The other day I was having a rather delightful conversation with a friend of mine about the concept of “shock.” Not in the extremely painful “put your bellend in Lord Rayden’s hand” way, either. We were discussing the ever annoying trend of how shocking people seems to be a goal these days.
It seems every few months some new internet video, movie, musician, artist, etc. tries to shock the world into paying attention to them. But why? What’s the goal? That’s where we are going to end up but first a little backstory.
I, like many people my age, are children of the internet. I am also a part of this sub-section of people that seem to enjoy being shocked. Telling me a horror film is the grossest film of all time is virtually begging me to watch it. You know my type; the person in the office who, when everyone else is freaking out over the latest 2girls1cup video is found sitting at their desk eye rolling that people are shocked by this shit (cwutididthar?). Quite simply: there exists a type of person now that is incredibly desensitized to horrific and disgusting things.
WE are the targets of these shock campaigns: not you. Allow me to explain.
The average person (let’s call them Poncey) isn’t exposed to websites like 4chan. Poncey has never heard of The Human Centipede or goatse. Poncey is easy to shock. There is no reason to one-up the fucked up shit of yesterday if you are targeting Poncey. Poncey is shocked by the average PG-13 horror film trailer.
People like Tom Six (the director of The Human Centipede) target people like me… they want to be Christ figures to a niche market. The most fucked up of the fucked up. They are attracted to the challenge of offending the most jaded, numb people alive.
For what purpose though? Is shocking people a good idea? Is there merit to it, or is it a simple flash in the pan? Is it just a quick 15 minutes of fame (or shame in some cases)? This is where the discussion get’s fun.
Shock for the sake of shock is pointless to me. Doing something disgusting to your body to shock me is easy but does nothing in the long run. If your goal is to simply make me think “man that guy was a fucking idiot” 3 years from the time I see your video (like 1 guy 1 jar) then by all means, shock me because that’s all your going to get from me in that regard. I will buy the ticket and take the ride but there will be no return.
However I do think shock can be used as a very, very intelligent tool if used properly. To a degree I think one of the most successful organizations in terms of productive shocking is PETA. Whether it’s disgusting, fucked up pictures of animals or naked women covering their bodies with their hands, they manage to produce a concise and clear message with their shock. They get your attention and then they slap you with some message. That is productive shock and exactly the way shock should be used. Whether I agree with PETA’s politics or not is irrelevant and by no means am I taking a stand as pro-PETA or anything; I’m simply saying I can appreciate an intelligently put together plan/message regardless of whether I agree with it’s message or not.
To an extent Mel Gibson accomplished a similar successful campaign with The Passion of the Christ. While I felt the movie was a bit of tripe, it did shock this country into having an almost renewal of faith. Of course now everyone knows he is (and has always been) a complete tosser and the anti-semitism of the movie was insane, it still accomplished what I believe his goal was: to shock people into believing. Where Gibson failed was the aftermath and this is where virtually all “shock” artists fail horribly.
Marilyn Manson is a perfect example to me of a fail shock artist. I know a lot of my friends are going to read that and shit bricks but hear me out… I love Marilyn Manson’s music, persona, everything about him except the shock. I truly think his most recent album, The High End of Low, is one of his best albums minus the 2 shock tracks. I mean come on, who didn’t read the song title “Arma-Goddamn-Motha-Fucking-Geddon” and eye roll? I’m surprised the record label even let that out. I woulda axe’d that shit from jump and told his ass “you’re not in high school anymore dude; stick with the substance.”
And that is where virtually all shock artists fail: substance.
Let’s stick with Manson for a minute. Marilyn Manson, without a doubt, had everyone’s attention in 1996. When he released Antichrist Superstar, he had the entire world in the palm of his hand. Everyone knew his name. I remember schools banned kids from wearing his shirts on campus; he was a fucking threat. Antichrist Superstar is a badass album as well; arguably one of the best and most important albums of the 1990′s. It effectively took the movement Nirvana started and crucified it.
