—think of all those movie sequels. Did anyone actually go see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? But the Spiderman sequels starring Tobey Maguire were strong productions. What’s the difference?


The reason I am writing about recognizing the variations between grey and gray is that, as we proceed through our lives, we will see many examples of people who are trying to capture that indescribable “it” in their lives, but never quite get there. I posit that a big reason their goal remains elusive is that what they’re chasing isn’t an original dream, it’s somebody else’s. The world is filled with brilliant mimics who can take what is ground breaking and tell themselves that this is what they want, too. So, they march lockstep with what’s gone before, convinced if they only do things the way their parents or their coach or that amazing girl from school did it, they’ll have the Golden Ticket. Except they’re wrong.


So, they zip up their fake purse, brush their perfectly highlighted hair, and remind themselves of what they need to say to convince everyone that they’re the Real Deal. And you know what? Most folks won’t be able to see the difference, let alone care. Will you?


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One Response to “Counterfeit Originality”

  1. grasshopper Says:

    this is fantastic.

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