“Capitalists… unironically love Burning Man”
August 25, 2015 4:24 PM   Subscribe

Burning Man is earning a reputation as a “networking event” among Silicon Valley techies, and tech magazines now send reporters to cover it. CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Alphabet are foaming fans, along with conservative anti-tax icon Grover Norquist and many writers of the libertarian (and Koch-funded) Reason magazine. Tesla CEO Elon Musk even went so far as to claim that Burning Man “is Silicon Valley.”
Former Burner Keith A. Spencer writes for Jacobin: “Why the Rich Love Burning Man”
posted by Going To Maine (127 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
CEOs like Larry Page of Alphabet

I'd forgotten all about Alphabet already and it's only a bloody week old.
posted by dng at 4:30 PM on August 25, 2015 [62 favorites]


I haven't RTFA yet, but I was just reading this and I'll leave it here.
posted by klausman at 4:31 PM on August 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


All of the photos in that SFGate slide show make it look like Cirque Du Soleil crossed with a high-end strip club.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:35 PM on August 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


In 2015, it's hard to see the whole shebang as anything but a monument to privilege. The sculpture that's burned stands as poignant synecdoche.
posted by blue t-shirt at 4:35 PM on August 25, 2015 [67 favorites]


TBH I'd pretty much forgotten that Burning Man was ever about anything other than CEOs having their annual coke binge and trying to have affairs with arts types.
posted by Artw at 4:36 PM on August 25, 2015 [49 favorites]


So let's say one missed the opportunity to go to Burning Man before it became as authentic an experience as Disneyland... are there other similar festivals that are opting to stay under the radar and avoid becoming so overblown? Or is asking sort of missing the point?
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:39 PM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]




Apparently, the Burning Man site is overrun with horrible biting insects this year, so I'm totally OK with it being a playground for tech industry douchecanoes (hi, former boss who put up all your SXSW pictures on facebook this year!).
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:41 PM on August 25, 2015 [16 favorites]


AFAICT, It's basically turned into the FOOCamp where you're allowed to be naked.
posted by verb at 4:42 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


By the time I've heard of something that's supposed to be edgy and counterculture, it's probably not edgy and counterculture anymore. The first time I heard about it, it was kinda "huh, that sounds cool", but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed... I don't know. Like, how welcoming can something be that's that hard to get to, that is deliberately set somewhere with incredibly unforgiving climate and is therefore very hostile to people with medical conditions or disabilities, that sort of thing?

If I want to go play outside with nerds, I'll go hook up with an SCA group to make an excuse to go to Pennsic or something. I don't trust stuff like this where the whole point seems to be to be able to post stuff on social media and make strangers jealous.
posted by Sequence at 4:44 PM on August 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


So let's say one missed the opportunity to go to Burning Man before it became as authentic an experience as Disneyland... are there other similar festivals that are opting to stay under the radar and avoid becoming so overblown? Or is asking sort of missing the point?

Well, there’s Frostburn in Pittsburgh. I’ve never been, though, so don’t consider this a recommendation from experience.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:46 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Air-conditioned camps.

It has suddenly occurred to me that some areas of Burning Man must be overwhelmed by the sound of gasoline-powered generators.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:46 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


WIRED wrote practically this same article (new blood is fucking up the real heart of gathering, maaaaaaaaan) back in 96, maybe 97.

So, since Burning Man only started in '86, it's spent almost twice as much time being a Disneyland-esque piece of shit than "true", or whatever.
posted by sideshow at 4:46 PM on August 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


I think I may have first stumbled across this on the blue, but this interview (in the Harvard Business Review, of all places) on the influence of a particular strain of 60s radicalism on the corporate culture of Silicon Valley was really fascinating and insightful, and helps square some of the circles the Jacobin article skims over. Like yes, there is a libertarianish flavour to some of this, but the embrace of the radical-fairy pink-glitter let's-drop-acid-and-get-naked side of the fest ain't coming from Ayn Rand. That definitely hearkens back to some of the New Commutarian, radical personal fulfilment will bring about a new political gestalt thinking of the counterculture.
posted by Diablevert at 4:47 PM on August 25, 2015 [17 favorites]


Regional burns are great, and you meet awesome people who don't live far from you that you can visit.

I've heard the big thing with BM is the scale.

I also wonder if this is just some BM FUD.
posted by frecklefaerie at 4:48 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Heck, in '96 The 700 Club covered Burning Man.
posted by verb at 4:49 PM on August 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


started in '86, it's spent almost twice as much time being a Disneyland-esque piece of shit than "true", or whatever.

Like everything, it was really good until about a year before you heard about it.
posted by griphus at 4:49 PM on August 25, 2015 [43 favorites]


He probably would have had to be drugged and taken there in shackles, but I would have loved to read David Foster Wallace's thoughts on Burning Man.
posted by Flashman at 4:49 PM on August 25, 2015 [38 favorites]


WIRED wrote practically this same article (new blood is fucking up the real heart of gathering, maaaaaaaaan) back in 96, maybe 97.

That's not what Jacobin is concerned with or what this article is about at all, they don't care that the cool fun party got ruined.
posted by deathmaven at 4:50 PM on August 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


I wonder how a Burning Man refugee would be treated. Someone walking naked into Burning Man, speaking poor English, asking "can you please take me in?".

I can't get my mind off the news, and am starting to see everything in terms of their treatment of refugees.
posted by kandinski at 4:50 PM on August 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


I only recently began to suspect just how much Burning Man had changed: some San Francisco-based friends advised us that the weekend of Burning Man was the best time to go get brunch because there wouldn’t be any lines.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:51 PM on August 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


Late 90s me thought it sounded fucking amazing. Ah, youth... And having worked with less coked up "cool boss" CEO types.
posted by Artw at 4:52 PM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


are there other similar festivals that are opting to stay under the radar and avoid becoming so overblown?

Have you heard of the Gathering of the Juggalos?
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:54 PM on August 25, 2015 [55 favorites]


From the first moment I heard of burning man, I pretty much came to this same conclusion. It is described using the same language as corporate team building getaways.
posted by clvrmnky at 4:56 PM on August 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


“Why the Rich Love Burning Man”

Ohhh right the festival. Though this headline really works two ways.
posted by item at 4:56 PM on August 25, 2015 [100 favorites]


Like yes, there is a libertarianish flavour to some of this, but the embrace of the radical-fairy pink-glitter let's-drop-acid-and-get-naked side of the fest ain't coming from Ayn Rand.

I thought it was already historical fact that the self-indulgent boomer brand of bohemianism was inherently Randian.
posted by deathmaven at 4:59 PM on August 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


roger ackroyd: Uncool circa 2002
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 5:01 PM on August 25, 2015


Scratch a hippy find a fascist breadhead.
posted by Artw at 5:01 PM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't trust stuff like this where the whole point seems to be to be able to post stuff on social media and make strangers jealous.

As opposed to talking up SCA on social media? :'/

Anyway, I've never seen Burning Man as anything other than a middle and upper-class event. The isolation and hostile environment, the need to take time off, basically said it was a camping expedition not for poor people.

