The Sublime Splendor of Intimidation: Outlaw Biker Aesthetics of Power (New Article)

Visual Anthropology 30(5)

Terror, Edmund Burke argued, is the “common stock of everything that is sublime,” capable of producing delight when held at a certain distance. What puzzled Burke was the question of “how any species of delight can be derived from a cause so apparently contrary to it.” I suggest that we may look for an ethnographic answer to this question among the supporters, hangers-on and diverse admirers of outlaw bikers, who take pleasure in being exposed, albeit at a safe distance, to the sublime splendor of the biker’s power of intimidation. Grounded in ethnographic research among outlaw bikers in central Europe, analysis of popular visual culture and biker literature, this article argues that “sublime experience” is one of the indispensable ingredients of the aesthetics of power of the outlaw bikers.