1. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    The Functions of Shock

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by arron89, Mar 30, 2010.

    Having just read Sarah Kane's Blasted, arguably the most shocking work of the 20th century, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to shock (with regards to writing), and the reasons behind deliberately shocking an audience/a reader.

    So, before I get carried away, I was just wondering:

    1. What is the most shocking book/play/poem/movie you have seen/read?
    2. What made it so shocking? and
    3. What, if any, was the purpose the author had in mind?

    I think shock makes for an interesting discussion--hopefully a variety of answers will help us have one.
     
  2. Trevor
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    Trevor Member

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    1. Lolita, although it seems nothing compared to the synopsis I read of 'Blasted'
    2. The rationalization of pedophilia and Humbert's escalating sexual needs
    3. Either Nabokov's personal fantasy (I find unlikely), or to primarily grab reader's attention, gradually easing them into a pedophiles state of mind.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I can't think of any very shocking examples off the top of my head. But I will say this: people like shock and controversial issues, so some authors will employ shock as a means to sell more books.
     
  4. Cerealbox
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    Cerealbox Member

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    I've been surprised by what a character has done or said. I've read some books and seen some movies that dealt with uncomfortable topics in various ways, but I don't think I've ever been "shocked" by anything. Maybe I'm just desensitized to it.
     
  5. Nobeler Than Lettuce
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    Nobeler Than Lettuce Contributing Member

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    Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead had some shocking language, but I wasn't particularly affected by it.

    For example, at one point in the book, a character who's a known womanizer stares down in contemplation of his wound. He remarks later that, "It looks like a pussy."

    In the same novel, a character who we've spent a little time getting to know, poops himself, then waddles bare butt (pants around the ankles) across a field under motor fire to retrieve fresh pantaloons. His head ends up splitting like a melon.

    Which gets me into a broader subject: Why is "shocking" today all just the most viciously lewd, crude, and (sir may I say) uncouth stuff that's ever been thought? [There was a bunch of stuff here about how "my" novel is shocking, but I thought like it made me sound like a pompous ass, especially after reading the synopsis of "Blasted" which basically sums up the most Freudian of depths I've plumbed.]
     
  6. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I think violence is the (or one of the) only things left that really scares people. It's why we're so fascinated by it, so drawn to it in fiction, in plays, in movies. It's difficult to shock anyone with language anymore, difficult to shock with sex, because we've been exposed to it to such a massive extent. But with violence, especially the kind of ultra-graphic violence that we're talking about here (for those who haven't read a synopsis, Blasted depicts rape, torture and cannibalism in extremely close proximity to the audience) is something that still terrifies people, that they don't know how to deal with. And, in most of the cases I can think of, Blasted certainly included, it is intended to have a strong moralising effect. We're supposed to be horrified, confused, scared, sick, because that is what violence is, and so I think by exposing audiences to it, Kane is calling for a kind of moral reform. Basically, I think we are becoming desensitized to violence, and I think that lamentable fact is what authors like Kane are responding to.
     
  7. bruce
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    bruce Active Member

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    Perhaps this is one of the author's intentions.

    Furthermore, the reader could explore this question: Are humans inherently violent?
     
  8. Ellen1212
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    Ellen1212 Member

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    Shock

    I think that some writers use shock value as a hook, then readers find that without the shocking scenes there is nothing happening. Other writers will include scenes or language that may be considered shocking, but it is necessary to tell the story. Readers have different comfort levels and what is shocking to one may be okay to someone else. Personally I have a low tolerance for violence, so I steer clear of those books that contain graphic violence. I would much rather read Lolita than Hannibal. :)
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Why shock?

    What shocks is relative, so no use discussing that, but the fact that we are shockable is beyond doubt, so why?

    Perhaps to bring us closer to the basal self? Perhaps in an attempt to wade through the layers of culture and knowledge, concept and belief, down to the original human. To push the reader off the couch and onto the plains of the Serengeti for just a moment. To remind us what it it feels to feel that hot breath from the nostrils of a cheetah on our rump. To make us feel something real and uncomplicated and unpretentious. To remove the pretense that we are anything more than snazzy animals. Animals.
     