Hmm. SCA as a prototype/test-bed for Burning Man. Discuss.
posted by happyroach at 5:01 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


item: "“Why the Rich Love Burning Man”

Ohhh right the festival. Though this headline really works two ways.
"

Actually it deserves the full Kenosha Kid:

Why the Rich Love Burning, Man
Why the Rich? Love Burning Man
Why the Rich Love? Burning Man
Why, the Rich Love Burning Man
Why the Rich Love, Burning Man

&c
posted by chavenet at 5:02 PM on August 25, 2015 [27 favorites]


So far no one has chimed in to defend Burning Man, and I'm loathe to be the one to do it, but goodness please don't forget that a snide article from Jacobin doesn't amount to much. The people I've known who go to Burning Man have not been CEOs. They're mostly been artist/entertainment types who seem to really enjoy it.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:04 PM on August 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


I have always wanted to attend, for the visuals. I don't know if it is fair to characterize the event because of the 2.5 percent. I hear very positive reports from there. The art is spectacular. At the bottom of the article it say if you like the article...I don't.
posted by Oyéah at 5:06 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


To illustrate how mainstream BM is getting, there's also a Kickstarter for Burning Man: The Musical.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:08 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Technically I guess a lot of these guys are more ex-punks than ex-hippies.
posted by Artw at 5:12 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Burning Man enables people deeply invested in the myths of our purtanical, milicapitalist oligarchy to participate in a faux-rebellion of open sexual expression, non-regimented days, and creative consumption of goods while maintaining and participating in our oppressive norms during the rest of the year.

The exhibitionist and utopian fantasies of Burning Man are actually fully in line with the status quo (regarding gender, gender roles, status, creative expression, product creation / destruction / consumption, common-denominator definitions of free-will and individual expression/freedom, etc.) and are only rebellious in so far as their enactors costume themselves in feathers instead of suits.

Burning Man and like are the steam valve that keeps the engine from exploding. It does not surprise me that the oligarchs have grown to love it so.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 5:13 PM on August 25, 2015 [67 favorites]


Metafilter: please don't forget that a snide article from Jacobin doesn't amount to much.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:13 PM on August 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


Burning man as an extended liminal vacation, like a long Hallowe'en for middle-class hopeful libertarians.

I like it. Count me in.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:21 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Please add me also to Mr.Encyclopedia's mailing list for people born in the wrong time and/or the wrong circumstances to experience the counterculture.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 5:22 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Please add me also to Mr.Encyclopedia's mailing list for people born in the wrong time and/or the wrong circumstances to experience the counterculture.

It's happening now on Twitter, Inc.
posted by deathmaven at 5:25 PM on August 25, 2015


Though this headline really works two ways.

It's a cookbook!
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:29 PM on August 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


In 2015, it's hard to see the whole shebang as anything but a monument to privilege. The sculpture that's burned stands as poignant synecdoche.

Are you sure it's not metanomy? I always get them confused.
posted by Slap Factory at 5:31 PM on August 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's happening now on Twitter, Inc.

“It’s happening right now on planet Earth. Just wander around, you’ll find it.”
posted by Going To Maine at 5:32 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Burning Man? It's like SXSW now. Nobody goes there, it's too popular.

The amount of drama involved when tickets became a lottery and various camps had to figure out who was going and who had to stay home was impressive, even at a distance.

All I know is that it's where one of my friends goes to drive around his cupcake car, which is awesome. Others don't necessarily go to the main event, but regional Burn events are well-attended. (Though again, a lot of drama.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 5:34 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Seventy thousand people go to burning man.

There are douche canoes of all stripes. There are also a lot of amazing people. It's a city. There is pretty much everything there. I work in tech but I sure as SHIT don't network at black rock city. Ugh.

It is the bad things that people say it is, but its also a lot of good things. The large scale art is like nothing else I've seen, and there's no where else where I can spend a year with a hundred friends building and maintaining a two story unicorn that we can drive around playing music on and shooting fire out of the horn. And while some of the art does make it around to other places, it always does so with some bullshit caution tape and an inability to climb around on it.

Some big art projects are done via millionaires' largess, others, including every one that I've worked on, has been primarily funded by many many small donations and individual out of pocket expense.

Being able to go to burning man is definitely a privilege. I'm not sure anyone pretends it is anything else. The low income and gift tickets help, but I don't know of any art project that happened based solely on BRAF funding (I worked on one last year that had some. We still did a bunch of fund raising).

Also I really don't care about anything Jacobin has to say after their ridiculously wrong take on Fury Road.

.... I wonder how many times I'll hear someone say "witness me" this year.
posted by flaterik at 5:37 PM on August 25, 2015 [27 favorites]


In 2015, it's hard to see the whole shebang as anything but a monument to privilege. The sculpture that's burned stands as poignant synecdoche.

Are you sure it's not metonymy? I always get them confused.

According to McSweeney’s, “If you’re gathering body parts because of their external symbolism—like the famous Memphis Ear-Snatcher, who only killed people whose left ears reminded him of the snails he loved with a doomed passion—then that’s definitely metonymy. But if you take a piece of every fashion designer, because Project Runway traumatized you, then that’s synecdoche.”

Since I think we’re talking about the external symbolism of the Man statue, it’s synecdoche.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:38 PM on August 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


At least regardless of whether you're poor or a billionaire, you're in the same dirt together rubbing shoulders at the same festival. Very little else is like that these days.

Conditions in your camp may vary, but (speaking as a non-burner or not-yet-burner who knows a lot of burners) my observation is that plenty of struggling people make it out there. People who couldn't afford tickets or transport or a vacation and who struggle paycheck to paycheck, they still make it out to Burning Man year after year. There seem to be lots of little communities organically pooling their resources in a "from each according to their ability" fashion to make sure that people can make it.

BM isn't the second coming of christ, but the tone of smug/hate I'm reading in here is kind of disturbing. Let people have their party.
posted by anonymisc at 5:38 PM on August 25, 2015 [23 favorites]


Meh. Burning Man means a lot of things to a lot of people. But it has never in any way threatened the established social order. This is why the rich love Burning Man : because if you just want to see it as a big party / networking event, you totally can!

I've been to the event twice and don't feel much need to return. My least favorite part of Burning Man is the overlap with club/rave culture. Maybe at one point it was subversive to dress up in costumes and do molly and dance under the blinking lights until dawn. But now it's like, "congratulations, you've just invented 1993!" That kind of party is such an ingrained part of our culture now, there's nothing remotely subversive or interesting about it.

It just seems so incongruous that an event ostensibly about creativity and free thought would give itself over so readily to something as commonplace and abrasive as dancefloor culture.

I truly do think if they banned the sound/rave camps, Burning Man would be a much better event. Right now I think a lot of people just see it as an outgrowth of the whole summer festival / electronica scene. You take that away, the ones who will still go will be the people who are truly interested in artistic expression and creating an alternate society.
posted by panama joe at 5:45 PM on August 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


As others have pointed out, this sort of hand wringing has been going on for at least 20 years now, and I'm fully convinced people have been saying it isn't cool any more pretty much since the second one, similar to the old saying about how car racing was invented the day they built the second automobile.

It's basically morphed into a meta-event now. It's all about the endless discussions as to what it all means, the authentic vs. the rich posers, and so on. The actual physical gathering is essentially a footnote.
posted by Potsy at 5:45 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]




Knowledge of burning man is incredibly mainstream now. The bugs thing was on fucking NPR, and all of my coworkers have been asking me about it.

But this will be my twelfth time since 2002, and the event itself is still something unique. It's a different unique than it used to be, of course. Given that one of the artistic intents is impermanence, it's hard to see that as necessarily bad.

"Burners" can be insufferable. I know many that I would describe as such.

But so can be anyone who cares about anything.
posted by flaterik at 5:46 PM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


Never been to Black Rock City (and on track to not go again, unless someone wants to offer me a spot!), and the Saturnalian temporary autonomous zone aspect of it has only held marginal curiosity for me.

