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12 September 2008 @ 11:20 am
Thoughtful critique of Burning Man  
Burning Man 2008: The American Dream

I would add that it also sounds like a space that's not terribly accessible to disabled artists or poor white artists.

Another excellent piece talks about roles for women of color in Hollywood. Wow, we have black women judges? Who knew? ...Duh!
bitterjesus: Cautionbitterjesus on September 12th, 2008 11:20 pm (UTC)
Here's my response
I've been going to Burning Man since 1997, and the event has changed dramatically in that time, moving more towards "giant desert rave with art" and away from "intense spiritual catharsis" (for me, anyway). Keep in mind, however, that what is out there (and what has not changed) is what people bring with them, and that's it. There is no outreach to attendees, no advertising--the people who show up do so because, like you, they've heard about it and want to check it out. Without question, the event has gotten more expensive over the years as the fees to the BLM and the state and local authorities have gone up, and as the infrastructure required to support so many people has increased. The organization does make money, but a lot of it goes back into the event and to sponsor artists to create some of what you saw on the Playa. As to the subsidiary expenses, there's no question that just showing up takes a fair amount of cash. I challenge you to find a workable solution--it's easy to complain about the expense, rather more difficult to solve.

On that point, I take specific issue with your phrase, "When I wake up dreaming of freedom, I am not thinking there is a massive door charge." That's because you are dreaming. Freedom always has a price, usually one paid in blood. In this case, the price involves evading the watchful eye of authority, which grows ever more difficult as the event grows larger. The Black Rock desert was chosen for just that purpose, but a big chunk of the money paid out annually by the Burning Man Organization is, to my mind and speaking strictly as an attendee, essentially a bribe to get that eye to turn away for awhile. It is, admittedly, a shortcut which cannot achieve true freedom, but it's cheaper than the alternatives, which involve substantially more time, effort, and risk than a trip out to the desert. Burning Man emerged from Larry Harvey's need for catharsis; in the past decades, it has grown to be much more than that, but it is not, at its heart, revolutionary.

I will agree with you that it's very easy at Burning Man, as in life, to be scantily clad while young, sexy, and female. That said, I feel far more free as a hirsute, flabby male to bare my gleaming, pale flesh than I ever do back in the real world, even at places like the beach. I've also seen plenty of scantily-clad or entirely naked women on the Playa who don't conform to typical American standards of physical beauty, but they're certainly a minority.

Overall, I think that the one point about Burning Man that this article misses is that Burning Man is the stone soup of events. It is the role of the Burning Man Organization to provide the basic ingredients, but everything else is hauled in by the individual participants. The nature of the attendees, including the artists, is shaped by who has heard of the event and wants to attend. The art, music, and costumes reflect the culture through which Burning Man has spread by word of mouth. If you want Burning Man to be different, then change it. The quick and dirty route is to convince the BMorg to sponsor some sort of outreach program; the Burning Man approach is to reach out yourself, talk to your friends and community leaders and artists, get organized, and take Black Rock City by storm and show people what a difference you can make. If
Tapatitapati on September 15th, 2008 12:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Here's my response
It seems like Burning Man should recapture its original spirit by turning into many smaller events in different locations rather than becoming ever larger, expensive, and bureaucratic.
bitterjesusbitterjesus on September 16th, 2008 12:15 am (UTC)
Re: Here's my response
In fact, there are a number of "regional burns" around the country, such as Junk Mail Man in SLO and Flipside near Austin, TX, but for a lot of people, I think Black Rock is integral to the experience. Also, the feel of tradition has accumulated around Burning Man specifically, for a variety of reasons. For me, the bottom line is that no one is being forced to go. If it's too big or too bureaucratic or too expensive, the simple answer is to do what Larry Harvey did and start one's own event. Most of the people who criticize Burning Man talk about what "they" should do instead of what "we" should do, which spectacularly misses the point. Come to think of of it, that's often true of politics in general.
bitterjesusbitterjesus on September 12th, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)
That last sentence should be:

"If you don't care enough to do either, why should anyone else?"