I like unique– even more if it’s strange or amusing. Burning Man qualifies. First time visitors to Black Rock City, aka Virgin Burners, can be overwhelmed by the experience. At least I was. I walked around like a South Dakota farm boy in New York City. Or maybe it was more like a chocoholic in a chocolate factory. After ten years the newness has worn off, but I still find much that intrigues me.
Most of all, I love the art; but I also like the elaborate costumes, the magical nights, the mutant vehicles, the performance art, and the characters. Ah yes, the characters– the nature of the event almost requires you be one to participate. Imagine 50,000 together in a raging dust storm. Scary, isn’t it.
And then there is the culture. I don’t mean the sculpture on the Playa, or the opera you might find at Center Camp; I am talking about the ten principles that Larry Harvey and his devoted band of organizers promote: inclusion, gifting, decommodification, self-reliance, self-expression, communal support, respect for the environment, civic responsibility, participation, and immediacy.
Most of these are self-explanatory but three can use further clarification.
Decommodification means that you can’t buy or sell things at Burning Man. Nor can you promote products or companies. There are no sponsorships; there is no advertising. In addition to being self-reliant (having what you need to survive for a week in the desert– water, food, etc.), gifting is the response to decommodification. Everything from free drinks, to food, to bike repairs, to entertainment, costumes and much, much more is given away in one huge potlatch. And everyone is expected to participate by also gifting.
Immediacy borders on spiritual. In the words of Burning Man: “We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.”
Maybe the most unique thing about Burning Man is that it tries to live up to these principles. For example, there is none of the trash floating around that you find at most large events, even the tiniest piece is chased down. The wilderness ethic of ‘leave no trace’ is serious business at Black Rock City.
So while Burning Man is indeed a huge party in the desert with its share of people who come and party for seven days straight, it is also more. I am quite comfortable with Harvey’s ten principles and believe that most are goals we can all strive for. But tell me truthfully– assuming you have never been to Burning Man, did you expect civic responsibility to be one of the ten?
NEXT BLOGS: I’ll be out this coming week at Burning Man so I am pre-posting three more blogs on my trip up the Alaska Highway that Peggy and I returned from this week. First up I want to look at Road Houses. Once essential on the long road to Alaska, they are becoming an endangered species. Second, we will visit the sign forest at Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory with its 70,000 plus street signs. Finally, on our way back through Washington State last week, we stopped off at Mt. St. Helens, one of the modern world’s most famous volcanoes. I actually flew over the volcano a few weeks after it blew its top in 1980.
And finally, to those who visit this blog (thank you), and to the blogs I follow, I will be off the Internet next week. I will catch up with your comments and blogs afterwards.
Starting on September 2, I will begin my series reporting on Burning Man 2013.