Authenticity and truth are not mutually exclusive concepts

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Miami beach, fla.-When is authenticity really, truly, honestly authentic?

Before dismissing the query as the musings of a precocious child (or worse, of a Philosophy 101 student), consider that it's front-and-center in the culture. Every day brings another revelation from a disgruntled reality-show alumnus that the reality underlying "Survivor" or "The Apprentice" or "The Bachelor" wasn't at all like the cut-and-spliced reality portrayed on TV. Thanks to the new documentary "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," the business world is still confronting its admiring embrace of a company that seemed so entrepreneurially creative but was instead fundamentally corrupt.

The mainstream news media themselves are caught in their own authenticity crisis; stung by plagiarism and fabrication scandals, they are fending off increasingly strident criticisms from the left and the right, even as the left and the right adopt news idioms to seed their ideas in the public sphere.

But let's get real-reality was always hard to come by. Consider Espanola Way, a slightly Cuban, somewhat Puerto Rican sub-village in this sunny city by the sea, where, only a few hours before I began this composition, I supped on glorious chorizo with white beans and gambas with garlic, and washed them down with a pungent rioja. Surely, this is a neighborhood that sprang organically from the waves of Latin immigration that serially transformed Miami Beach over the decades.

Not on your life. Espanola Way was a complete fabrication, begun in the 1920s by two of the Beach's early developers, modeled on "real" Mediterranean villages in France and Spain in an effort to attract to South Florida the glitterati to whom the Cote d'Azur appealed. Eighty years later, in the midst of this city's latest revival, the South Street Seaport of its day, now layered with grit, has an aroma of authenticity neither planned nor anticipated.

In fact, Miami Beach is an oasis of non-authentic authenticity. Lincoln Road bustles like Rome's Piazza Navona, locals elbowing tourists at scores of bistros and bars. But it's a festival of falsity: First whittled out of a mangrove swamp circa 1915, it was not turned into a pedestrian mall for another several decades, when it was redesigned by Morris Lapidus, the populuxe genius who architected the Fountainbleu and Eden Roc hotels.

Even the beach is unreal. Coming here 40 years after my first (and last) visit, I am astonished to find the narrow strip of jellyfish-laden waterfront outside the art deco hotel has been transformed into a broad band of sand that rivals anything Hawaii or Cape Cod can offer. What God and the tides taketh away, the Army Corps of Engineers and its followers can deliver.

But here's the surprising conclusion: Just because something isn't authentic doesn't mean it isn't true.

The fact is, I certainly haven't seen anything quite like Miami Beach outside of France. It's an electric pastiche-a fully faked, slapdash construction of people, buildings and cultures that's come together to create its own novel form of authenticity.

And speaking of France, isn't the Paris of our mind's eye itself a whole-cloth creation by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann?

Yesterday's counterfeits can become today's reality-and tomorrow's nostalgia. Remember that when your grandchildren are watching "Survivor" reruns on Nick at Night in the year 2025.

Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is director of intellectual capital at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton

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