But I've been charmed by the regional events I've participated in near LA. It seems to be people making art and other stuff to share because it will be fun! Bouncy shoe parades, blinkenlights, free nachos, stuff on fire, weird movie screenings, go carts, big chess pieces, funny looking cars!

Seems pretty cool to me, inevitable encroachments by the douchier side of human nature notwithstanding.
posted by weston at 5:47 PM on August 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why? The rich love burning, man.
posted by katemonster at 5:50 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


additional commentary
posted by likeatoaster at 5:52 PM on August 25, 2015


Hmm. SCA as a prototype/test-bed for Burning Man. Discuss.

What.

The only thing the SCA and burning man have in common is camping.

That being said, I have friends that go to both Pennsic and Burning Man, but the one they'd miss if they had to is Burning Man.
posted by anastasiav at 5:52 PM on August 25, 2015


I don't disagree with the Jacobin article really, and indeed from the SFGate article it's clear that the organizers of Burning Man explicitly want to cultivate a libertarian environment. At the same time, there definitely seems to be a strain of smug, squarer-than-thou self-congratulation in some of the criticism of (tee hee) BM that I've seen.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:55 PM on August 25, 2015


If Burning Man is the new Disneyland, will Banksy's next project after Dismaland be Gurning Man?
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:59 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Since last year's Burning Man I have read Ronald Hutton's HIstory of the Druids and I learned that historians do not accept the burning men story as historical. There is only one source and it was from a person who never once set foot in Druid country so there are literally no eyewitness accounts that anybody ever built a burning man in pre-Roman or Roman Britain or Gaul!

It really isn't any more real than the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland.
posted by bukvich at 6:02 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Meh, we had this same conversation back in 2007, here on the blue. At the time, I said I thought burning man would go the same way as lollapallooza, and go from chaos to managed by mbas. I've not been back in more than a decade, and my first visit was when it was so few people, you kinda knew everyone by sight, but I'll admit that the future wasn't as bleak as I predicted. Sure, there are the bespoke morons with their private fiefdoms, but the rainbow family is still there. People go to have the experience, and no two experiences are ever the same, just as no two burning mans are ever the same, and a bespoke experience, while certainly different than my experiences of juggling fire naked,while being carried in a canoe by a cadre of singing naked mudmen, are just as valid. And probably a lot cleaner.
posted by dejah420 at 6:02 PM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


Shout out to the still awesome Great Blue Heron Music festival in western NY. Hippies, hillsides, camping, and the Bog Jog! Happy Heron!
posted by triage_lazarus at 6:02 PM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


My least favorite part of Burning Man is the overlap with club/rave culture.

Also, I haven't gone, but this is one of the main reasons I would have any interest in going in the future. Whether or not there is anything really subversive left about electronic music and dancing is pretty orthogonal to my enjoyment of those things and to whether I think they're worthwhile activities to engage in. So, shrug emoji.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:03 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


As others have pointed out, this sort of hand wringing has been going on for at least 20 years now,

Hey, I was doing the whinging about Burning Man thing before it was popular!
posted by happyroach at 6:05 PM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


are there other similar festivals that are opting to stay under the radar and avoid becoming so overblown?

In all seriousness, I honestly thought everyone knew about this but my husband didn't, so. FWIW Rainbow Gatherings are, I have heard, basically Burning Man without Silicon Valley (and substantially smaller than the guggernaut Burning Man has become in the last few decades).
posted by likeatoaster at 6:07 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


All 3 times I attended, I made some very interesting deep connections with a variety of people, none of whom were remotely rich. A few examples:

-a skid punk band (who had all been gifted tickets)
-a chemistry phd student playing around with Shulgin's recipes on the side (on a scholarship ticket)
-a group of ex-alcoholic friends who had left San Fran and opened a fishing lodge in Alaska (these guys seemed to be doing alright financially, but not rich going by their cars/tents/camp)
-a husband+wife from a tiny off-the-grid village in the Colorado mountains (they said they'd worked weekends in a bigger city all year to pay their way)

Conversely, the very few 'bad' experiences I had at BM were the times I wound up in the big, swanky, semi-walled off camps, or the time I had dinner at the commissary where the staff eat. There was a tangible competitive/exclusive/"Who Are You??" vibe that made me instantly uncomfortable.

I have two friends going this year so I'm excited to hear first-hand accounts, although they're both first timers without any previous experiences to compare.

Tried to get tickets the past couple years but it's incredibly difficult. I knew that it was selling out fairly quickly, but the resell market, which I depended on two of the three previous times, seems ridiculous now.
posted by mannequito at 6:10 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Techno-utopianism and libertarianism have gone hand-in-hand for a long time -- bootstrapping and coding/"hacking"/maker-spaces kind of inhabit the same universe if you worship Stewart Brand and his ilk.
posted by mirepoix at 6:15 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Burning Man enables people deeply invested in the myths of our purtanical, milicapitalist oligarchy to participate in a faux-rebellion of open sexual expression, non-regimented days, and creative consumption of goods while maintaining and participating in our oppressive norms during the rest of the year.

The exhibitionist and utopian fantasies of Burning Man are actually fully in line with the status quo (regarding gender, gender roles, status, creative expression, product creation / destruction / consumption, common-denominator definitions of free-will and individual expression/freedom, etc.) and are only rebellious in so far as their enactors costume themselves in feathers instead of suits.

Burning Man and like are the steam valve that keeps the engine from exploding. It does not surprise me that the oligarchs have grown to love it so.


There's a strain of thought that suggests this has always been the focus of all Carnivals (see here, for example). Naturally, I have always been a firm believer that mefi should enact it by having a once-a-year img-tag day.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:16 PM on August 25, 2015 [26 favorites]


In all seriousness, I honestly thought everyone knew about this but my husband didn't, so. FWIW Rainbow Gatherings are, I have heard, basically Burning Man without Silicon Valley

This is really too rich. Every person I know invested in burnerism uses 'hippie' as a derogatory word, the lowest common denominator of insult. Hippies are rainbow/tie-dyed/wool gathering airheads looking for a handout so they can go get high. Burners are independent, ass-kicking, artists and adventurers who can take care of themselves while throwing a great party in a white-out dust storm....or something like that.

You can tell I've never been.
posted by diode at 6:26 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


On another tangent, from the article:
"To these young tech workers — mostly white, mostly men — who flock to the festival, Burning Man reinforces and fosters the idea that they can remake the world without anyone else’s input. It’s a rabid libertarian fantasy. It fluffs their egos and tells them that they have the power and right to make society for all of us, to determine how things should be."

I think there's a misconception here. This idea that tech workers believe their their unique power to remake the world and they'll keep it for themselves and ride roughshod over the wishes of everyone else when doing it - that's not a tech attitude that I've really seen, it's something I've seen more often put forward by people who despise tech culture. It's self-dis-empowering because it implies "I cannot change my world therefore people who can change things should consult me so I can make sure they'll only do things I approve of". Actual tech fantasy is more like the opposite of that - "anyone can learn to code, so anyone has the power to make some aspect of their world better. Me? I'm working on this thing over here that matters to me. It's going to be super cool!".
The idea that presuming-a-right-to-work-for-change-without-consulting-first is rabid... it confuses action and activism. Activism might be working to tell the world "Clinton will be BETTER for us than Trump!" over the world's insistence that Trump is better (or to tell the world "Trump will be BETTER for us than Clinton!" over any insistence otherwise). No-one expects an activist to check in with the world first "Would you prefer me to put my energy into campaigning for Clinton or for Trump?". That's not activism, that's a bored person looking for something to occupy their time. I think that overlooking the element of activism when it's one type of people trying to change the world instead of another type leads to some of these unevenly-applied expectations.
posted by anonymisc at 6:28 PM on August 25, 2015 [16 favorites]


He probably would have had to be drugged and taken there in shackles, but I would have loved to read David Foster Wallace's thoughts on Burning Man.

pfft. Hunter Thompson. One of my greatest sadnesses is that Thompson and Bourdain never did a road trip together.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:30 PM on August 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


I only recently began to suspect just how much Burning Man had changed: some San Francisco-based friends advised us that the weekend of Burning Man was the best time to go get brunch because there wouldn’t be any lines.

