What does it take to be controversial?

What does it take for a book, piece of art or a film to be truly controversial?

I suppose it depends on what you think controversial actually means. Take the movie Antichrist by Lars Von Trier. IMHO he could rename himself Lars Von Try Hard as the controversial elements that got it all the PR were totally gratuitous, sexual and violent, whereas the movie itself and the story… well, there are some other much better movies about crazy women around. Even something old like Misery by Stephen King beats Antichrist quite comfortably for pure story and engagement.

Philip Pullman was in the papers recently-ish after deciding to rewrite the New Testament. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/6601512/Atheist-author-Philip-Pullman-writes-alternative-ending-for-Jesus-in-Bible.html

And of course religion is always controversial, for obvious reasons, and ponderously written as it is, I still can’t think of much more successfully controversial than Dan Brown’s The da vinci code, which works because the controversial elements are the very centrepiece of the story.

Modern Art seems to take the Lars Von Trier approach – be controversial by shocking people and thinking of gimmicks. What amazes me there is how little quality actually seems to matter. I am pretty sure Tracy Emin would be one of the first people to admit that she is not a very talented artist technically, but that she has a world class talent for self promotion. I’m sure students spend as much time thinking of some sort of PR angle as they ever do actually learning their craft. An absolutely hilarious angle on that is an episode of Nathan Barley, featuring the artist 15peter20 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LP5-AjCCNw check it out here! If you have never seen Nathan Barley, please have a look, it’s one of many Chris Morris controversial pieces where the whole idea of controversy… ie dealing with a sacred cow of society is done by leading the poor animal gently into the light as opposed to the more usual art and movie approach of crassly shoving the dumb beast arse first into media mayhem.

Naturally I am hoping my own scribbles, which have been called controversial by a few, have a little more poignancy and subtlety than most… http://www.rexrichards.com

But, having said that, in my book, Shakespeare’s Truth, Prince William, the heir to the throne, meets a grisly end on about page 3… which I would have thought was pretty controversial! But most people don’t seem to care about that at all, somewhat controversially 🙂 they are more interested in the proof that Shakespeare could barely write his own name let alone a play!




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