Auto-Eroticism

The pep rally in its myriad forms is a ritual closely tied to modern team sport. It is an opportunity for supporters of the team to demonstrate their solidarity prior to an important upcoming event. This desire to show support and pledge allegiance to a team spans many sporting cultures and geographies, but there is a component sometimes seen in pep rallies that to my understanding appears unique to American high school and collegiate athletics: the car bash.

Car Bash

The car bash features an old automobile, often painted in effigy with the colours or logo of the forthcoming opposition, which rallyers then take turns bludgeoning with a sledgehammer. Sometimes the event is used as a charitable fundraiser, with swings of the hammer available for a few bucks apiece. There is no neutral language to the term "car bash" — it is meant to be an explosion of violence in symbolic form, and while we should probably appreciate the fact that the violence is enacted against this object rather than the opposing team's persons, we might wonder: do we not find in the car bash component of the pep rally a contemporary manifestation of the futuristic Flesh Fair seen in Kubrick/Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence: AI?

Flesh Fair

Described in the movie as "A Celebration Of Humanity," the Flesh Fair was a ritualized orgy of violence in which Orga (humans) reassert their primacy in spectacular fashion by slaughtering the Mecha (robots) that serve them. That the car bash is a ritual act of violence against the forthcoming opponent is easily understood and not very interesting of itself. But we should question: why the automobile? Why is it believed that the opponent is symbolically reducible to the mechanical form of the car? Why, when the automobile has been the bedrock of the American post-WWII economy?

At first glance, it seems to speak of an uneasy relationship between humans, the technology that created the wealth to expand the American empire, and the violence of the medium caused by its extreme potential for speed and harm to the human body. We tend to consider the car crash an extremely violent outcome of the technological advent and subsequent acceleration of the age of the automobile. For Virilio, the car crash would be the integral accident embedded in the automobile as technological extension of our selves, with the car bash serving then as a violent payback to the machine.

But J.G. Ballard, the science fiction author not uncoincidentally admired by Virilio for his deep understanding of modern technological society, suggests a different interpretation in his novel Crash. Later adapted cinematically by David Cronenberg, Crash is a dark story of sexual fascination and identity with the integral accident of the car crash and the mangled steel and flesh that emerges as a consequence. But rather than technological pessimism, the character Vaughan discusses the car crash in very positive terms:

"For the first time, a benevolent psychopathology beckons towards us. For example, the car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event — a liberation of sexual energy that mediates the sexuality of those who have died with an intensity impossible in any other form. To experience that, to relive that — that's my project."

If we consider the automobile as an exoskeleton that we slip on to navigate spatially at accelerated speeds, and we heed McLuhan's observation that any technological extension of ourselves has a numbing or narcotic effect on that part of ourselves which has been extended, then we might view the car crash as a form of cyborgian cruising for sexual partners in which the moment of climax serves to waken the flesh, so to speak, from under its prophylactic sheathing. Through this wakening a liberation of sexual energy is enabled.

Returning to our original question of the car bash: yes, the car is in effigy of the upcoming opposing team in a pep rally fashion, but why such a violent act and why, out of all the potential objects to use in effigy, would one choose the car? Why the sledgehammering, the violent outpouring of aggression against the automobile? It is supposed to be play, after all!

Car BashCar BashCar Bash

Ballard, Cronenberg and Crash suggestively hint at a second explanation. If the car crash is the most intense expression of sexual energy possible, then we might wonder if the car bash doesn't serve as an expression of rapid-fire masturbation, a repression of pure sexuality enacted through the violent, though different, solitude of the masturbatory act — an act in which the flesh remains deadened or numb.

The production channel leads from work to sex, but only by switching tracks; as we move from political to ‘libidinal’ economy … we change from a violent and archaic model of socialization (work) to a more subtle and fluid model which is at once more ‘psychic’ and more in touch with the body (the sexual and the libidinal) (Baudrillard, Forget Foucault, p. 20).

