As I lobbed a plate against the wall, I wondered: When was the last time I broke something on purpose? There must have been some moment in childhood when I smashed something in a primal rage, but nothing came to mind. Maybe I don’t remember, but I’ve always been a rule abider, and it’s entirely possible I’d never broken anything on purpose in my life.
I was demolishing dishes at the Wrecking Club, New York City’s original rage room. A rage room, for the unfamiliar, is a place where you pay to go break stuff. It’s one part fitness phenomenon, a kind of anti-yoga, but it’s much less about working out than about the unusual experience of smashing things to smithereens.
Female rage is all the rage these days. It has launched a thousand think pieces and served as the subject of two recently released books — Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad and Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her — that treat the centrality of rage in the feminist movement, and mad women more generally. Anger has been a clarion call of sorts for women on the left since the 2016 election: Get mad.
The Brett Kavanaugh hearings — and perhaps especially a still photo that circulated of Kavanaugh with his mouth wide open, eyebrows furrowed, face contorted into a tableau of indignant anger — have prompted related discussions about white male rage. First: Does it exist? (Conor Friedersdorf thinks no; Paul Krugman thinks yes.) If so, what does it look like and how does it manifest? What is its relationship to “I like beer,” and what is its relationship to violence against women?
I was intrigued by rage rooms against the backdrop of these conversations about anger. Smashing stuff with baseball bats seemed more akin to what some are now calling “white male rage” than the now politically fashionable rage of liberal women (also most accessible to white women). It made me think of the (mostly male) social media stunters who filmed themselves smashing Keurig coffee makers in response to the company’s boycott of Sean Hannity, or burning their Nikes in response to the sportswear brand’s ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. Physical, violent, irrational, uncontained — I was interested in what it would be like to act out those things, for a few minutes. I decided to try.
The Wrecking Club opened its doors in midtown Manhattan in 2017, and a similar space, called the Rage Cage, opened nearby in September. There are now rage rooms in Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and other cities around the country. You pay a fee for a timed session, often a relatively high one; the lowest rate for 30 minutes at the Wrecking Club is $79.99 for a one- to two-person package. (Anger is lots of things, but it’s also marketable.) In exchange, you get an offering of electronics, furniture, dishes, glasses, and other household items; whacking implements including a baseball bat and a sledgehammer; and a room of one’s own.
Penelope Green of the New York Times described the aesthetic of the Wrecking Club’s rooms as “part CBGB’s basement circa 1977, part Stasi interrogation room,” which is nearly perfect. I would add that when I entered my rage room — where a printer, an ancient-looking computer monitor, and a bucket of dishes were balanced atop dented kegs, next to a battered foam model of a man’s torso — I thought immediately of a frat house.
There are a few rules: Don’t throw the kegs. Wear closed-toe shoes, goggles, gloves, long sleeves, and a helmet. Otherwise, you’re unsupervised and can do what you want.
How to begin? Tentatively, for me. I put on a Spotify playlist of female pop anthems that a friend had made post-election, titled “Nasty Women.” I selected the baseball bat and brought it down gently on the screen of the computer, which I expected to shatter. It barely registered the hit, or the next one. I decided to warm up with some glass; I have accidentally broken many glasses in my life, so I was confident I could do it. I perched a vase on top of a keg. I brought my bat down. It exploded instantly in a single incandescent burst. It was thrilling.
I began to rage in earnest, taking big swings at the printer with the bat and then the heavy sledgehammer. It felt like a psychopathic challenge — I had to be able to conquer this machine. Every splintering of plastic felt like a victory, and its innards of wiring began to spill out. When I got discouraged, I turned to the dishes. I threw them against the walls, where they broke instantly. It was hard to stop, even as I sweated and my right shoulder began to ache alarmingly. (Raging is extremely physical, and I’m not entirely convinced it’s good for the body.) Meanwhile, “There You Go” by Pink and “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks blared.
There’s a sense in which this phenomenon is totally bizarre: Why pay for a space like this when you could theoretically break whatever you want in the privacy of your own home? It feels more like you’re paying for license to go wild for a little while, outside the confines of the socially acceptable.
Nearby, the Rage Cage has a cheaper deal — $44.99 for 25 minutes — for a much smaller package of breakable goods. It has a more Instagram-oriented vibe; there’s a mount for your phone in the room that allows you to film yourself, and a spray-painted bull’s-eye on the wall. But in most respects, it’s similar: a private box for your sustained smashing, four walls and empty space, and permission to do as you please.
As I smashed, I thought of a party I’d been to during my sophomore year of college. It was hosted by a sports team dominated by Very Big Guys. It was the dead of a New England winter, and they were roasting a lamb in the backyard of a house where they lived, which people ate with their hands. There were not many girls at the party. There was an excess of beer. At some point — after hours of warming ourselves with beer as we saw our breath emerge in white puffs — boys started throwing stuff off the roof. I can’t remember what, at first, but then I looked up to see a TV hurling down. I was filled with a mixture of fear and awe at the base masculine impulse to throw something. I was that guy now, and I liked it.
The impulse to destroy objects — as the Keurig smashers and Nike burners did — always seemed inexplicable. I remember wondering: They know that their Keurig will be broken now, right, and that it’s their fault? But as I became increasingly enraged at the printer’s refusal to snap, I understood it as more of a wild release of primal energy, the inanimate object as a focal point for everything else.
The question I found myself testing, as I swung a sledgehammer into a printer: Is it good or bad that I enjoyed this? One psychologist, writing in Psychology Today, theorized: Rage Rooms Not a Good Idea. He wrote that they may fuel aggression, particularly for those with anxiety and anger issues, rather than serving as a release — and I see his point. Maybe for someone like me, whose anger feels cloudy and often inaccessible, this space was freeing, but for someone who struggles to control their anger, it could be toxic.
Perhaps — related to the political discussions about rage and who’s permitted it — the utility of rage rooms varies depending on who’s doing the raging. For many women, it’s a chance, albeit an expensive one, to play a character of sorts: the frat bro, the Keurig smasher. But for others, it might be a kind of sinking into the darkness of real rage.
The rage room is a wellness product, even if it’s aesthetically anti-wellness. Like all wellness products, it sells a kind of balm to our discontents: in this case, our rage. It solves nothing, but it may be worth the money anyway, for the sweaty, wild relief of smashing stuff.
Toward the end of my session, I ran out of dishes. I couldn’t help it: I absurdly paid $20 to add on another bucket of glass and dishes. One after another, I threw them against the dented steel walls of the room. It was incredible, sublimating my anger into fireworks of broken glass. I surveyed the wreckage at the end, sweating, in the empty room.
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