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Shock value

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Title: Shock value  
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Subject: Shock jock, National Revival of Poland, Conformity, Marilyn Manson (band), Culture jamming
Collection: Popular Psychology
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Shock value

Shock value is the potential of an action (as a public execution), image, text, or other form of communication to provoke a reaction of sharp disgust, shock, anger, fear, or similar negative emotions.


  • Shock value as humor 1
  • Shock value in advertising 2
  • Shock value in music 3
  • Shock value in television and movies 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6

Shock value as humor

The term off-color humor (also known as dirty jokes) is an Americanism used to describe jokes, prose, poems, black comedy, blue comedy and skits that deal with topics considered to be in poor taste or overly vulgar by the prevailing morality of a culture. Most commonly labeled as "off-color" are acts concerned with a particular ethnic group or gender. Other off-color topics include violence, particularly domestic abuse; excessive swearing or profanity; "toilet humor"; national superiority or inferiority; "dead baby" jokes; and other topics generally considered impolite or indecent. Generally, the intent of off-color humor is to induce laughter by evoking a feeling of shock and surprise in the comedian's audience. In this way, off-color humor is related to other forms of postmodern humor, such as the anti-joke.

In the 1990s and modern era, comedians such as Dave Chappelle use shocking content to draw attention to their criticism of social issues, especially censorship and the socioeconomic divide. The highly-praised television show South Park also popularized the use of offensive humor, for which the show has become infamous. The Aristocrats is perhaps the most famous dirty joke in the US due to its high shock value and is certainly one of the best-known and most oft-repeated among comedians themselves.

Shock value in advertising

Shock advertising or Shockvertising is a type of advertising generally regarded as one that “deliberately, rather than inadvertently, startles and offends its audience by violating norms for social values and personal ideals.” [1] It is the employment in advertising or public relations of "graphic imagery and blunt slogans to highlight"[2] a public policy issue, goods, or services. Shock advertising is designed principally to break through the advertising “clutter” to capture attention and create buzz, and also to attract an audience to a certain brand or bring awareness to a certain public service issue, health issue, or cause (e.g., urging drivers to use their seatbelts, promoting STD prevention, bringing awareness of racism and other injustices, or discouraging smoking among teens).[3]

The Benetton Group has come under particular scrutiny for the use of shock advertisements in its campaigns, leading to public outrage and consumer complaints.[4] However, several of Benetton’s advertisements have also been the subject of much praise for heightening awareness of significant social issues and for “taking a stand” against infringements on human rights, civil liberties, and environmental rights.[5] Benetton’s advertisements have featured images of portions of men’s and women’s bodies with tattoos that say “HIV Positive”, a Black woman breastfeeding a White infant (which could be celebrated as a championing image of racial diversity or raising awareness of racial issues yet was also denounced for its historical connotations when Black women, during slavery, were often required to become caretakers for White children), a priest and a nun leaning to kiss each other, as well as a group of real death row inmates (alluding to issues concerning capital punishment). Other shocking advertisements released by Benetton include an image of a duck covered in oil (addressing issues of oil spillage and the cleanliness of oceans), a man dying of AIDS, a soldier holding a human bone, as well as a newborn infant still attached to its umbilical cord, which "was intended as an anthem to life, but was one of the most censured visuals in the history of Benetton ads." [6] Oliviero Toscani, a photographer for Benetton who contributed to many of its shocking advertisements, said, regarding the advertisement he created of a man dying from AIDS, that he wanted "to use the forum of poster advertising to make people aware of this [AIDS] tragedy at a time when no-one dared to show AIDS patients." [7]

Shock value in music

Shock rock is a wide umbrella term for artists who combine rock music with elements of theatrical shock value in live performances.[8]

Screamin' Jay Hawkins was arguably the first shock rocker. After the success of his 1957 hit "I Put a Spell on You", Hawkins began to perform a recurring stunt at many of his live shows: he would emerge from a coffin, sing into a skull-shaped microphone and set off smoke bombs.[9]

Marilyn Manson is perhaps the most notable act in the shock rock scene. Known for his controversial stage persona, Manson and his band dress in outlandish makeup and costumes, and have engaged in intentionally shocking behavior both onstage and off. In the past, their lyrics often received criticism for their anti-religious sentiment and references to sex, violence and drugs. Manson's live shows are known for their uniquely theatrical stage presence, which has included Manson burning the American flag, ripping and burning the Bible and tossing it into the crowd, self-mutilating himself on stage, being pulled onto stage in a Roman chariot being pulled by naked women, wearing outrageous costumes and so on.

Other notable acts include Alice Cooper, Rammstein, Iggy Pop, W.A.S.P, GWAR, Twisted Sister, GG Allin, Christian Death, Slipknot, and the Misfits.

Shock value is also big in Hip hop music, and sometimes under the genre of horrorcore. One notable artist is Eminem, known as possibly one of the most controversial rappers of all time. With lyrics using the word "faggot" and songs about murdering his wife, rape, and the use of drugs.[10]

Shock value in television and movies

Shock value is a common way to show people graphically how dangerous a situation is, by depicting the death of a minor character, or the serious injury or near death of a character. A frequently referenced example is the deaths of redshirts in Star Trek. Near misses on major characters are commonly used, such as in Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, etc.

This can also involve the occurrence or performance of disturbing or horrifying phenomena or actions to draw the attention of viewers, or to force them to consider the events depicted at a personal level. Examples would include a scene of a military hospital with patients with horrible or disgusting wounds, a shot of a battlefield covered in corpses, or the depiction of emotional abuse.

See also


  1. ^ Dahl, Darren W. et al. "Does it pay to shock? Reactions to Shocking and Nonshocking Advertising Content among University Students" Journal of Advertising Research 43 (2003): 268-280. Page 268, Retrieved January 22, 2008
  2. ^ "BBC News - E-CYCLOPEDIA - Shockvertising: Ads that divide". 
  3. ^ Waller, David S. "What factors make controversial advertising offensive?: A Preliminary Study" ANZCA (2004): 1-10. Page 1, Retrieved January 23, 2008
  4. ^ Dahl 2003, p.268-270
  5. ^ Zumbansen, Peer. "Federal Constitutional Court Rejects Ban on Benetton Shock Ads: Free Expression, Fair Competition and the Opaque Boundaries Between Political Message and Social Moral Standards." German Law Journal No. 1 (2001) Retrieved January 26, 2008
  6. ^ "Page Not Found". 
  7. ^ Pegrum, Mark. "A Big Disease with a Little Name" 1 (1997)
  8. ^ Furek, Maxim W. (2008). "The Death Proclamation of Generation X: A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy of Goth, Grunge and Heroin". i-Universe. ISBN 978-0-595-46319-0
  9. ^ Edward M. Komara (2006). Encyclopedia of the Blues: A-J. Routledge. p. 415. Retrieved 2008-12-04. 
  10. ^ Eminem's 15 Most Controversial Lyrics Of All Time. (2015, January 5). Retrieved May 31, 2015.
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