The New Transgressiveness

Let’s play “connect the dots.” My turn.

Question: What do the explosive popularity of the movie Brüno and the tidal wave of emotion and grief that followed the death of Michael Jackson have in common? Give up? 

Answer: They both provide glaring proof that the general public now has a limitless unconditional tolerance for extremely strange and transgressive behavior. No matter how hard you try—surgically morphing into Peter Pan while residing in your very own amusement park or flaunting a talking penis—nothing you do will be perceived as shocking.

In this “anything goes” world of ours, the cuckoo stakes are now so high that it is becoming increasingly hard for ordinary leprechauns like myself to shock or appall those around us. I find this somewhat unfair and quite exhausting. Now that otherwordly shenanigans have become the norm, one is forced to really knock oneself out in order to come up with ideas or behaviors that will create an attention-getting frisson.

But somehow, despite the monumentality of this challenge, one has managed to come up with a list. Below are some untested shock tactics that one would like you to road-test on one’s behalf:

1. Dressing smartly. Looking as if you have been dragged through the Gowanus Canal backward—skinny jeans, distressed L-Word Shane coiffure, lightweight striped cardigans and stained plunging-neck T-shirts—is so totally ubiquitous that the only way to really look like a rebel is to be well-pressed, tidy, coiffed and prissy. Even Sonia Sotomayor appears to have adopted the bedraggled Gowanus grunge look.

2. Littering. Once the norm, littering is now the fastest way to get you committed to an institution of some kind. Nothing in our society is currently more unacceptable than dropping trash. Not even Brüno had the kugels to try this one. If you really want to create a memorable impression, try crumpling your Mountain Dew can and hurling it, along with a copy of this newspaper, out of a cab window at the 57th Street stoplight.

3. Living with your parents, not because you are laid-off and broke, but because you like it. Having just returned from Italy, the land of the plunging birthrate and the dreaded “mammones,” those guys who won’t leave the family home and were even exhorted to do so by the pope, this particular transgression is top of mind. Though living with mama may be the norm in Italy, it is still wildly unexpected on this side of the Atlantic and will score you oodles of frownie points. So why not freak out your mishpocheh and become that aging son at the breakfast table in the satin smoking jacket and hair-net? (Ref: Fellini’s Roma.)

4. Saying that global warming is a con and carrying around a copy of Professor Ian Plimer’s fascinating new book Heaven and Earth (Taylor Trade Publishing, $21.95). If you opt to try this one, proceed with caution. The green movement, of which I have always been a member, has new zealots who consider any challenge to their religion to be the basis for a fatwa. Take baby steps: Start with casual statements like: “CO2 is not a pollutant. It’s a plant food.” If nobody attempts to kill you, then try: “Polar ice has only been present on Earth for 20 percent of geological time anyway” Where do I stand on this issue? How the f**k would I or anyone else in the world of fashion acquire any degree of certainty about anything to do with such a gigunda topic? But wouldn’t it be fab if Professor Plimer was right? We could all relax and go back to recycling and conserving energy just because we felt like it.

5. Admitting that high heels are bad for your hips, knees and back. Chicks have made a tacit agreement with one another never to discuss the fact that they are crippling themselves by wearing new and ever-more-pornographic heels. A straightforward admission of this fact would make you seem even more heretical than a climate-change denier.

Full disclosure: I have a vested interest in having the ladies adopt a more balanced approach to footwear. If the current spike-heel madness continues, I fear that my old age is doomed to be spent pushing all my chums around in wheelchairs.

P.S. The good news about sitting in a wheelchair is that you can wear those really insanely pornographic Bettie Page crawling-around-the-floor shoes.

 sdoonan@observer.com   

 

The New Transgressiveness