The Religion & Culture Web Forum
"Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! The Monster Trucks' Black Sabbath"
by Jeremy Biles
University of Chicago
This month, Jeremy Biles of the University of Chicago Divinity School takes a look at the social and sacred meaning of monster truck mayhem.
That monster trucks are capable of inspiring awe and inducing frenzy is indisputable; what, precisely, accounts for this awe and the religious sensibility it expresses and promotes, however, is less obvious. I submit that these trucks exploit the characteristics of the left sacred in order to inspire fascination in those who behold them. French sociologist Emile Durkheim famously characterized the sacred in absolute opposition to the profane. In fact, “the first possible definition of the sacred is that it is the opposite of the profane.” The sacred, the wholly other, is thus, as one commentator has put it, “the very principle of opposition, contestation, and radical difference.” Not only opposed to the profane, the sacred is opposed to itself, internally divided. According to Durkheim, the sacred is characterized by a polarity: “on the one hand, a pure, noble, elevated, life-giving form (the ‘right' sacred); on the other, an impure, vile, degraded, and dangerous form (the ‘left' sacred).”
Monster trucks, I contend, are complicit with the sinister, negative, oppositional aspect of the sacred, and embody the transgressive, destructive force associated with death and the underworld. Like many other countercultural phenomena, this domain of custom culture inspires its fearful fascination through a combination of underworld associations and spectacular displays of destructive power. In particular, these trucks are the automotive embodiments of that most conspicuous form of potent alterity: sacred monstrosity.
Responses to the essay may be found in the archived discussion board for this Forum (pdf).
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