Shock Tactics are Teetering

How can you outrage an outrageous culture?

Madonna didn’t know how easy she had it back in the 1980s.

The Material Girl routinely shocked us back then with sexually charged antics and spiritual sticks in the eye. She had talent, of course, but her penchant for outrageous behavior cemented her superstar status. Today, with her record sales flagging, she’s vowed to feature pole-dancing nuns on her upcoming “Rebel Heart” tour.

Only our culture in 2015 isn’t so easily shocked, and she could be partly to blame. Ribald Facebook memes fill our status updates. Grisly Planned Parenthood videos reveal horrors out of an ’80s slasher movie. A generation weaned on Madonna’s shock shtick keeps upping the ante.

She’s not the only practiced provocateur whose shock tactics aren’t working like before.

Lady Gaga’s talents were often dwarfed by her performance art, to put it kindly. Does someone don a meat dress hoping no one will notice? The singer’s career hit a serious snag all the same. Her 2013 album “ARTPOP” proved one of that year’s most notable flops. She couldn’t even draw a crowd by teaming up with those lovable Muppets for a Thanksgiving special that same year.

Does someone don a meat dress hoping no one will notice?

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She engineered her own mini-comeback in March when she belted out a lovely tribute to “The Sound of Music” during the Academy Awards telecast. Viewers collectively gasped and muttered, “Oh, she can really sing,” showing how effective her public stunts had been at marginalizing her abilities.

Then there’s Miley Cyrus, who went from a former teen star to the most talked about singer on the planet thanks to her hyper-crude dancing on 2013’s MTV VMAs telecast. Her album “Bangerz” sizzled on the Billboard charts, but months later ticket sales to the accompanying tour started to drop off dramatically.

The singer may try to top herself, if that’s possible, as the host of MTV’s VMA telecast Aug. 30.

Shock comic Amy Schumer brought her persona to the big screen via this summer’s “Trainwreck,” which she co-wrote. The result? An impressive box office haul – more than $90 million so far. How did she do it? She modulated her free-spirited shtick, allowing the story to celebrate monogamy over casual sex.

Even “I Am Cait,” the reality show based on Bruce Jenner’s gender switch, isn’t drawing a crowd. Diane Sawyer’s much-hyped interview with Jenner before he began publicly identifying himself as a woman attracted more than 20 million viewers. Viewers who grew up with Bruce Jenner, Olympic hero, were clearly shocked to learn about his decades-long internal conflict. Yet E!’s reality show capturing the adjustment to living life as Caitlyn Jenner started off with modest ratings and dropped nearly 50 percent in week two.

And then there’s the King of All Media, Howard Stern. He rode the shock express for decades, defying those who considered him an audio flash in the pan. He mocked the naysayers, signed a fat contract to leave terrestrial radio and moved on SiriusXM radio. Stern has lasted longer than anyone expected, but today he’s barely a blip on the national conversation.

Perhaps he finally ran out of shocking topics.

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