So once the world was paying attention to him ready to hear whatever he had to say… what did he say? NOT A FUCKING THING. He was on every news station nightly and what did he do with this publicity? Nothing. Fuck all. He pissed it away. He wasted it all by trying to be a vague, ambiguous mystery person. My guess is he thought this would keep people interested in him; a constant search to find out who Marilyn Manson is or what he is about. It did the opposite. “Oh you’ve got nothing to say? Alright then. Ktxhbai.”
Nowadays he tries very hard to get back to that same level of importance; singing songs like “We’re From America” in hopes someone will be shocked and offended and pay attention to him but guess what? You had your chance, man. You could have changed things but you did nothing with the power you had. No one cares anymore; focus on your art, not trying to become a cultural icon again. We get it. You don’t dig Jesus. Right on. Got anything else to say? Then sit the fuck down. Oh and by art I mean music, not the watercolors. While I know a lot of people who are fans of his paintings but I simply see it all as “trying too hard.”
A more modern example is Lady GaGa. To me, she did the exact same thing Marilyn Manson has done but in a much less polarizing way. After The Fame Monster came out she was everywhere; she was #1 fucking everywhere. So then it comes time for her follow up album and I expected something with depth. Something with substance. I truly feel it did not deliver; it’s a good album don’t get me wrong (well, it’s okay, not as good as The Fame Monster) but she said nothing. Did nothing with this attention. GaGa fans can tell me all day how her songs are about a seemingly infinite amount of scenarios but listen… I’m an artist. I have heard artists bullshit the meanings behind something when asked. I get it. You can make anything about anything if you want to, especially when you’re talking to sycophants.
Very similar to Marilyn Manson she can go on any talk show in the world at any time and say whatever she wants and be heard so what does she do? Fuck all.
I know she is seen as some sort of LGBT icon and I think her shows and music are fantastic support for that cause; however I think she still tip toes the line of “saying what I want” and “saying what will sell.” She doesn’t draw any lines in the sand. She’s a diet version of Marilyn Manson; half the shock, but the same amount of substance. Yeah, I know Lady GaGa pulls her albums from chains that are notoriously anti-LGBT but is that really a big step in a world where downloads count for far more sales than actual pressed CD’s? I know it’s fun to see her as a rebel taking a stand but really think about how big of a difference that makes in the long run; especially considering Lady GaGa, not Target, went bankrupt. Just sayin’.
The problem is I don’t think these individuals had plans. The goal was to get attention; they never worried about what to do once they got it.
What is currently considered by most hardcore shock-fans as the most shocking and disturbing film ever made is A Serbian Film. I have written at great length about this film already on this website so I will skip over details; however I will say that the creators of the film claim it is about the following:
In another interview Spasojević is quoted as saying “my shocking ‘A Serbian Film’ exposes the fascism of political correctness”. On the question of whether the violence depicted deals with Serbian soldiers and war crimes that they have committed, Spasojević answers: “‘Srpski Film’ does not touch upon war themes, but in a metaphorical way deals with the consequences of postwar society and a man that is exploited to the extreme in the name of securing the survival of his family”
To that… all I have to say is “yeah but… no.” While this may have been some sort of intended message from jump the film hardly conveys this message well. I don’t think the average viewer will walk away with any resemblance of that message in their mind. I do stand by it being the most shocking film I have ever seen, though. If you’re up for a wild ride I recommend it but it’s substance is actually more on how well the production is. The lighting and acting are incredible; but the message, the aftertaste you experience once the credits roll is not a feeling of message or substance. The film does end on this “society is a vicious cycle” message but sometimes I think the shock can steal the spotlight from the actual point and A Serbian Film is guilty of this.
In conclusion I truly believe shocking people can be a good thing. It’s a weapon and in the right hands it can bring about change but when used as simply a means to get attention without any sort of plan… it’s worthless.
If you want my attention I will give it to you but you better do something meaningful once you have it.