Is that what is happening here? In a ritualistic, Flesh Fair sort of way, we attempt to reassert our primacy over the machines that help us create our wealth, but as a masturbatory expression or repression of our own sexuality? And as we move from a political to a libidinal economy, the car bash emerges as an example of a remainder that must be expunged from the system?

Comments

8 responses to Auto-Eroticism

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  1. Erin Gillespie says:

    The car bash seems to be a way of showing masculinity amongst peers. In many of the photos shown, the majority if not all of the participants are males. I feel that this form of aggression and violence is not only a way of showing sexuality but also a way of showing gender, or the way in which men can demonstrate their "maleness" to their peers. However, the question is why choose a car? It seems to me that men would choose a car as it would allow them to exert as much force as they wish. If they were to choose something less durable than a car, they would not be able to show their dominance and in turn would be unable to accurately display how masculine they really are. Furthermore, it seems logical that this fad of car bashing would continue, as there is no higher authority stopping the participants of these acts. Without punishment these individuals may think it is socially acceptable to continue what they are doing. Also, I think that the concept of car bashin may unite the fans of teams as they are al focused toward a common goal. I think it is safe to say that taking out your aggression on a car is more socially acceptable and safe than the fans of the both teams engaging in an all out brawl before the game.

  2. Jessica Nap says:

    The car bash is a form of sexual release in a way. This form of sexual expression is carried out by die hard fans of a team and wish to support and help their team to victory any way they can. They are using the car bash as a release of high levels of built up sexual energy. This is a more appropriate means of expression than to release this sexual energy on the opposition themselves. Through doing so, the car bashers are showing the opposition that their team is sexually dominant over them and that they will be physically beaten throughout the competition. As for the reason that they pick cars to be destroyed is not the main issue here; it’s why we chose to destroy our own technological advancement. Perhaps subconsciously the car bashers believe that through destroying such a vital part of technology in our society that they are striking fear into the opponents. By showing the opposition that they have no use for such technology and have the wealth to destroy it they are demonstrating that they are the superior team or race.

  3. Derek Stashick says:

    As far as I know, this tradition started in the US back in the mid 1900's at high school football games. I personally think the idea behind it was to visualize the attack before the game. Much like some players use positive visualization before taking a foul shot, these football players used this car to beat on before beating on their opponents. But why the car? Well, I think the idea is to also inflict intimidation into the other team. So it would make sense to destory something that is perceived as big and strong and able to inflict damage. Back in the 50's, the automobile was certainly all of those things. And any scrap yard could provide an old junky car for a very reasonable price. As the years pressed on, there were bigger and more intimidating things that could have been used, but because this tradition had been passed down it seemed an insult to change the part of the car.
    In the past, administrations would look down on this act poorly because it may have seemed barbaric and reflect poorly on students. Today administraion is much more concerned in covering their own ass for insurance purposes. While I was school president, we brought the idea of car smashing up to our principal as a fundraising oppurtunity. He said we could not do it because glass or metal could potentially hurt someone, and went on to suggest we dress a manequin up in our rival's colours and take a bat to it!!! It just seems odd to me that the train of thought on this action could change so much.

  4. Jackie North says:

    Pep rallies have been going on for years and it is interesting that the curriculum allows a cut in academics for this especailly when a third of the school may not participate and just leave school early.

    It is great for school spirit and enhancing the sporting experience for all.

    Painting ones face with logos has been acustum to but the idea of destroying a vehicle from a females perspective is a little on the viloent side in preping for a game!

    The destruction of the machine is interesting as we start to consider athletes as machines focusing on the strength and the ability of the body.

    A comment made be made of another person "They are machine"! So what are they saying? Are they not human anymore? For example, Do you compete against the other football team with no sensitivity to their emotions?

    Considering the relationship of humans and their machines it is definitly a love hate, where you cant live with them sometimes but you can definitly not live without them! For society: the car and for most students and offices: the computer!

