In the 19th Century, respectability was important in most of the Western world. Men and women of all classes strove for it. Sometimes the striving was emotionally painful and financially difficult. Possibly in reaction, artists in France adopted épater le bourgeois as their rallying cry. Needless to say, the theme didn’t stay within French borders. The zeitgeist was picked up in other parts of the world by other artists and certainly floated unknown, unrecognized, and unobserved above the thoughts and feelings of most of humanity in a time before mass media, such were the unimportant contributions of many of these artistes.
Today, you would think the theme would have run its course. Oscar Wilde was truly clever and funny. That was then. By today’s standards of épater le bourgeois, Oscar was a true genius practicing épater le bourgeois with élan. Surely, imitation of épater le bourgeois by lowbrow entertainers has made it trite by now. It’s odd that a cheap, unoriginal, sterile approach lives on in the simple-minded themes and acts of artists that hold so much attention in pop culture today. Madonna kissed Britney Spears to shock us. Former child star Miley Cyrus fake kissed a girl in the same inane spirit. And soi-disant Lady Gaga has trumped them all in a music video named “Alejandro” that displays the banality of today’s trite épater le bourgeois. Poor thing this Lady Gaga. You know you’re just a bore when Katy Perry, singer of such épater le bourgeois songs as “Ur so Gay” and “I Kissed a Girl,” calls Ms. Gaga’s video blasphemous and compares it to “a comedian telling a fart joke.” It’s good to see Katy Perry can be judgmental.
Being creative is hard work. Being vulgar to shock the middle class is by now simply the last refuge of an empty mind; it’s not shocking at all. We expect disrespect from people like Lady Gaga. After all, we’d only be shocked if she sang something beautiful, inspirational, or possibly with more than ten words in the song.