In the movie, Star Wars, Luke Skywalker begins his heroic journey in Episode IV by travelling to the spaceport of Mos Eisley with Obi-Wan Kenobi, R2D2 and C-3PO. Once there, they meet up with Hans Solo and Chewbacca, the 200-year-old Wookiee.
Mos Eisley is a dangerous place, a frontier town populated with colorful characters and aliens who exist outside the law. It is a world totally different from the one that Luke has known– the perfect place to launch a heroic quest.
George Lucas credited the world-famous mythologist Joseph Campbell, and his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, for inspiring his original trilogy. According to Campbell, the standard myth of the heroic quest consists of three phases: a departure from everyday life, an initiation that consists of overcoming a series of challenges, and a return to normal life where lessons learned are shared.
I am a long time fan of Campbell. His admonition to “follow your bliss,” i.e. do what you love, is my motto. I think Joe would have seen Black Rock City and Burning Man as the perfect jump off place for a quest. I suspect he would have immediately begun to mythologize the experience.
Departure involves coming into a town, region, or situation that shakes up your perception of reality and provides you with an option of change, or even transformation. You can have your nails done or go for the complete makeover. Or you can beat a hasty retreat back to your comfort zone. It’s up to you.
The Virgin Burner, i.e. newbie, who comes to Black Rock City, is immediately thrown into a world of heat, and dust, and noise, and music and magic. There are monsters roaming the Playa and naked people wandering through camp. You can find angels, and devils and aliens on almost every block of the 68,000-person city. You can sway all night with thousands of people to the primitive beat of heavy metal in a tribal ritual as old as humankind, or meditate alone in the far reaches of the Playa.
And art is everywhere– art that can inspire by its beauty, challenge by its message, and amuse by its humor. Over three hundred works were scattered through the city this year including a beautiful 42-foot naked woman with her arms outstretched in dance and a seven-ton coyote howling at the moon.
Performing art is even more prevalent. Fire dancers work their magic with twirling balls of fire and batons. Musicians sing and play drums, guitars, saxophones, sitars, accordions, banjos, harmonicas and almost anything else that makes music. A one-man-band went strolling by our camp with his instruments trailing along behind. We stopped on the Esplanade and listened as a woman with a powerful voice sang Italian opera on top of a mutant vehicle that shot fire into the sky when she hit high notes.
Campbell saw artists as modern myth makers, as the people who capture and translate what is happening in the present time, who “turn the world into an icon so that it’s radiant.” He would have been excited to see the cutting edge art that Burning Man artists produce and enjoyed meeting the artists. I also think he would have understood the burning of art, which speaks to our transitory nature and the Eastern concept of letting go.
I don’t think Burning Man will transform the world, as it would like to, but it is part of a transformation that is taking place. I do believe it has the power to transform individuals. Many who participate return home changed. For some, it is the “aha!” experience of a lifetime. Joe Campbell would be impressed, or at least amused.
Next Blog: The faces of Burning Man 2013
16 thoughts on “Black Rock City, Joseph Campbell and Star Wars… Burning Man 2013”
OK, Curt! This is my all time favorite description of Burning Man yet. Love it! Peggy
Thanks Peggy. It always is a challenge to describe Burning Man, but it certainly has a mythological element. –Curt
Get a tent, you two… 🙂
Hey, we have a very comfortable RV, thank you. 🙂
That’s not fair. We thought you were roughing it big time!
Yeah, especially the air-conditioning, a wet bandana with a battery operated fan pointed at it. 🙂
Ok! You two qualify for roughing it! 🙂
Curt… I believe in flying saucers and ETs… Totally. Perhaps I’d fit in there…except for the oppressive heat and dust. You can see the cracking on the desert surface in your shot of “walking out to the boundaries”. It was like that – but in bigger pieces – at Manzanar.
I am looking forward to reading / seeing more of Burning Man… I hope I can keep up. 🙂
Me too… Once in Sacramento, ever so many years ago, I saw a round object fly into a cloud going one direction and out of the clouds at another. It moved at an incredible speed. Ever since, I have been a believer. And you are right about the similarity to Manzanar. –Curt
You’re a believer, too?? Now with that, I am DEFINITELY a believer…and you have seen a lot of stuff!
I had no idea that many people went.. over 68,00? wow.. I would get used to the dust & heat so long as I could venture around and look at all the interesting & artistic things.. Tell Peggy she takes some good snapshots 🙂
Will do re Peggy, and BTW… my next blog features some of the faces of Burning Man. –Curt
Until I came back this time and was scrolling a little faster, I missed the connection between Pink Woman on Stilts and the Burning Man. Nice photo placement!
Re: musical instruments – was there a comb and toilet paper? I certainly hope so. I don’t know how the music was, but the art’s fantastic.
Back in the summer of 1964, my high school band was invited to play at the New York World’s Fair, in the Hemisphere Plaza. On the way back home, we’d stopped along the Pennsylvania Turnpike at a Howard Johnson’s, then started traveling again. An entire school bus of kids and chaperones saw the glowing green “thing” that seemed to be tracking us. It was perhaps a half-mile off the turnpike, and not particularly high. It glowed and pulsated and kept with us perfectly, just going up and down a little as we all stared and pointed. Suddenly, it went straight up into the sky and disappeared.
We talked about it the rest of the night, as you might imagine. And you can bet there were no drugs or alcohol involved. 😉
First, I was at the 1964 World’s Fair as well. It’s a long story but I was on my way to Liberia and had missed the Peace Corps flight. With three extra days, I went to the World’s Fair.
Great flying saucer story. 🙂 Only saw one but I have kept looking ever since. And I’ve checked out Roswell… –Curt
Hmm it seems like your website ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any points for beginner blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.
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Other than experience is the best teacher? 🙂 Photos help a lot, as do relatively short blogs. Glad you are enjoying the blog. –Curt