Burning Man Explains Rembert
September 13, 2013 6:09 PM   Subscribe

As part of his summerlong Explaining America roadtrip series, Grantland's Rembert Browne visited Black Rock City for the first time. He does his best to relate the experience in a two-part piece. Part 1:Getting There / Part 2:Burning There.
posted by mannequito (19 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Was a first-timer this year. Went to see what all the fuss was about. Was pleasantly surprised at the DIY culture and friendliness/openness of all the participants.

I'm sure there will be posts about the expense, and how it was So Much Cooler Before All The Looky-Loos Came, but as a first-timer, I did enjoy it.
posted by lon_star at 6:50 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Fourth time this year; already miss it terribly. Can't wait to go back.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:57 PM on September 13, 2013

That was beautiful.

I went to Burning Man in college, but for various reasons I haven't been back since and have to live through other people's experiences vicariously. Sigh.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:10 PM on September 13, 2013

I haven't gone yet, but i am next year. I have a lot of friends who go however.

Many of the more, ugh, i don't know how else to say it but not halfway full of shit and pretentious people i know were simply talking about the great experiences they had and how enjoyable and fulfilling it was, and how inspired they always feel when they leave.

Lots of them have been going for many years. Several of them were introduced to it by their parents who have been going since the late 90s

So when i see all those people that, as lon_star said, talk about how much "cooler" it used to be and how it's been "ruined by all the looky loos and some corporate stuff" it rings really hollow to me.

Especially since i've been part of more than a few places and events that people started saying that about when it grew beyond being a small cool kids club. I've seen a few get ruined, but it was when some kind of organizational rot came from the inside or some kind of coup happened where there was infighting among older members and one group with an agenda jacked it all up.

I look forward to going next year, and fully expect it to be amazing. Many of my friends who are going back after several years have just as much enthusiasm for going with me, or seeing me there, or just going.

And yes, i realize i'm jumping the gun and no ones even said that here yet. But i've just heard so much of it and that attitude is so tiresome to me.
posted by emptythought at 8:43 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have no idea how Bill Simmons talked ESPN into some of the shit they do independent of the sports stuff like Rembert's pieces but I totally want to thank him for it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:55 PM on September 13, 2013

It's pretty hard to convey what Burning Man is like, but I feel like this guy does a pretty good job. (but my bike in a dust storm photo came out better than his)

emptythought: "Burning Man was better last year" is really mostly a running joke among burners. It's not that the event doesn't change from year to year, but really those changes are pretty minor compared to the enormous gamut of experiences one can merely see a tiny subset of within a single year. It's certainly true that your first time there will be the most packed full of novelty though, and it's pretty easy to get nostalgic about that. And when you go back enough, yeah giant fire-breathing steel dragons built out of busses are cool and all, but you've seen four different ones, and — hey, what's that pointy swirly thing over there? Holy shit, that is really something.
posted by aubilenon at 10:33 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

This Rembert Explains America series is al kinds of good. There's something really exciting to me about finding a young writer with a lot of talent who hasn't quite found their niche yet. I look forward to reading a lot more of this guy.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:09 AM on September 14, 2013

We'd a post about Burning Man before the event. I've squirreled away several interesting articles from this year towards the end, mostly just experienced burners "ten principles drama" stuff.

I suppose the 2013 article that might best bridge the gap between burners and the default world is : Blondtron had more fun at Burning Man than anyone in the entire world.

There is a more insightful take on the "better last year" cliché in : Why I Left Burning Man—and Why I'm Returning. Also, The Daily Portal is inspired by the Portal mentioned in article.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:18 AM on September 14, 2013

It was totally better next year. Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.
posted by Freen at 8:57 AM on September 14, 2013

So when i see all those people that, as lon_star said, talk about how much "cooler" it used to be and how it's been "ruined by all the looky loos and some corporate stuff" it rings really hollow to me.

It should. I heard variations on that line back in 2001, when I first went to the burn, and the counter-meme "pshaw, it was better NEXT year" is just as old. I was worried back then that I'd already missed the event's heyday. Ha! It just got bigger and wilder and more full of amazingness. Every year there are more people doing more things, putting more energy into more projects. It keeps on getting bigger and sprawlier and has stayed plenty weird. I skipped this year's burn but my friends assure me the trend continues.

There are certainly aspects of that early experience that I miss, but it's hard to say whether it's because the city has changed, or because the city changed me. And really, getting yourself changed is part of the point: why go to all the trouble of visiting the place if you're not going to become part of it and let it become part of you?

Then you repeat it a few times, and what was amazing and powerful by virtue of its sheer extreme novelty becomes familiar, and that familiarity is a sign that you, yourself, have soaked up some of the essence of the event; but as a consequence it takes more, and bigger, to impress you. So you have to deliberately practice opening your eyes and really appreciating what you've been given by the tens of thousands of people around you who brought all the cool stuff you're experiencing. It's not even the biggest and most impressive things that have the most impact, sometimes; there are thousands of small one- or two-person projects that can make your whole night if they catch you at the right moment.

A friend of mine once stood out on the playa and looked around. "There's someone's entire summer"; he said. He swivelled a few degrees. "There's about a dozen people's entire summers." A few degrees more. "That thing, probably fifty people working all summer." Another thing, "Looks like at least six months for a couple of people." And on. And you realize just what a colossal investment of people's lives has gone into this ephemeral creation, and it makes you... well, it made me feel grateful again, and made me feel like spending my whole summer on the art project thirty or forty of us had just built was not only worth it, but in some ways nothing more than paying on what I'd received from others in years past.

A lot of newbies worry that all the jaded old burners will reject them for being clueless and somehow doing it wrong, but it's actually kind of the opposite. It's great to have newcomers around because they get to see the whole thing through new eyes, they get to have that torrent of HOLY SHIT WOW and we can sort of enjoy it afresh through their eyes.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:52 AM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Kristen Stubbs' The Toymaker Project at the Phage Seminar Series 2013 (previously)
posted by jeffburdges at 3:37 PM on September 14, 2013

I remember back in 2001, my husband looked at me and said, "Hey, we've been going for five years now. We're officially allowed to say 'Oh, it was so much cooler back when…'"

I mean, all y'all who missed the Shrine to the Dessicated Rat back in '97, well, I just don't know what to say. Now is the point when I should acknowledge that it's been 10+ years since we've attended.
posted by Lexica at 5:04 PM on September 14, 2013

That was fantastic. Thanks for posting it.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:16 AM on September 15, 2013

Reading this in fairly close conjunction to articles about people fleeing Syria and seeing the weirdly similar aerial shots of the refugee camps spooked me in a way I haven't quite resolved yet. I would still like to go, though.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:29 AM on September 15, 2013

Seems legit ;)
posted by jeffburdges at 6:02 PM on September 17, 2013

Seems legit ;)

jeffburdges: I missed the camp with the secular art & music. Where was it this year?
posted by aubilenon at 7:37 PM on September 17, 2013

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