Beyond the Bubble: That’s Not Art
By The Dartmouth Arts Staff
Published on Monday, September 17, 2012
An article published in The New York Times last Friday titled “Shock Me if You Can” questioned whether art can still shock its viewers. For example, D.H. Lawrence’s novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was read in secret in 1928, but people are now seen reading “50 Shades of Grey” at the beach, on the plane — anywhere in public.
The key element to shocking works of art, however, is their audience. “Liberal Arts” (2012), written and starring Josh Radnor, delves into — and then pops — the idealized, optimistic notion of what a college campus is. As a 35 year old returning to his alma mater, Radnor reflects on the days when he used to think anything was possible.
“17 Girls” (2012), also opening with a limited release this week, is a French film based on a 2008 incident in which female students in Gloucester, Mass., were involved in a pregnancy pact. The incident, which shocked an entire school, town and country, is rendered less objectionable through the director’s Gus Van Sant-like cinematic aesthetics.
What, then, is still considered shocking? How can art remain shocking? No Doubt, who will release their new album this week, was once known for their off-the-wall style, and their drummer rarely donned clothes at the concerts, but after Gwen Stefani’s solo career, she has attracted a much younger and more mainstream audience.
Classic methods of shock seem hackneyed. Maybe society is maturing like No Doubt — or maybe we have just become immune to sex and violence. Porn no longer shocks — “About Cherry” (2012) treats the career as an alternative job opportunity — and sadism has been made the norm with such franchises as “Saw” (2004). So what is next?