I was just reading on Media Bistro how Good Morning America canceled Adam Lambert’s appearance originally scheduled for tomorrow morning after receiving over 1500 complaints due to Lambert’s racy performance on the American Music Awards last weekend. Sometimes celebrities go a little too far in their attempts to add shock value to a performance. Sure, they get the desired publicity, but is that always a good thing? It occurs to me many writers can use this as a learning experience. Shocking people is fun. Shocking people incites a reaction. There’s no denying people we’re going to talk about Adam Lambert for days, but is that a good thing? If you’re thinking of going for shock value in your writing, consider the following:
1. You have to live with your decision for a long time.
Scandals are almost always short lived but people remember. Almost six years after Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, we’re still reading about it or hearing about it news reports. Thanks to constantly pushing the envelope no one thinks of Madonna as a role model. People remember Michael Richards’ racial slurs and inappropriate remarks and many aren’t so forgiving. Before you plan on going for shock, consider how your readers will react. People like to drag up the past. Years after you publishing your shocking bit of writing people will still remember. If you’re going to go for negativity, obscenity, or vulgarity ask yourself if you’re prepared to continue defending your decision years down the line.
2. Traffic and sales are short lived.
That shocking tell all expose on the cover of the magazine? Sales may have been up for that issue, but they probably went down again a week later. Ditto website and blog traffic. Linkbait and shock may be good for a two or three day spike, but eventually life returns to normal. Going for timeless content will continue to bring in and build traffic over time, instead of having to rely on sporadic spikes in traffic due to scandalous content.
3. Your readers might not trust you anymore.
Your readers might feel betrayed if you were someone who is always positive but then went for an element of shock or surprise. In fact it could lead to confusion and outrage. It’s not fun having to defend yourself all the time. Before going for shock think of how your loyal community of readers will feel – as they’re the ones who should always come first.
Granted, shock isn’t always negative, but most of the time it’s not positive. If you’re going to do something out of character or constantly go for the shock element, be prepared to back up your decision – often. People tend to put the negative over all the good things we accomplish. Always remember that when going for something that is sure to stir up emotion.