Air Guitar 2015: Participation and Preoccupations

After attending numerous air guitar competitions last summer, I am going to approach the 2015 air guitar season from a different angle. By participating in competitions remotely through the growing number of livestreams and social media, I am hoping to get a fuller picture of the dispersed nature of the competitions, which take place across the United States. Attending competitions makes me aware of a tension between two experiences of air guitar competitions: 1) the on-site experience of watching air guitar competitions and 2) the subsequent representations and circulations of that experience online. This summer, I’m taking the opportunity to explore the latter.

49-exlThe U.S. air guitar community consists of many groups or networks: local organizers and communities, travelers who attend many or all of the competitions in their regions of the U.S., the administrators who oversee the competitions from a distance, the administrators/organizers/performers who travel to competitions, and the community of fans online who participate by circulating media, information, and results (not to mention the recent addition of an “Airbudsman”!). I hope to focus on the parts of the community that are more remote, in order to get a sense for how online participation in the community might differ from “live” participation.

I’m also approaching air guitar with some specific themes in mind. Attending air guitar competitions makes it quite obvious that competitive air guitar could easily be placed among privileged singing and dance competitions, yet it also makes it obvious that many air guitarists might not necessarily want to be placed in that category. Indeed, many air guitar performances offer an ironic critique of ideas of virtuosity, authenticity, and musicality, while they nonetheless demonstrate that playing air guitar involves the mastering of certain skills, athletic ability, and kinesthetic knowledge. Of course, competitors display these skills through developing music tracks that facilitate performances, and they also perform with respect to certain conventions and rules. With all of this in mind, I’m particularly interested in approaching air guitar in terms of ability and disability. I mean “disability” quite broadly to refer to the idea that certain bodies deviate from a norm–that they’re less than, disadvantaged, deficient, or abnormal. I mean “ability” in terms of the potential for a body to do something. Disability emerges only through collective ideas about what a body can and should be able to do.

I’m thinking about this in terms of the phrase “performing ability,” meaning both the performance of something called “ability” and also the “ability to perform.” So, moving forward, I’m trying to consider some of the ways that air guitar constructs its own forms of ability and disability, which it receives (and perhaps alters) from the dominant society.

If all of this appears a bit vague and up in the air, then it is because it is. I hope that exploring these competitions will enable me to come to terms with how competitions put forth a set of expectations about the body and its movements, while simultaneously marking those that deviate from this norm.

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