  10. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Edward Bond (another playwright, famous for his 'shocking' play Saved) writes extensively on violence, and claims that humans are not violent by (biological) necessity, and that if we were, our survival as a species would be threatened. Instead, he suggests that violence is an organisational function of human societies, and classifies it by four features:

    It's easy to place his work into that context, and even Kane's "feast of filth" seems to conform, but it's more difficult to place things like the Saw or Hostel films into these categories, which I think suggests that violence and other shocking concepts are becoming less obvious in their origins. Which leads back to the initial question: if graphic depictions of violence no longer conform with Bond's definition of violence, then how do we define shock, and why are we drawn to it (because it seems clear that, now more than ever, we are)?
     
  11. Ellen1212
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    shock

    Arron, I don't think we can assume that everyone is drawn to shock for the sake of shock. Most extremely violent movies seem to be popular with teenage boys. :)
     
  12. Ellen1212
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    Ellen1212 Member

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    Speak for yourself :) I don't have to see buckets of blood to know what's in my arteries.
     
  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed. Nor do I, but one must admit that there is a dynamic within human cultures to divorce ourselves from the experience of everything else with which we share this planet. A dynamic that says, "I have nothing in common with a gazelle running from a cheetah. That is an animal, I am a human." I think shock within literature and other media serves, in whatever form the shock takes, to bring us back to a core knowledge hidden by layers of culture and artifice that we are very much the gazelle, and only sometimes the cheetah.
     
  14. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Shock is adrenaline.

    I don't think you need to intellectualize it in order to understand its appeal. People do the most outrageous and hazardous things for the sake of getting an adrenaline fix. I'm somewhat guilty of this myself. It's the only real reason I own a crotch-rocket. Cars are safer and more practical. I parachuted once, despite my vertigo. As a kid I rang doorbells and ran off. All of it for the same reason -- to get an adrenaline kick. Why do we want that? Because it feels awesome. That's about as deep as it goes, I think.

    Fiction can supply a bit of this feeling, while in a safe environment -- your imagination.
     
  15. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    While I agree that the adrenaline aspect may play a part in why so many people are drawn to shocking books, plays and movies, I think you'll agree that there is a vast difference between reading about/watching someone pulling a doorbell prank or even jumping out of a plane, and having their eyeballs sucked out of their head and eaten just metres away from you (as happens in one scene of Blasted). I don't buy that the only reason Kane wrote that scene was to get the audience's adrenaline pumping.
     
  16. Nobeler Than Lettuce
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    Nobeler Than Lettuce Contributing Member

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    Because shocking is realistic. It's similar to the "Pearl Diving" short story by Palahniuk, in which a boys sister is impregnated by semen that he accidentally left in the pool after masturbation. Well, in that instance it was more funny than realistic. Which is scary, when you get so desensitized to shock that it becomes hilarious. Something Awful's forums used to excel at that. After all, we'd all seen tub girl and harlequin babies a few hundred times, why not practice this as humor, as an art.

    Which reminds me of the short stories I used to read by a famous member, in one, during a funeral, he tricks a drugged up girl he knows to take a xanax off the tip of his penis, while he does this someone walks in on them both, the guy plays the victim, and the girl is thrown out.

    In my own work I've tried to be shocking, from acting out action scenes in a realistic manner to... Which reminds me, this was my argument to begin with. Lolita was written as another one of Nabokov's rabid love songs. I've read Glory, and it was the same, except more appropriate. Though the main character still has an older woman teach him the ropes. It ends with a death pledge, and I like that aspect of love. I can only imagine someone with such genius would want to imagine a circumstance we may be uncomfortable with in order to achieve his goal of beautifying humanity.

    Anyhow, in my own work I've got this schizophrenic who rabidly drinks and masturbates to mental pictures of his family and girlfriend in rape and murder situations while playing the central role. He never speaks of this, and barely remembers that it had happened afterward. Turns out, a government agency using a new medical technology finds him out, by literally listening to and watching his thoughts. The idea is really quite clever, read the one terrible short story I've written here http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=27038

    So you have somewhat of an idea of what I'm trying. The novel also deals quite strongly with drug usage and casual sex, but I feel it ends with a blunt point about humanity.

