The night before I wrote this article, I ended up thinking about what several of my favourite creative works have in common with each other and the answer was “they make the audience feel like they’re rebelling“.
They’re the kind of things that don’t necessarily aim for shock value, but which just feel “rebellious” when seen, heard, played or read.
So, I thought that I’d look at a few ways that you can do this in your own creative works:
1) The journey, not the destination: A lot of what makes the audience feel like rebels isn’t the content of a work, but how that content is presented to them. In other words, things like your narrative voice, the background details in your art, the art style you use, the emotional tone of your song lyrics etc… matter a lot more than you might think.
In other words, rebellious creative works are more about the “journey” than the “destination”. They’re about the audience having the chance to experience hanging out with a really cool narrator, character, musician, fictional world etc.. than they are about telling a good story.
For example, the actual stories in Hewlett & Martin’s “Tank Girl” comics are bizarrely nonsensical things which, if they were written in a more “serious” way, wouldn’t be that good. Yet, these comics are so compellingly, rebelliously re-readable because of the eccentric characters, the anarchic “attitude” that these stories have, the hilariously puerile comedy and the gloriously detailed and unique art style:
So, the journey matters more than the destination.
2) Intelligent writing/visuals: Likewise, just because you want your audience to feel like “rebels” doesn’t mean that you should write badly, draw badly etc.. If anything, having a very good command of the intricacies of language and art can actually make a work seem more rebellious since it gives the audience the impression that they’re hanging out with someone cool, intelligent and/or interesting.
For example, here’s a quote from Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” (1971-2): ‘It was treacherous, stupid and demented in every way – but there was no avoiding the stench of twisted humour that hovered around the idea of a gonzo journalist in the grip of a potentially terminal drug episode being invited to cover the National District Attorney’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.‘
Although the novel that this quote is taken from is a wildly bizarre, satirical, countercultural classic – this quote actually uses rather formal and almost “literary” language. Although this is a novel with a drug-addled narrator, the prose here has the kind of clarity which only comes from carefully-crafted, sober writing. So, craftsmanship matters a lot more than you might think.
Likewise, using copious amounts of profanity won’t automatically make your audience feel like “rebels”. Using a measured amount of profanity in a carefully-chosen, clever and funny way – on the other hand – will. So, be funny, sparing, creative and intelligent with the profanity in your creative works.
3) Politics: Strange as it may sound, don’t get too political. Or, rather, don’t be too “serious” when you inevitably get political.
The best rebellious creative works have fun with politics. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum they land on, they actively attack pompous over-seriousness and self-righteousness. They often also have a very slightly “apolitical” quality too by actively ridiculing both “sides” of a political issue through showing what unpleasant features they have in common with each other.
But, when rebellious creative works include politics, they will often just quietly lead by example.
For example, they’ll just show characters who are typically sneered at by mainstream society in a more positive light. They’ll show authority figures as being stupid, hypocritical and/or malevolent. Or they might just show characters gleefully breaking petty, stupid and/or unjust rules, without anyone raising an eyebrow (or, conversely, show people over-reacting to said transgressions in a hilariously exaggerated way that highlights the ridiculousness of the rule in question).
4) Emotional satisfaction: In short, the best way to make your audience feel like rebels is to give them something. Whether it is acceptance, belonging, laughter, a different worldview etc… you need to give them something.
Because, despite all of the technical stuff I’ve mentioned, making your audience feel like rebels is an emotional thing. It’s the feeling of “wow” that comes from seeing something that is so different in perspective and tone from mainstream entertainment. It’s the feeling of “Wow! I didn’t know how to put that into words” that your audience get from something incredibly profound that they wouldn’t find in mainstream culture.
A great example of this type of rebellious emotional satisfaction can be found in an astonishingly good webcomic called “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree. Often, these comics will make some kind of point or express some facet of the human condition that isn’t often explored in mainstream creative works. And, Rowntree’s comics are some of the most emotionally-profound, but rebellious, things that you’ll ever read as a result:
So, yes, give your audience something. Whether you make them laugh, make them think, make them feel better or even make them see the world differently, give them something.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