Meh: Lil Nas X Highlighted the Declining Power of the "Shock Factor"

One thing they teach you in improv is that you never really go to the most shocking response or subject first. Once you hit that, there’s not really anywhere else to go. It’s a rule you can use at any given social interaction, too. The guy who’s always saying the most radical and shocking things doesn’t continue to be radical or shocking. He’s annoying and is viewed as a bit of a try-hard.

It took a lot longer for mainstream culture to get there, but it got there nonetheless. Lil Nas X’s attempt at getting Christians to clutch their pearls on Palm Sunday was proof of this.

As my colleague, Joe Cunningham pointed out, “Satan” trended on Palm Sunday thanks to the rapper famous for “Old Town Road,” who released a music video called “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” where he descends into Hell from the Garden of Eden via a stripper pole and gives Satan a lapdance. This culminated in the release of a shoe with collaboration from MSCHF and Lil Nas X that features a drop of human blood in the gel part of the shoe.

(READ: Why “Satan” Was Trending on Palm Sunday)

As a Christian, I should be outraged or shocked, but really I can’t get past “apathetic.” As I’ve written before, our society (and my millennial age group, in particular) was there when Madonna first started shocking people in the ’80s. We thought it was funny when Eminem arrived on the scene and began getting kids to sing every word to “My Name Is.” We all shouted “whoa” when Justin Timberlake ripped off a piece of Janet Jackson’s costume during a super bowl dance, exposing one of her breasts. We were there when the artistic community went bananas over the “Piss Christ” display and learned how to pause the VHS tape at the right moment on “Basic Instinct.”

We grew up watching South Park.

At this point, a gay black man sliding down a stripper pole into hell to give Satan a lap dance is ho-hum. Being gay is about as common as gray on a rat nowadays and I think Cardi B pretty much covered that strippers aren’t the attention-getter they once were. There being “whores in this house” doesn’t exactly pull in the ratings.

It all comes off as trying too hard, and the only people thinking it’s shocking and cool are the people who think it’s really pissing off Christians. To be sure, some Christians are pissed, but the vast majority of us are, like everyone else, desensitized to the point of looking at it and thinking “meh…seen it.”

Some people may think that this level of desensitization is a tragedy in and of itself, but I’m not so sure. I feel like our society could stand to be less shocked by things. The shock, anger, and retaliation are why people do a lot of this stuff in the first place. Shock generates conversation, which garners eyeballs, and then a choice of ideological sides. This divisiveness can be utilized to sell anything from shoes to political positioning.

To be clear, Christians can still not be shocked by something and think it’s wrong, but the attraction the mainstream media has toward “shock value” is oftentimes centered around the idea that Christians were somehow hurt or saddened by it in the same way kids who went full-emo did it because they thought it pissed off their parents. It reminds me of the weird son from Wedding Crashers.

It’s just hard to be hurt or saddened by something when, all things considered, I’ve seen worse and it’s clear that Lil Nas X’s display was a naked attempt at giving the middle finger to Christians and making them angry.

Congratulations, dude. You’re the umpteen-thousandth person to take that route and while you’re getting back slaps and atta-boys from your mainstream colleagues, the rest of America is likely just going to shrug and focus on winning their Warzone gulag.

If the mainstream media really wants to shock people, then do something that no one will see coming. It will subvert all expectations and cause an explosion of a national conversation that will piss off a good many people.

Allow for ideological diversity.