I can't find it right now, but there was a Keith Knight cartoon about this precise issue... in 1997.
posted by asterix at 6:36 PM on August 25, 2015


Shout out to the still awesome Great Blue Heron Music festival in western NY. Hippies, hillsides, camping, and the Bog Jog! Happy Heron!

Wow, is that still going on? I haven't been to there since '95. Had a carved wooden Heron souvenir in my back year for years afterward though.
posted by octothorpe at 6:36 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every year. Every year the same articles by the same people bemoaning how their lack of ability to plan and their lack of friends are a sure sign of someone else's privilege.

The first year I attended Burning Man (2002), my annual salary was $18,000. My second year, it was $13,000. I decided that I wanted to go, so I ate a lot more ramen than I otherwise would have, and I fucking went. I certainly wasn't getting any paid vacation during that period, but when you're working a minimum-wage retail job, it's actually significantly easier to get a week off of work than it is when you're in a cushier office position.

And the Burning Man community was incredibly generous to me. After I resolved a dispute on the Burning Man boards, a total stranger from one of the camps offered me a ride to the event (which was a good thing, because I didn't know how to drive). Another person I'd never met before gave me a geodesic dome. My neighbors at the event fed me pretty much the entire week because my food supply was limited to what I could afford (Kraft dinners and pudding, mostly).

2015 will be my eighth Burn. It'll also mark the eighth ticket that I'm gifting to someone who couldn't otherwise afford to go. That's not uncommon; many of my campmates earn well below the national average, and none of us is rich. We're just good at working together, and we believe in helping each other out.

The idea that an event is suspect unless it somehow manages to keep 100% of rich people out is some seriously high school level nonsense.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 6:37 PM on August 25, 2015 [29 favorites]


This is really too rich. Every person I know invested in burnerism uses 'hippie' as a derogatory word, the lowest common denominator of insult. Hippies are rainbow/tie-dyed/wool gathering airheads looking for a handout so they can go get high. Burners are independent, ass-kicking, artists and adventurers who can take care of themselves while throwing a great party in a white-out dust storm....or something like that.

This is obviously subjective, but my impression has been that a big problem has been that hippies, as a movement, are kind of perceived as having “failed”. That is, they endorsed undermining, destroying and subverting the society of the time but then, whatever permanent changes they might have brought about, didn't get credited or acknowledged for their role in causing them.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:37 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Every year. Every year the same articles by the same people bemoaning how their lack of ability to plan and their lack of friends are a sure sign of someone else’s privilege.

That’s not really what the article is about, though.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:39 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


What you're describing, anonymisc, is exactly the same phenomenon the historian Fred Turner discusses in that article I linked upthread:
I always thought the ’60s and the counterculture were one thing. I didn’t understand until I started doing that book that in fact there were two actually fairly distinct movements, one, the New Left, doing politics to change politics, and the other, what I ended up calling the New Communalists, who were headed back to the land and wanted to change the world by changing essentially their minds, their consciousness. That first group, the New Left, believed in bureaucracy, believed in hierarchy, believed in organizations. The second group, the New Communalists, believed in doing away with all of those things and turning instead to small-scale technologies, LSD, Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, etc. as technologies with which to kind of change our minds.

Having gotten our minds changed, having gotten our heads together, as the phrase went, we could then build communities oriented around the shared mindset. We would no longer need rules. We would no longer need governance. We would no longer need bureaucracy or hierarchy at all.
I'd say the BurningMan phenomenon is very much a descendant of the second group's mindset, and that's part of why it's so popular with the valley. A self-organized city, where you can do whatever you want, devoted to clebrating individual expression. You can be as free as you want and as high as a kite, let go of your preconceptions, that's what will open you up to true happiness....there's a Venn diagram there with some aspect of libertarianism, the hatred of bureaucracy. But it's not entirely libertairian, because liberatarianism is not communal, it's contractual. It's not as much freedom as possible to do what I want so I can make cool things to impress the others. It's as much freedom to as possible to do what I want so I can build my own castle, rule my own kingdom, without consideration for others. Burning Man is still very much the former.

Whereas the Jacobin is very much of the first mindset, the kind that sees bureacracy as a powerful machine to be seized and used in favor of the people, not something which can be wiped away, which sees all attempts at wiping it away as mere dust cloths to disguise it.
posted by Diablevert at 6:40 PM on August 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


Burning Man: Spring break for the Rich & Pretentious
posted by jonmc at 6:43 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Even in the three years I went there, sometime back around the turn of the century, people joked about how the old timers would complain about how it used to be better back in the day. And in those few years I saw it go from really big to pretty huge, and I can't even imagine what it's like now. But there are amazing things to be seen and done at Burning Man, and I'm sure it's still worth going if you can.
Of course, it's annoying as hell to read these articles (which have been coming out for years now) about the .001% dropping in as tourists, the way they might casually spend a few hundred thousand dollars for the fun of hunting a lion in Africa. One can't help but feel that they really ought to spend a week a year in some godforsaken rice paddy learning why there are people who actually choose to assemble cell phones for them in a godforsaken factory instead. But what can you do?
posted by uosuaq at 6:45 PM on August 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Like Oyéah, I'd like to go for the visuals -- to see the art, the costumes, and the mobile sculptures. The people I knew back in the 1990s who were going put me off of it for a long time, though; while I am sure they were not representative of the whole event, they were the worst kind of pretentious and it left a bad taste in my mouth for years.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:09 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've attended Burning Man, but only in Second Life where it's free.
posted by Deoridhe at 7:15 PM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


“It’s happening right now on planet Earth. Just wander around, you’ll find it.”

Do I have to talk to anyone? Is there an app?
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 7:27 PM on August 25, 2015


A note about similar festivals; I wouldn't put Rainbow Family in the same oeuvre as Burning Man. It's a completely different vibe, scene, feeling. There are always Rainbow Family at Burning Man, but burning man doesn't come to Gathering, as a rule.

X-day is similar in outrageous fun happy time as BM, but it's a much smaller, insular event of Bob Botherers.
posted by dejah420 at 7:28 PM on August 25, 2015


I have read Ronald Hutton's HIstory of the Druids and I learned that historians do not accept the burning men story as historical.

