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THOUGHTBAR: What is Provocative?

No, that’s not a weird shaped bullet or a knob from a radiator. It is indeed what you think it is. Are you feeling uncomfortable yet? If you are, then it’s definitely the right time to ponder this question: what is provocative?

Provocation is everywhere: art, music, film, fashion, advertising, journalism, etc. Our days are filled to the brim with people who intend to – and things that are created to – shock us. Shake us to our core so we take action, whether it’s to buy something, change our beliefs, or simply to make us remember.

Does anyone else ever feel the need to get some distance from all of this on some days? Away from out-of-place genitalia, dismemberment, religious extremism, end-of-the world proclamations.

Yes, provocation and the intention to offend can serve to counter social illnesses and harmful practices. But how often is this actually the case? What if they’re just there for the sake of commerce? Or hiding behind the veil of art?

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve become quite immune to any shock tactics that the media or artists can throw at us. I walked through an installation in MoMA more confounded by bags of cat litter on the floor than a cheese with very long and very questionable human hair coming out of it – because why wouldn’t there be pubic hair in art?

People post about brutal killings by terrorist groups on FB, only to follow that with a gym selfie 23 minutes later. I’m not trying to claim that it’s insincere – what this shows is that we’ve seen it all, to the point where we can dismiss provocative events and move on from the trauma almost instantly. Everything we see, hear, and are told to think is first sensationalised by the source, which we then swiftly normalise.

Ultimately, none of that provocation shakes us to the core or change our beliefs. It only desensitises us to the world. Makes us less empathetic, less sentimental. What does it all amount to then? Perhaps we buy something.

After mulling over this question, I came to my own conclusion: provocative is an idea. Something that’s truly provocative shouldn’t desensitise us. It should make us more sensitive because alters the way we think about something.

This kind of provocation offends because it’s humbling, and that’s what real provocation is. It’s controversial because we’re forced to face our wrongdoings or ignorance.

And with that, few things can actually be deemed as provocative. No, this necklace isn’t provocative. It’s just a dangling phallic shaped pendant. Nothing more, nothing less. It's creative expression and a successful one at that. It caught people's attention like it intended to, whether it was positive or negative. My point here doesn't relate so much to pendants as it does to misogynists or bigots who make statements with the intention to shock, as they do.

Perhaps it’s best that we’re only provoked when our rationality is challenged, and not by something that seems shocking or perverse.

Being easily offended is exhausting and I’m committed to not be upset by things that aren't, at their core, provocative. Who else is with me?