Shocked? Shocked!

How to cause a scandal in a transgressive age.

A hundred and twenty years ago, people lost it over an exposed shoulder. Now we can barely sustain scandal for longer than a week over full frontal nudity—or full posterior nudity.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker.

Desperate to indulge in some freaky transgressive behavior and show the world what a rebel you are? Good luck!

Jim Morrison’s Florida flash; Carol Doda’s topless revolution; Kenneth Tynan’s TV F-bomb; the louche shenanigans of Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies! Oh those naughty, glamorous, and iconic transgressors of yore! How quaint they all seem now. How little it took, in the last century, to become notorious, and how much, much more it takes today.

Thanks to the endless whirligig of overstimulating, exhibitionistic filth and delight known as the Internet, the bar is now set so high that any young person looking to stand out from the herd better be prepared to twirl those pasties at the speed of light. (Even mixing metaphors is now just like so totally whatever.) Consider Kim Kardashian, on whose behind’s behalf Paper magazine promised to “break the Internet.” The luscious Jean-Paul Goude photos of her remarkable rump-o’-smooth-skin—I’m referencing Sir Mix-a-Lot here—created a gorgeously ass-tastic pop moment. But were we shocked? Hardly.

The problem is quite simple: All the tried-and-true methods that the fame-seeking funsters of yore deployed in order to rattle the status quo have become so overused and ubiquitous that they have lost all their kapow.

Nudity? Who doesn’t have a porno tape? The slapping sound of naked flesh-on-flesh is the soundtrack to our age. Every time I turn on the telly, I am confronted with a cavalcade of rutting buttocks and jiggly bits, and that’s just Channel 13. Things have reached the point where I am starting to appreciate the Victorian penchant for covering piano legs with little frilly bespoke skirts.

Violence? The only thing more commonplace than nudity is the smackdown. If it’s not Claire Danes grinding her teeth and drone-striking people to smithereens, it’s Andy Cohen refereeing belligerent middle-aged tarts whilst they swing on each others hair extensions.

Fake knockers? In the past, extreme plastic surgery was a great way to thumb your nose at convention whilst also making sure that the spotlight swung in your direction. An inflated rack was a failsafe route toward electrifying notoriety, or at least an audition for a Russ Meyer movie. Now massive hooters are so common that I am surprised that I don’t have a pair. And remember those halcyon innocent days when Jocelyn Wildenstein’s faux-feline features seemed unusual and noteworthy? Now that purring punim is everywhere.

OK. Enough lamentation. Let’s become a little more solution-oriented. If you are looking to proclaim your radical super-freakiness, what the hell are you supposed to do now that all the old tropes and tricks have lost their bad-ass resonance?

First, you must lower your expectations, way down past your knee-highs, way past those copulating aardvarks and that Sanskrit inscription tattooed onto your calf. Accept that it is no longer possible to cause a ferocious fracas simply by removing a foundation garment and setting fire to it. Today it’s all about a mini-fracas.

Mini-fracas can be achieved by pulling stunts that are seemingly ordinary but—and this is the important part—context-inappropriate. Here is a heartwarming example: After your yoga class, while the other devotees are smugly filling up their eco-friendly metal canteens with locally harvested cruelty free tap water, try conspicuously swigging a jumbo bottle of Mountain Dew. The resulting micro-fracas will not propel you onto the cover of the New York Post, but, trust me, you will feel the atmosphere crackle with discomfort and fascination. And then, if you feel things have gone well and you want to turn your mini-fracas into a maxi-furor—this is so transgressive that I am trembling as I write—simply toss the Mountain Dew bottle into the street.

Suggestion No. 2: Demure is the new slutty. Since everyone now dresses like a stripper, you have a clear opportunity to rock the bateau by heading in the opposite direction. Ditch the skinny jeans and the plunging halter and start dressing like a midcentury librarian-slash-Mormon. Go archconservative to the point of perversity. Nylons, sweater-sets, a string of pearls and pair of sensible shoes will, if worn in an unexpected context—a strip joint, a fist-bumping New Jersey disco, a biker bar—transform you into a figure of intrigue and speculation. I am not sure if you will get a maxi-fracas out of it, but you are guaranteed a micro-frisson or two.

Foodie fracas: Foodie culture presents myriad opportunities for anarchy. This codified and demented world is screaming to be punk’d, and you are just the man/woman/transperson for the job. Don’t worry: The effort required is minimal. Just going off-menu can give the waiter, to mention nothing of the food-fetishizing adjacent diners, a heart attack.

“No I don’t want the foraged lamb’s pancreas with extra-virgin truffle foam, I want a tuna melt.”  Note: The more prosaic your substitutions, the greater the potential uproar.

Pastimes: Nothing says I am an insane-but-noteworthy visionary quite like a weird hobby. As with everything else, the more obvious outré options are already oversubscribed, rendering them of little use to you. Prime example: taxidermy, the new hipster hobby. One Brit pal told me recently that she was so excited to be part of the trendy taxidermy community that, during her first lesson, her hand became so sweaty that an entire mole pelt got stuck to it. In order to seem like a rebel and rise above the stench of formaldehyde, you must eschew the goat corpses and take up something jarringly quotidian and gender-inappropriate, and then do it somewhere completely unexpected. For example: I see you knitting a fluffy angora sweater at a NASCAR rally, and you are a man.

Speaking of fluff: Let’s talk body hair, the final transgressive frontier. Girls! Next summer is only seven months away. If you ceased all depilatory activity now, you could be sasquatch-perfect by the time Memorial Day rolls around. The new “natural” you will, in our hyper-tweezed, Barbie, body-con culture, undoubtedly provide the ultimate mega-transgression and may well earn you that transgressional medal of honor. Are you bold enough—and hairy enough—to break the Internet? There’s only one way to find out.

Bon chance!