Right! I have it on good authority that nobody knows who they were, or what they were doing.
posted by thelonius at 7:44 PM on August 25, 2015 [15 favorites]


Burning Man always makes me think of a massive co-ed toybox that has been emptied out into the sandpit and now the children are using a magnifying glass to burn holes in all the toys and do general violence to them. It's like that scene at the end of the first Toy Story where all the fucked-up toys are living under that bully's bed.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:53 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


klausman's link pretty much nails it. I'll just quote the last couple of sentences:
What was a small, radical gathering of genuine weirdos in 1986 is now just another wealthy man’s getaway. Besides, environmentalism isn’t just about cleaning up after yourself: It’s about your carbon footprint. And Burning Man’s isn’t small. Your art car is still a car, Burners. Think about it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:57 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


The green, disc shaped biting bugs, probably a science experiment of some sort.
posted by Oyéah at 8:32 PM on August 25, 2015


Thank you for this glorious gift. Hating Burning Man and tech douchery are two of my favorite things.
posted by dame at 8:33 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think there's a misconception here. This idea that tech workers believe their their unique power to remake the world and they'll keep it for themselves and ride roughshod over the wishes of everyone else when doing it - that's not a tech attitude that I've really seen, it's something I've seen more often put forward by people who despise tech culture. It's self-dis-empowering because it implies "I cannot change my world therefore people who can change things should consult me so I can make sure they'll only do things I approve of". Actual tech fantasy is more like the opposite of that - "anyone can learn to code, so anyone has the power to make some aspect of their world better. Me? I'm working on this thing over here that matters to me. It's going to be super cool!".

Yes but the totally legitimate critique of that culture is never do they ask the next question, "it matters to me, but how will it affect other people?"
posted by one_bean at 8:38 PM on August 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


Naturally, I have always been a firm believer that mefi should enact it by having a once-a-year img-tag day.

I am still patiently agitating for my plan of the Annual Misrule Mod of the Bean where a randomly selected member is given modly powers for 12 glorious days of tomfoolery and madness and is then sacrificed to the horned god
posted by poffin boffin at 9:01 PM on August 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


technically it can still be called burning man
posted by poffin boffin at 9:02 PM on August 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


The only thing the SCA and burning man have in common is camping.

That being said, I have friends that go to both Pennsic and Burning Man, but the one they'd miss if they had to is Burning Man.


Nah, there's a lot of overlap of people that have done both, especially people that were in the early 20s in the mid 90s, which is when the SCA more or less peaked.

I'd happily forgo Pennsic if I had to choose between the two - it's got a very narrow set of things that it does and is turning into more and more of a rennfaire on steroids. Burning Man has an amazing variety of things to do if one chooses to look around.
posted by Candleman at 9:33 PM on August 25, 2015


An alternative and forefather of Burning Man: Zozobra
posted by wobumingbai at 9:42 PM on August 25, 2015


and is then sacrificed to the horned god

technically matthowie is the spectacled god.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:48 PM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


In all seriousness, I honestly thought everyone knew about this but my husband didn't, so. FWIW Rainbow Gatherings are, I have heard, basically Burning Man without Silicon Valley

This is really too rich. Every person I know invested in burnerism uses 'hippie' as a derogatory word, the lowest common denominator of insult. Hippies are rainbow/tie-dyed/wool gathering airheads looking for a handout so they can go get high. Burners are independent, ass-kicking, artists and adventurers who can take care of themselves while throwing a great party in a white-out dust storm....or something like that.

You can tell I've never been.


I've been to both, Rainbow Gathering in uh, 1995 I think?, and Burning Man 1996-2002. They are not the same: hippies at the Gathering build shitters, set up kitchens, feed lots of people who have no money, drum all night and really do leave no trace. It's actually crazy how a bunch of mostly itinerant freaks with no money can do this free thing somewhere remote and no one ever needs to go hungry. Of course, you have to be okay with drum circles, everywhere, all night, and you know, hippies, who can be cool or irritating and self-righteous. People drink (prohibited in areas) and take lots of drugs.

Burning Man is also not a place where you will ever go hungry or thirsty. People drink and take lots of drugs. People with no money used to get in easily, then less and less easily. The first year I went tickets were thirty dollars. You used to have to be pretty hard core to be out there, but that stopped being the case around 2000. There are people with RVs with air conditioning, you can't wander way out to the trash fence and run out of water before you see another person anymore, and there are so many people on the road at the end that people can no longer kill themselves speeding home on one lane desert roads after a week of partying. 1996 was the last time you could bring guns to/shoot guns while at Burning Man, and the last time you could drive around in your own, non-art car. BRC has amazing art and sculpture and structures that you would never see at a Rainbow Gathering. It also has noisy generators and noisy art cars and noisy sound systems and lights and explosions and Leave No Trace is pretty much a myth once you fill the air with particulates. It's not the same as it used to be, but it's not really the same as anything else, either.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:50 PM on August 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Is Burning Man literally the Bohemian Grove except out in the open?
posted by Apocryphon at 11:23 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Those Burning Man bugs are the stuff of nightmares.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:05 AM on August 26, 2015


Haven't been to Burning Man or to a Rainbow Gathering, but the Oregon Country Fair used to be pretty great.
posted by janet lynn at 2:27 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't remember, from previous threads, people on here hating BM so much? Wow.

I truly do think if they banned the sound/rave camps, Burning Man would be a much better event. Right now I think a lot of people just see it as an outgrowth of the whole summer festival / electronica scene. You take that away, the ones who will still go will be the people who are truly interested in artistic expression and creating an alternate society.

I... Sort of agree? Mostly just the large ones though. The ones that got in trouble for making lineup lists and disseminating them.

The final weekend last year, there was a huge influx of very young obviously wealthy party kids, quite a few of which were from europe. They all came there basically just to go to the big dance camps, make a big mess, take some selfies, and leave.

I couldn't find a way to phrase that which didn't sound super stereotypical or borderline made up in how perfect it was, but it was so concisely obvious. Thursday and friday mid day they all rolled in, and they were gone before the temple even burned on sunday.

Overall though, most of the people i met and talked to were just... weirdo. Not wealthy weirdos, and quite a few working class weirdos even. The people i went with included a game store worker, general contractor, factory technician/welder, and other people with similar jobs. Met quite a few bartenders, people in food service, and other stuff like that too. Everyone seemed to have, at most, mid five figures jobs. Were there obvious rich people camps on the perimeter, some of which were walled off, and blatantly super expensive tour buses/diesel class A's/toterhomes/etc? of course... but the majority of what i saw outside the inner circles where it's mostly art was like, people smoking joints in monkey huts set up next to beat up moving trucks people were sleeping in the backs of, junky or rented RVs, and like old smashed up panel vans with shit airbrushed on to them. Even most of the camps, while often hilarious/awesome/creative are obviously fairly low rent materials wise, even if they're high rent in labor time or skills.

There's a lot more old guys with their dick hanging out the bottom of a tutu fixing bikes than there are tech CEOs, is what i'm saying. It's pretty much like the real world in that regard.

I have friends who claim it's been ruined since it started selling out to capacity, and had a completely different vibe when you could just drive up to the gate, pay, and get in. I also have friends who have been going since like 2002(not every year, but off and on often enough to watch it change) or at least since 2008 or so, who say that those people are the same it-was-hipper-when-i-started types that hipster up every "cool" thing and that it still retains its soul, just with a few rich lookie-loos on segways and kanye with a bodyguard holding a parasol.

The entire concept that a few uncool people showing up and saying dumb things about a cool thing makes it uncool is the exact tiresome brand of authenticity-searching that leads to only ever doing a fun thing for 5 minutes ever. I'm completely tired of it.
posted by emptythought at 2:39 AM on August 26, 2015 [13 favorites]


Thanks for bringing up Fred Turner's work, Diablevert. It's relevant and really useful in understanding Silicon Valley culture.

In fact, he's done some work on Burning Man itself. Here he is giving a talk on it and here's a paper (not paywalled for once! Hurrah for academics posting their papers).

