Succès de scandale

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Succès de scandale is French for "success from scandal", i.e. when (part of) a success derives from a scandal.

It might seem contradictory that any kind of success might follow from scandal, but scandal attracts attention, and this attention (whether gossip or bad press or any other kind) is sometimes the beginning of notoriety and/or other successes. Today, the often-used cynical phrase, "no such thing as bad publicity" is indicative of the extent to which "success by scandal" is a part of modern mass media culture.

The archetypal example of succès de scandale in art is Stravinsky's ballet Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), which premiered in 1913 by the Ballets Russes. During the Belle Époque, the public attending this premiere was so scandalised by the sounds produced by the orchestra, and the evocation of a blood sacrifice on stage, that a riot broke out. Negative press and criticism followed, but Stravinsky kept aloof.

Belle Époque[edit]

The Luncheon on the Grass was one of the first in a series of Parisian succès de scandale.
Not a commercial success in Europe, Paul Chabas's September Morn ended up in the permanent collection of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, after scandalising Anthony Comstock and his New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.
Strauss' head on a silver platter satirizes the decapitation of John the Baptist in his operatic version of Wilde's Salome

Belle Époque Paris appears to have had exactly the right climate for succès de scandale (which is probably also the reason why this is where the term originated): in all examples below, regarding famous artists kicking off their career with some sort of scandal, there are at least some connections with turn of the 20th century Paris. In other cities, provoking a scandal appeared more risky, as Oscar Wilde found out shortly after his relatively "successful" Parisian scandal (Salomé — 1894, portraying the main character as a necrophile):

  • Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) by Édouard Manet, presented at the Salon des refusés, 1863: Even the Emperor was scandalised — but Manet had a nice start to his career.
  • Alfred Jarry shocked Paris in 1896 with the first of his absurdistic Ubu plays: Ubu Roi. The performance of this play was forbidden after the first night. No problem for Jarry: he moved the production to a puppet theatre.
  • A new group of artists, labelled disrespectfully "Les Fauves" ("The Wild Beasts") by an art critic, had their successful debut in 1905 Paris (and kept the name).
  • Richard Strauss had had little success with his first two operas, which today are no longer performed. Consequently, he tried something different: he set music to Wilde's Salomé in 1905, and racketed quite some scandal with this opera, including in the New York Met, where the production had to be closed after one night. But Strauss wanted more: his next opera (Elektra, 1909) was so "noisy" that cartoons appeared with Strauss directing an orchestra of animals. Then Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the textwriter of this second "successful" production, seems to have taken the right decision, in restraining Strauss from getting even bolder: Strauss's success was guaranteed without any further scandal, so Hofmannsthal wrote a bittersweet scenario with a theme of resigning to the fact of getting older, for Strauss's next (and after all most successful) opera. Only two world wars later, Strauss became involved in scandal again, for his way of realising what was then considered as the highest ambition: directing the Bayreuther Festspiele). Here, however, scandal came after the success.
  • L'après-midi d'un faune (1912): see Afternoon of a Faun (Nijinsky).
  • The Rite of Spring (1913): see introduction to this article.
  • Parade production of 1917: see Parade (ballet).
  • George Antheil's 1923 performance of futurist piano music at the Champs-Élysées theater.[1]
  • Paul Chabas had won a most prestigious prize with his September Morn in Paris in 1912. Nudity as portrayed in this painting was however far from being able to shock a Parisian public, half a century after the Déjeuner. So, notwithstanding the "official" prize, market value of the painting remained low. Then, Chabas put it on show in a New York shop window in 1913. There, for the first time in history, it appears a succès de scandale scheme was set up by a publicity agent (Harry Reichenbach), who "accidentally" coached a morality crusader along the picture. The scandal that evolved brought financial success and secured Chabas's place in art history books. Although later deemed kitsch, the painting ended up in one of the most prestigious museums of New York.

More recent examples of "No such thing as bad publicity"[edit]

This was not the last time that Comstockery fanned the success it wanted to fence: "I expect it will be the making of me" said Mae West to the press in 1927, under arrest after the Society for the Suppression of Vice had maneuvered to get her play titled "Sex" re-censored by the Police Department Play Jury — a few years later, over forty, her sex-symbol status paid off: her 1935 film contract made her the highest paid woman till that day.

Due to more widespread use of the Internet, recently celebrity sex tapes have found widespread distribution. However, in many cases, these tapes have served to cause an increase in popularity of those featured, most notably in the case of Paris Hilton, whose tape was "discovered" shortly before her reality show debuted, and Edison Chen, in which hundreds of pictures flooded the Internet depicting the Canadian-Hong Kong singer in various sexual acts with several mainstream Hong Kong actresses.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Whitesitt, Linda. "Antheil, George". Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Retrieved 3 December 2011.