Why Do We Air Guitar the Way We Air Guitar?

In an interview yesterday with air guitarist Michael Croland, he said something so obvious that I felt ashamed to have missed it:

What seems the norm now, just because U.S. Air Guitar  [organization] has defined what air guitar culture is in the U.S., which is a funny statement, but it’s true. And all the more power to them. The norm of the U.S. Air Guitar culture is that there is music playing in the background as you’re performing.  When we were in college… there was no such norm to latch onto. We would basically do theatrical a cappella…”

What Croland points out is that many air guitar practices exist outside of this institutionalized practice, and the official U.S. Air Guitar body authorizes a certain notion of air guitar: a single individual on stage, with music in the background, with short bursts of intensity (rather than twenty minutes of momentum building), and, perhaps most importantly, with humor and the somewhat anonymous cloak of the persona.

Of course, I had considered the normative functions of air guitar competitions, but I tend to view air guitar as a challenge to the normative forces of there guitar. However, it’s important to remember how U.S. Air Guitar itself produces its own conventions and epistemologies. To watch a competition is not simply to watch a way of engaging with the music, but it is also to view an argument for how to air guitar, as well.

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