    So, having been an SA Goon and being interested in the genera of "shock" I can say we can see humor in it, such as in the famous blog "The Diaries of a Porn Store Clerk" and in the short story I mentioned, or maybe some kid murders some other kid for not sharing his Twix bar, I dunno. It goes on. It's not just an adrenalin rush, but if you could think of a disgusting half grown arm, which is peeling skin, and is covered in mucus, reaching out to grab a putrid red sun which is it's god, than you can imagine what shock artists are trying to do.
     
  17. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I definitely agree that shock stretched to absurdity has a strong humourous element (Pahlaniuk is a good example). Maybe not laugh out loud funny, but I get what you mean. But then, is that humourous shock entirely without any finer moral purpose?

    The example of Lolita is an interesting one--Nabokov has stated over and over again that he did not intend his novel to be moralising (nor, obviously, to be glorifying pedophilia). So where does that leave its shock? Is it simply an author exploring a taboo area in an effort to explore human nature, is it a reflection of how he percieves the world (but, perhaps, exaggerated) or is it shock for the sake of shock, a cheap attempt to drum up more sales? Does the violence of Humbert Humbert fit into Bond's categorisation of violence?
     
  18. Nobeler Than Lettuce
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    Nobeler Than Lettuce Contributing Member

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    Someone can probably answer this better, but I'm quickly becoming a fan of this thread.

    The funny thing about the oddball side of shock is that the author usually goes through great pains to work the entire story into a moral purpose. They deal with powerful moral questions anyway, so I find that they're usually so deep in the mire they can't help but attach great lessons into their stories. Whether or not these lessons say much (at camp, always share your twix or a spiteful kid won't save you when you're drowning) they still have the hallmark of a great story, which is of course a simple message about human nature.

    With Lolita I see the actions of Humbert tiptoeing the line between Bond's third and fourth characterization of violence. (Simply because Humbert may not know completely himself why he resorted to it.) The murder of Quilty seemed to be a violent response to the wholesale degradation he tried to enforce on Lolita. In the mind of Humbert, Lolita was a lovely creature, and he only later laments that he had robbed her of her youth. I think it was an act of (perhaps hypocritical) vengeance against another, more disdainful, thief of innocence.

    And I most certainly believe that Nabokov did not write Lolita purely for it's shock value. Lolita was herself a user, and it is debated whether Humbert was, in fact, the one being led along. With that in mind (and other common arguments) I cannot dismiss the fact that Nabokov probably knew that he would make people uncomfortable with this work, but, as it is with the man, his depiction of human emotion is too endearing to give it a single simple label.

    A hundred and some odd years ago the whole scenario of a 12 year old marrying an older man wouldn't have been so strange, maybe even romantic if chivalrous actions were involved. But once again Nabokov slices us with realism, from the sexual favors called for, to the pornographic film, to the word "nymphet" as a term for any young thing Humbert'd like to bone. The characters salivate for and crave little girls for different reasons and in different capacities. But I'm tired of waxing philosophical on this subject, and I'll finish this post with the immortal words of the bard - Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.

    Who would be a poor man, a beggarman, a thief --
    if he had a rich man in his hand?
    And who would steal the candy
    from a laughing baby's mouth
    if he could take it from the money man?
    Cross-eyed Mary goes jumping in again.
    She signs no contract
    but she always plays the game.
    Dines in Hampstead village
    on expense accounted gruel,
    and the jack-knife barber drops her off at school.
    Laughing in the playground -- gets no kicks from little boys:
    would rather make it with a letching grey.
    Or maybe her attention is drawn by Aqualung,
    who watches through the railings as they play.
    Cross-eyed Mary finds it hard to get along.
    She's a poor man's rich girl
    and she'll do it for a song.
    She's a rich man stealer
    but her favour's good and strong:
    She's the Robin Hood of Highgate --
    helps the poor man get along.
     
  19. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think explicit gore and violence is a little different as it triggers a morbid fascination/repulsion conflict, similar to what people experience when passing a traffic accident -- they don't wanna look, and yet they stop and look, and their own fascination becomes repulsive to them. We just can't get comfortable when facing our own mortality.

    I haven't read Blasted, so I wouldn't make assumptions as to why he wrote what he wrote. I haven't felt a need to include explicitly morbid stuff in my own work either, but my guess is that it has some kind of cathartic effect. I think this because gore movies tend to have the same lasting effect on me as classic tragedies.
     

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