"The real deal...?" (Thoughts on our obsession with "authenticity" in the hobby)


We hear that term bandied about in many things- Fashion, media, material goods. It sounds pretty cool- pretty important- to intimate that something is "authentic." On the other hand, if something is NOT "authentic", does that mean that it's "phony" or contrived? Is a "You Tube Personality" any less "authentic" a celebrity than say, a Tom Cruz or Katie Holmes? Is Kim Khardassian less "authentic" because she's the daughter of someone famous, or can it be argued that she's "famous" on her own merit? Does anyone really care?

"I'm "authentic", aren't I?"

Are the "ice dunk" challenges that we saw all over Facebook  last summer to raise money for charity less "authentic" because people garnered a certain amount of notoriety for themselves, or was it just a way to encourage people to donate money to a very worthy cause in a rather fun manner? Would it have been more "authentic" to simply quietly right a check to the charity in question, and encourage friends to do the same? Are these "challenges" somehow pandering to the dumbed-down social media masses, or simply a wonderful manifestation of our generosity as a species?

And who is the "judge" of "authentic", anyways?

I bring this subject up because, lately, I've been having lots of discussions with hobbyists who tell me about their searches for the "real" ________ rock, and that it's important to have the "real" one from this or that supplier. We see it in the reef-keeping side of the hobby non-stop.  Okay, I also hear from hobbyists following such-and-such a new husbandry regimen because "(insert favorite famous hobbyist here) runs his tank that way and will be talking about it at the next conference."  And I think to myself, "The hobbyist who's bringing this up has a great tank already. Why does he need to mimic that other guy?"

Who IS the mysterious "Guardian of Authentic" for the aquarium hobby, and why does this person (or persons) seem to have so much influence on what hobbyists do?

Okay, so just because "someone" says something is the "authentic" rock or piece of wood means that it's somehow automatically better than the other one that looks awesome and doesn't have a name attached to it? I know we've talked about this topic ad nauseum on this blog before, but the topic keeps popping up in our "culture." 

Look, I think it's great that people seek the "real deal" rock or coral because they love the way it looks, or has other attributes that make it a great thing to use or keep. However, when it's accompanied with an attitude that implies somehow the "named" rock or coral or whatever is somehow superior to the "generic" equivalent (that sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?), and that owning said rock, wood, or coral gives you instant "street cred", it is a bit troubling. Why?

Is it better because it has a name? Haven't we gotten beyond that?

Well, because, as they say in advertising, that "cool" can be bought, regardless of your level of experience, husbandry skill, or even appreciation for the needs of the animal or use of the product in question. We've all seen examples over the years of (let's be honest) incompetent hobbyists who have every gadget, use every popular "system" to maintain their tank, and acquire every "name brand" product available, in a feeble attempt to "buy" acceptance from their peers. 

And their tanks still suck.

A well-equipped system without results is just..a well-equipped system...

The sad reality that these people don't understand is, that as fish geeks- we all love this stuff, and are remarkably accepting of almost everyone's sincere effort to enjoy their hobby the way they want to. No one is judging - and if they are, it shouldn't matter. Don't apologize for aquascaping your tank the way YOU want to, even if it's "not exactly" the way "they" say it should be run. There is no need to conform to someone else's standards of "cool", or to gain approval of "them" whoever "they" are.

It sounds nuts, but I literally hear this "apologetic" attitude all of the time, and I hate that we feel that we "must" pander to everyone else in order to be considered a "successful" hobbyist. Every hobbyist can learn something useful from every other hobbyist. Thats a fact. Something can always serve as an example of what NOT to do, right? So, nothing is ever wasted in the aquarium-keeping universe.

The takeaway from all of this isn't about us being judgmental, or negative. It's about being ourselves.

It's your hobby. You're not on trial, right? Enjoy it!

Every day, little victories are won by ordinary every-day hobbyists like you and I, who set up amazing tanks and accomplish things with them that provide them and their family with hours of pleasure. That's what it's all about. In fact, that's the ONLY thing that this is about.

What I think the aquarium world needs is simply for you, me- all of us- to be ourselves; march to our own drummers, and to share our experiences. Not in a dogmatic way, mind you- but in the spirit of sharing hard-won knowledge, for the benefit of all. Sure, our efforts may make our aquariums "aspirational" for someone, but they should not be presented to others with an attitude of undisputed authority, nor with the aforementioned apologetic attitude. It's far more important for us to do things the way we believe they should be done, consistent with humane, acceptable standards of animal husbandry. You don't need to do something a certain way just because someone tells you that theirs is the best way, or that it's the hot new trend.

The best discoveries and breakthroughs come from people who do things because they want to.  

That's being "authentic"

Enough said. Enjoy your day, and your hobby.

And stay wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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