Inside shock music carnival: Spectacle as contested terrain

Karen Bettez Halnon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


This paper is based on a four-year concert fieldwork study of some of the most transgressive, shocking, and otherwise explicitly carnivalesque bands increasingly making it into the mainstream (e.g., Eminem, Marilyn Manson, Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, Cradle of Filth, Insane Clown Posse, GWAR, and Mindless Self Indulgence). The dis-alienating attractions of this music for an increasingly heterogeneous fan base are described in rich ethnographic detail, challenging Arnett's earlier work on heavy metal and adolescent alienation. The multi-faceted carnivalesque qualities and symbolic significances of shock music carnival are delineated in a lengthy application of Bakhtin's carnival-grotesque, a festive liminal medium for asserting and expressing human-equalizing realism. The general significance of the paper, as extensions of Kellner and Ritzer's works, is a demonstration of how shock music carnival is not simply spectacle as domination (or the commodification of dissent), but also spectacle as resistance (or a 'time outside time' or 'second life' in which fans escape and resist a disenchanted and duplicitous world of commercialization, and express everyday rage from living in a "nothing" world of global capital). This paper contributes to cultural Marxism by providing an empirical and ethnographic account of a proto-utopian critique of consumer society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-779
Number of pages37
JournalCritical Sociology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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