Shock value

I used to be an incredibly big fan of shocking people just for the sake of being interesting. I remember vividly the day I presented a (fictional) research paper that I wrote on strippers for my first year English class in college. The students were completely shocked, and thought that I was a revolutionary or a daredevil. My teacher? She critiqued my continued use of alliteration. Over the years, I’ve mellowed, not because I’ve lost any of my enjoyment in shocking people, but just because I have to actually care about the person to want to shock them. Shocking strangers doesn’t really do anything for me.

So you can imagine my lack of shock when someone tried to pull this ploy on me yesterday. I’ve often noticed that guys will try to show off how shocking and cool they can be to pick up girls. That’s great if it works for you, but it has rarely worked on me since I turned 19. It was my last day of volunteering for SXSW (and wow, do I have some stories to tell you all about that!), and I was so tired and bored and done with all of the obnoxious people that I was ready to go. I was working with a very sweet young girl and a guy a couple of years younger than me who thought he could bring his A-game to the table. After exchanging obscure information about the deaths of great musicians (Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens) and discussing cool movies and shows we had seen over the week, he picked up the movie schedule and began to peruse. A few minutes later, he pointed one out to me.

“Did you see this one?”

I looked to where he was pointing – “Pussy Riot.” Of course I had followed their story since their arrest and “trial” in Russia. I think I even knew that there was a documentary about them. But here’s the thing. I don’t think he was asking because of any cultural interest.

“I pointed this out to someone yesterday and she thought I was trying to hit on her.”

“Well don’t worry, I don’t think you’re trying to hit on me.”

He had this way of talking almost in a whisper, so you had to lean in very close to hear him (which was probably part of his game). It was incredibly annoying. “Yeah, if I was, I would probably tell you about the posters I bought yesterday from Flatstock.” (poster show at SXSW for those who don’t know.)

I just looked at him and smiled, refusing to take the bait. After about 45 seconds, he gave up.

“Yeah, I had bought this one last year that is in the shape of a tank, but it’s a picture of a naked woman, and it has flowers all around it.”

“So it’s a statement about peace?”

“No. It’s just a naked woman. The one I bought yesterday was by the same artist, and was in the same design, but instead of a naked woman, it was a vulva.”

I don’t really know what response I could have made to that anyway, so my silence hopefully displayed my complete lack of caring. When that failed to get a rise out of me, he turned away and tried the same lines on the other girl working with us. Her reaction was much more hilarious: “Um, ew. Please don’t talk to me anymore today.” Then she came over and stood with me while we made fun of people.

I recognize that you have to get people’s attention, and that for some, going for shock value seems the best way to go. But one of the main reasons I gave that up was because you have to keep it going. It’s not enough to shock someone the first night; you have to keep that energy up for the duration of the relationship, whether that relationship is romantic or just friendly. If you are a naturally shocking person, that’s fine, but I think that very few people are inherently shocking. The ones who genuinely have shocking experiences and lives don’t usually brag about it, particularly to perfect strangers. They let the action sell itself, without the need to advertise it to anyone who will listen. And I have often felt that if you had to shock someone to get them to pay attention to you, their attention was too costly a thing. Your plain old boring self was never going to be enough.

So shock-value-guy and I didn’t hit it off, and I left SXSW unencumbered. Probably just as well. I don’t think we have the same taste in art.

– Finch

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