When Air Guitar Becomes a Metaphor…

Many media discourses circulate “air guitar” as a metaphor for emptiness and inauthenticity.

For example, after the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed with unplugged instruments at the Super Bowl in 2014, many accused them of air guitaring—making this style of performance seem like the ultimate transgression for any “real” musician. Grantland writer Zach Dionne wrote the headline: “Red Hot Chile Peppers: Air Guitar Champions.” Buzzfeed’s Michelle Broder Van Dyke wrote: “Red Hot Chili Peppers Played Air Guitar at the Superbowl.” USA Today called it the “biggest air guitar display in music history.” Here’s another one from Philly.com:


At the same time, many seem to evoke air guitar as a metaphor for the ineffable. For example, Dave Hickey’s Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy forwards various cultural critiques by using a metaphorical “air guitar.”

I’m particularly interested in how these discourses shape the U.S. Air Guitar Competition. I wonder how air guitar challenges these metaphoric constructions  and also how these constructions contribute to the potency of air guitar’s function.


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