From the first link, above, he muses that "[he's] pretty sure that Burning Man is to Silicon Valley what a Protestant chapel might have been to a steel milling town a hundred years ago — a place to practice the ideals and forms of social organization on which the industries of the region depend."
posted by col_pogo at 4:09 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nah, there's a lot of overlap of people that have done both, especially people that were in the early 20s in the mid 90s, which is when the SCA more or less peaked.

I'd happily forgo Pennsic if I had to choose between the two - it's got a very narrow set of things that it does and is turning into more and more of a rennfaire on steroids. Burning Man has an amazing variety of things to do if one chooses to look around.


Actually, that's exactly my point - the SCA does basically one thing, and does it increasingly well. If you're going to Pennsic looking for parties or whatever, then, yeah, one can certainly spend two weeks doing that and not much else, but its not the main thrust of the event. Maybe the party scene is what you mean by "peaked", but for a lot of us, the fact that Pennsic has such a narrow focus is a plus. I've been to Pennsic twenty odd times and I don't think I've ever been to one of the big parties there. I know they're there, and people certainly go, but its pretty easy to avoid the parts of Pennsic (either the hyper-medieval parts or the uber-party parts) that don't interest you. My impression is that its not so easy to avoid the things about BM that aren't to ones taste.
posted by anastasiav at 5:34 AM on August 26, 2015


There's a lot more old guys with their dick hanging out the bottom of a tutu fixing bikes than there are tech CEOs, is what i'm saying. It's pretty much like the real world in that regard.

What a delightful quote!
posted by Going To Maine at 5:40 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Re: Burning Man vs. Rainbow Nationals.

I went to both in 2001. I almost never tell people that I went to Burning Man (guess I'm outing myself here...) because I had a horrible time. And inevitably - up until the last few years, when Burning Man became so passé - I was treated like it was some sort of personal fault that I did not enjoy it.

The problem was that I went to Rainbow Nationals first. I spent two weeks in the woods of Central Idaho, camping under the trees and enjoying long, lazy days of reading, hanging out with new friends, drum circles, morning yoga, helping in the kitchens, playing with the dogs, etc. My camp was right next to one of the Hare Krishna camps and I was lulled to sleep each night by their chanting. My favorite memory: I was sitting under a tree reading "The Grapes of Wrath" when two men, each playing a guitar and walking from opposite directions, met at the path in front of me. They stopped and had a little acoustic jam under the pine trees for a while and I sat there and listened. After a bit, they moved along on their opposite paths. Nobody spoke. It was beautiful.

Burning Man, on the other hand, was like Mad Max. So much noise, so much neon and chaos, so many people being loud and firecrackers and dust and oh! I hated it. I'm going to say there were roughly the same number of people at both events - but the chaos meter at Burning Man was sky-high compared to that at Rainbow Nationals. I was like, "WTF is this shit, take me back to the woods" as people rode by on noisy motorcycles, screaming and shooting off sparklers.

Anyway, when I would tell people that I'd gone to BM and not liked it - I disliked it so much that I left before the BURN, people - I felt that people's opinions of me changed radically. What sort of person doesn't like Burning Man? What is she, some sort of monster???? Does she hate freedom and art or something? Nah, I just hate chaos and if I'm going to camp outdoors, I prefer it be in the woods instead of in the middle of a carnival.

I'm secretly glad that people are getting over the whole Burning-Man-is-the-be-all-and-end-all thing. Now they can assume that I won't go because I hate capitalism. Yeah!
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:17 AM on August 26, 2015 [9 favorites]


So let's say one missed the opportunity to go to Burning Man before it became as authentic an experience as Disneyland... are there other similar festivals that are opting to stay under the radar and avoid becoming so overblown? Or is asking sort of missing the point?

AfrikaBurn in South Africa, maybe? But it's probably also a done thing by this point.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:24 AM on August 26, 2015


"and is then sacrificed to the horned god"

technically matthowie is the spectacled god.


the horn-rimmed god
posted by exogenous at 7:26 AM on August 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wrote this in 2012, and it got published in 2014 on playa, so I am sympathetic to the article.

Basic reading comprehension reveals that the Jacobin piece isn't another version of Sterling's 1996 Wired article. You can agree or disagree with whether Burning Man should have a radical anti-capitalist core, and use its cultural power to deal with the political and environmental crises we face, but the fact remains that it does not. That is the point of TFA.

For what it's worth, I still believe that parts of burner culture and the burn model can be used to deal with these ideas, in the context of a party, and that Frostburn is the best place to do that. Going to Maine referenced it earlier; I went to Burning Man 12 times and I've been to Frostburn four times, and I can make the recommendation from experience. If anyone wants to discuss any of this at extreme length, let me know, because I have given it a good deal of thought. We could do so at Frostburn, but not at Burning Man, since I am one of the haters who doesn't go anymore for basically the reasons listed in the Jacobin piece and my own.
posted by ent at 8:22 AM on August 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


burning man honestly sounds like my worst nightmare and always has, even back when i still liked huge parties. no showering and having to use portapotties for a week? and my contacts are full of grit the entire time? everyone is aggressively wacky? instead of just those one of those buck naked super high party randos who wants to hug you there's like, 100 of them? no thank u, i will be at some 10 ppl max capacity resort on some breezy unnamed caye in belize having umbrella drinks in the lagoon and not making eye contact with anyone other than the servers when i thank them for bringing me a moist towelette
posted by poffin boffin at 8:38 AM on August 26, 2015 [9 favorites]


For some reason this piece and all the comments make me think that someone, somewhere will write a Don Draper visits Burning Man fan fic short story.

The people I knew back in the 1990s who were going put me off of it for a long time

Same for me. I would go to a friend's parties who was a burner and there would be lots of burners there and it was the most unwelcoming, you're not one of us crowd I've ever run into, constantly challenging my own and others' supposed preconceptions and conventional thinking. How they determined this within seconds of meeting someone I have no idea.

One person in particular went on and on about how another friend wasn't a legitimate architect because he went to school for it and school and art don't mix and if you thought so and were not persuaded otherwise you were neither cool nor creative. That sort of conversation came up again and again. A shit tonne of posturing really.

Of course this does not mean most are like that there, or even a substantial number, but it did turn me off, sort of like I would probably not go to an outdoor concert event that featured some great bands if I knew I had to put up with Nickelback. I suspect dedicated burners feel the same way about the exclusive rich sections at the event.
posted by juiceCake at 8:43 AM on August 26, 2015


Yes but the totally legitimate critique of that culture is never do they ask the next question, "it matters to me, but how will it affect other people?"

It's really not a legitimate critique, it's a fiction invented and subscribed to by bigots seeking to justify hate. The green-power advocate knows full well that their actions contribute to hardship for some others (coal miners for example), but believes the good outweighs the bad. People trying to increase efficiency in some niche area of the market is going to create hardship for some (increasing efficiency always does), but believes efficiency is worthwhile in the long run.
posted by anonymisc at 10:09 AM on August 26, 2015


no showering and having to use portapotties for a week?

People have been showering there for at least a decade now. And with the rise of RVs on the playa, having to use a portapotty is less of an issue too.

(7 or 8 years ago I had the idea to bring a house -- an entire house, complete with water and electricity -- to the playa. I meant it as a joke, but it's looking less and less funny all the time.)
posted by asterix at 10:16 AM on August 26, 2015


And with the rise of RVs on the playa, having to use a portapotty is less of an issue too.