  5. Allison Huston says:

    I found the point mentioned above about car crashes being a violent act and the car smash being a way to get “payback” on the machine, was a very interesting thought. My high school used to have a car bash to raise money for a certain charity, and I always went and watched but I never thought about the meaning behind it. I think most people who participate in the car bash don’t see the meaning behind it. I agree with the car smashing as an unconscious way of regaining control over a machine half the time we don’t have control over. It is a good way for people who have lost friends or family to a car crash, to get their anger out. In general is would seem to be a very aggressive act, but like mentioned above it is probably better done on the car then the opponents. I bet anyone would benefit from smashing a car, it would be a great way of releasing anger and tension, done in a fairly healthy and controlled manner. Providing no one turns on anyone with the sledge hammer, it’s a good way for people to release frustration and aggression.

  6. Kaitlyn Colling says:

    There are many questions of why the car bashing occurs. I am going to look at another question as to a reason why this car bashing or any other pep rally ordeal, could be so important to a team. When I first read the part in the article about how this event can be used as a charitable fundraiser, it made me think of the effect that this bashing a car with an opponents’ logo and name on it would have on fans and crowds of the bashing team. It could be used as a way to get the teams fans together and increase their team support by being involved in a meaningful victory over the car. In my third year sport psychology class we learned about how influential a crowd can be on a team’s victory. We learned that no socio-psychological effect is more important to the outcome of an athlete/team as the audience and also, what the crowd gives to the athlete, the athlete will give back to the crowd. With this in mind, it can be seen how a little thing like smashing the hood of a car could bring a team and crowd closer. If athletes seen fans enthusiasm in smashing their opponents logo, then it could have a positive effect on their playing and pump them up more to win their game knowing everyone is behind them. When a crowd is supportive to a team (for example, cheering) then this can energize the team. Also, when the crowd density is higher, it has an impact on the team by players getting the sense that others believe in them. The more people/fans a team can get involved in a car bashing event, likely the greater chance they have of getting more people out to support them during their game (especially if they held the car bashing the day of or before the game!). The crowd’s effect is just one way to look at why car bashing could be seen as a positive motive for teams to get involved in! It shows the public just how important this victory is to them through intimidation and aggression.

  7. Heather Perkin says:

    While reading the auto-eroticism blog I question why beating a vehicle is such a fascination as well. The more I ponder the question “why would one use a car?” stated in the blog I think how the vehicle is symbolic of the power and machine like qualities of an opposing team. Firstly by painting the car in the colours of the opponent they symbolize striking out at a specific group of people. If the car wasn't painted it would just be a like any one of the millions of cars in the world. After painting the car it then becomes a legitimate way for the supporters to take out aggression instead of on the opponent. Or is it symbolizing how they would treat the opponent when they compete? Not with hammers and violence but instead with physical contact and aggression within the rules of the game. The destruction of the car could be a representation of the team taking away the power of the other team. Cars are seen as powerful functional machines that are able to take us through space and almost indestructible. By crushing the car the team is symbolizing the destruction of the opponent’s functionality that will take away their power leaving them as nothing but a pile of metal. This pep-rally ritual is a symbolic way for the supporters to prove their team can take away power from even what many would consider extremely powerful (the car) and therefore they will do the same to their opponent.

  8. Carly Longmuir says:

    Violence seems to have become a part of playing sports. Not only for the athlete, but for the spectators, coaches and parents. Violence in sports is bad enough, but now it is getting even worse off the field. Rookies participate in dangerous and even violent acts when being initiated into a team, spectators and fans are participating in things like the car bash and riots and parents and coaches are fighting over game results off the field.
    Why smash up a car? It seems like a form of male dominance or masculinity. It could also be a form of aggression- trying to intimidate the other team, in a way demonstrating what they could do to them. You could also argue that they are releasing their anger and frustrations about a game in a good way, rather than on another person. Overall, because you are painting the car the actual color or the opponent’s team, a car smash seems like a symbolic way to show power and dominance over the other team. It also seems like a good way to get the spectators all riled up before a game, creating even more violence between fans.