An RV is just a portapotty on wheels.
posted by JackFlash at 10:29 AM on August 26, 2015


so instead of relaxing umbrella drinks i should procure a massive expensive vehicle that i don't know how to drive and then poop in that instead
posted by poffin boffin at 11:53 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe you can get one with a flamethrower on it?
posted by Artw at 11:54 AM on August 26, 2015


So I guess we've moved past the "drop a reporter off at gate stark naked with no supplies and see if he survives the week" era of Burning Man reporting?

You can judge the event for the actors and their actions that aren't popular within the community itself, but that's as foolish as writing off the whole Occupy movement as a bunch of anarchists looking to break windows and other senseless acts of violence. The reports where the mega-rich pay $15,000 for a ticket and pay someone else to setup and run camp for them disgusted me, and many others inside the burner community, to the point that the org was forced to respond.

The org doesn't want it to be treated as just like another music festival like Coachella or Glastonbury, which is why the music lineup, which isn't even official, was only released yesterday, just days before the event opens to the public. Those who are going have already been planning (and building) for months. That's not going to keep out the rich, but it does serve to keep out the tourists who are only there to see big names like Daft Punk, and whose singular goal for the week to "get drunk and score with chicks ".
posted by fragmede at 12:00 PM on August 26, 2015


“and is then sacrificed to the horned god”

technically matthowie is the spectacled god.

the horn-rimmed god

FIVE DOLLARS TO THE HORN-RIMMED GOD
posted by Going To Maine at 12:13 PM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Burning Man, on the other hand, was like Mad Max. So much noise, so much neon and chaos, so many people being loud and firecrackers and dust and oh! I hated it. I'm going to say there were roughly the same number of people at both events - but the chaos meter at Burning Man was sky-high compared to that at Rainbow Nationals. I was like, "WTF is this shit, take me back to the woods" as people rode by on noisy motorcycles, screaming and shooting off sparklers.

See to me this makes Burning Man sound infinitely preferable to the Rainbow People. I think one has to admit it all comes down to a big party/spectacle in the desert though, which doesn't mean it's wrong to feel like the influx of wealth and proliferation of exclusive cliques is screwing up the atmosphere of the thing.
posted by atoxyl at 12:43 PM on August 26, 2015


(7 or 8 years ago I had the idea to bring a house -- an entire house, complete with water and electricity -- to the playa. I meant it as a joke, but it's looking less and less funny all the time.)

I remember a house art car, last time I was there, 2010. It was just that - a house, driving around. Electricity, not sure about plumbing.

I had a great time sitting on the front porch for about two hours as it drove around and the sun set. A bluegrass group hopped aboard, they were serving margaritas out the living room window, and someone gave me a cigar.
posted by mannequito at 1:10 PM on August 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


One thing I've never understood is evangelical burners.
It's a weird fucking place. It's not for everyone. I've never once tried to convince someone to go and I never will (though it happens accidentally when I talk about it, because yeah it IS for me)
Burning man sucks, don't go.
You're not going to enjoy it if you need someone to talk you into going.
posted by flaterik at 4:08 PM on August 26, 2015


i think my favorite thing about articles pointing out burning man's drift toward a typical kind of libertarian hedonism is all the people that come out of the woodwork being like LOOK MAN, I HAD A REALLY GOOD TIME / THE VIBES ARE REALLY GOOD / NOT EVERYBODY IS RICH SO ....

like, that's great. i am glad you had a cool time and yes cool weird people definitely go and do shit there, but way to completely evade the critique that's being made! completely! and other people completely do make a deal out of the "ethos of burning man" in such a way that these structural critiques are meaningful. and i think it is really, really interesting that the common response to a structural critique is something about how an individual had a good time...
posted by beefetish at 4:57 PM on August 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


The act of paying people to provide services for you at Burning Man seems pretty radically at odds with the stated principle of decommodification. How do people justify it? Do they even try?
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:24 PM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Beefetish, I was just thinking the opposite.
That this thread is a bit of a downer, and it's not because of incisive comments about structural/economic inequality, but because most of the comments amount to "Your favourite band sucks".

I mean, what we are really talking about in the article is gentrification, right? The ability of the rich to buy into anything, or anywhere, and their desire to do so in places that people are having a really good time, or making attractive in some way.
That's the recipe, Artists make it cool, and then the rich move in to coopt it. Yes?

And yet, discussions about property gentrification don't usually blame the area being gentrified, or it's preponderance of artists. You don't get the 'They were asking for it'.

Where is the critique? Where is the feedback? Most of the interesting critique appears to be from Burners, people in this community, assessing the impact and ways to mitigate it, reinforce social norms. Upholding decommodification. Culturally enforced norms against ticket scalping etc. Will it work? Well, to some extent. How do you oppose gentrification, in general?
It seems most successful efforts have been about keeping a strong community, upholding community norms, keeping it weird in other words - making it clear that money will not absolve your requirement to interact with the community, or remove the inconveniences central to that communities identity (Innercity is noisy, huh? Yep, that it is).
I think where it will be really interesting is if they ever just kick out camps for not upholding decommodification, if the BMorg isn't being coopted itself.

But still, in the article, it points out that the percentage of the, economic 1%, is running at a whole 2.7%. Read it again the number of attendees who make more than $300,000 a year doubled from 1.4% to 2.7%. .
Which.
Wait, what? That's all? Really?
I mean, that's still putting you in the same kind of category as New York, but wouldn't you expect it to be, well, higher? Again, I really can't identify with the top 1%. If I had the cash, I'd be spending it on going to things like Burning Man. Once in a lifetime experience, every year.

But yeah, that's not the discussion we're having, many of the comments mostly read like speculating all the ways it might actually be horrible, in most cases, by people who've never been.
So, in that context, no, it's not at all surprising that people are jumping in to say that, well, actually, they didn't find it horrible at all, and they have been. Is that surprising?


So, some band love. I've been to BM once, about a decade ago. Since then I've been involved in regional burns, like Kiwiburn, which is on a paddock, surrounded by trees and with a river. If anything has cultural effect, it'll be the regionals.

Still, a few things I liked about Burning Man:

* It looked like the pictures. Many beautiful street parades, festivals, tourists spots in the world, but in many of them, you know if you've seen a stunning picture of it, that if you could turn 360 degrees, it would mostly be people in normal clothes, holding cameras. Burning Man wasn't a music festival, it really was collaborative art piece in the desert.

* The ground. It was flat, and white, and cracked like the bottom of a puddle, which I liked, but at a distance, it reminded me of nothing so much as a canvas, and people treated it like one. Kind of oddly one of the safest outdoor environments I've been in. Completely walkable and bikeable as it's so flat, and no bugs, no drowning, no cacti. Night time temperatures cold but not freezing.

* It was great for me, as an introvert. I'd like to enjoy music festivals, but it's really hard to get away from the crowds.
Burning Man is introvert-friendly, which does partly explain the reputation of having so many weirdos, ha! Burning Man is really big, not just in people but in land area. Further, there's not only empty space to chill out in, but art to wander round and look at. Because pretty much everyone is participating in some way, it means the proportion of other people versus things to see is really, really low. Actually, I just haven't ever been to any other large events other than Burning Man related things, that had such a low ratio of people versus things to do.
People have set up bars and interactive art on every block. Often there is no one at the camps, or a few people chilling at any given bar, because everyone is everywhere else, and the really social have congregated at bigger party. It's like you are in a neighbourhood where every single house has decorated for a themed party, which means at any one time, you can get away from everyone, everything, and feel like you have a whole art gallery to yourself, or somewhere to hang with just a few interesting people.

* Contrasting it to Dismaland is interesting. I think it's a cool project, but very relevant to the discussion - several of the art pieces are directly from BM. The ethos is very BM. It's like a teeny, tiny, cut down version of the art of BM, if it was on just one theme. Which is still fun! And I like how they are parodying the experience of being a passive attendee to something like Disneyland, but...
it is still being a passive attendee?
I prefer house parties, to bars. I'd often rather volunteer at an event than visit it. It's nice being in an environment where it isn't passive attendees. Almost everyone you meet is a participant, this is their community, their city, and they'll show you what they have contributed. Possibly by leading you down a long maze to sign an NDA before meeting God, or up a ladder into a mirrored cube with lights hung from a crane, which then gets bounced around while you see yourself in infinity.
There's no service workers/carnies versus visitors, it's all volunteers, it's all carnies, all the time.


P.S. I had no idea til now that there even WAS a music lineup for Burning Man. Wait, there still isn't really, right? It's people trying to compile famous people who might be playing at various camps?
posted by Elysum at 6:21 PM on August 26, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'd like to enjoy music festivals, but it's really hard to get away from the crowds. Burning Man is introvert-friendly

Interesting! The assumption that it would too much like being in crowds at a music festival has had me assuming it's not a place for me. But it sounds like I have one less reason to avoid it. Good to know :)
posted by anonymisc at 6:36 PM on August 26, 2015



I mean, what we are really talking about in the article is gentrification, right? The ability of the rich to buy into anything, or anywhere, and their desire to do so in places that people are having a really good time, or making attractive in some way.
Artists make it cool, and then the rich move in to coopt it. Yes?


I don't think it's that simple, that there was this artsy paradise and then the Squares came. The first Google doodle, circa 1998, was the Burning Man logo. It acted as the techie version of a Gone Fishin' sign, to indicate that the co-founders would be at the fest for a week and unreachable.

Et in Arcadia egoGoogle.The Valley has always been in love with the fest. As the valley has grown more powerful, their power becomes more visible. The Royal baggage train is brought to the bacchanal. But the connections run deeper than merely the posers turning up when it got cool.
posted by Diablevert at 9:07 PM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


In this age of “hmm, maybe Google actually doesn’t totally avoid being evil", it's worth remembering just how much of a Utopian idea it was, and how much effort Google exerted for a long time to avoid being a normal company.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:06 PM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not so bad being an introvert there. Most regular weekend festivals I start feeling crazy by Sat afternoon. BM it didn't kick in until 5/6 days - basically, the weekend, when it's at full capacity, and if you've been there all week you're probably very tired, worn out, dirty, mildly heatstroked etc. Wed-Fri was always the highlight for me, still had energy and most of the big camps/installations are up and running by then.

Although I always hated the actual burning of the man. For a festival based around inclusion and not-being-a-spectator, it's weird that the one big central event draws (guessing here) 70-80% of the population into a giant circle staring. My personal ritual then, since the introvert in me was kicking and screaming by that point, was to bike all the way to the outer edge ("the trash fence") and sit with a couple of beers watching the distant spectacle. It was always really quiet out there, but not empty, and I would meet a few other likeminded types.

(of course, then two dudes in a dune buggy with giant speakers mounted on the sides are likely to show up, doing donuts and whooping with Rage Against the Machine blasting, and you remember 'oh yeah I'm at burning man', and you smile and give them a thumbs up and they toss a beer to you and drive away waving,. but the silence does return)
posted by mannequito at 12:40 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


elysum you're doing that thing people do again.

i will say it again: the whole "decommodification"/"radical self-reliance"/vigorous defense of BM based on "good vibes" critique exists for a reason. nobody's saying it's not a completely off the chain party, it's self-evidently a completely off the chain party. but it's also a party that claims to be something more than a party, and it's a party i hear people defend the carbon footprint etc of because of "All the good things that come out of it" and i think people are right to raise eyebrows at that
posted by beefetish at 8:41 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


so instead of relaxing umbrella drinks i should procure a massive expensive vehicle that i don't know how to drive and then poop in that instead

I mean, I guess you could still poop in the umbrella drinks if you want to?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:48 AM on August 27, 2015


elysum you're doing that thing people do again.

Really? If you actually mean disagreeing with you, then yes, otherwise no.
I commented on how I think BM is or could work with issues of commodification or the 1%.
I also pointed out that the discussion we've actually been having in thread, is mostly people theorising that the festival is 'probably' filled with douches.
If I had continued with in that same vein, speculating on the ways in which BM 'might' suck, which would have been keeping in with the thread tone so far, would that have been 'doing that thing'?

If not, then how are my comments that my actual lived experience of the festival was actually pretty great, uncrowded, and by implication, non-douchey/sucky, off the topic of the thread so far?
Because that is the discussion we're having.

We don't have to agree, but I'd appreciate it if you could try to take a slightly more good faith reading of my participation here?


Some further thoughts that I didn't get to, I've just moved to the UK, and it's interesting to compare it to other large festivals like Glastonbury etc, where they also have the major carbon overheads involved in nearly 150,000 odd thousand people travelling to the site, which they are addressing with plans like the green traveller scheme, and are trying to turn around a truly ferocious litter problem - on a scale completely unseen at BM events, and they are having some progress. Still, the reason you don't see pictures of massive litter on the news after BM events is because it's pretty marginal in comparison. Community values and all that jazz.

To go further in carbon-neutrality, what I'm familiar with is Kiwiburn, the New Zealand regional, and a friend and burner who attends was not only a member of New Zealand’s Climate Science Coalition which make submissions to the IPCC, but calculated the carbon footprint of Kiwiburn, so carbon offsets could be incorporated into the ticket price, so the event would be carbon neutral. Burning Man could absolutely do that too.
Anyway, for Kiwiburn, it wasn't the event that caused that much carbon, it's the travel there, which pretty much goes for all major events and festivals, world wide.
On one hand, no, Burning Man don't have any more obligation to do so than the Superbowl, or Oktoberfest, but it would be more in line with their core values, which does increase responsibility, I feel (it still needs to be done on national levels as a carbon tax, voluntary basis just won't work).
I've seen estimates that participants carbon footprint for the week of BM is twice that of a normal, North American lifestyle carbon footprint week. You have to acknowledge a problem to address it, but at the same time, art is a luxury, it is people choosing where to invest their resources, to figure out what adds most meaning to life.
I do think it's an interesting teaching moment to show people, for a week, what limited resources actually look like, what being responsible for your own litter and water, etc looks like.
Question is, what are attendees doing the other 51 weeks of the year to make up for that extra week of carbon expenditure? Is that really worth it?

Which leads round to Google. I mean, yeah, I'm wondering if their slogan these days isn't just 'be less evil', but they're still no Yahoo, Apple or Microsoft.
If there is any chance that Burning Man has anything to do with Google being carbon neutral since 2007, then bring it on. If it has had anything to do with them attempting to be more ethical then the other big tech companies, or investing more than 1 billion into renewable energy, then hell yes, maybe those community values are actually working?
I would love for BM to be able to take the credit there. But eh, that's smart people trying not to be dicks I guess. That's Berkeley, that's SF, that's a range of cultural influences.
posted by Elysum at 5:03 PM on August 27, 2015 [4 favorites]




There’s a meetup, beeteedubs
posted by Going To Maine at 12:46 PM on September 1, 2015


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