Saturday, September 8, 2007


That pretty well describes the Burning Man Festival, held yearly the week leading up to Labor Day in the playa of the Black Rock Desert, Nevada.

The organizers of this yearly event describe it as "an annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance".

The radical self-reliance is laid on people by its location in the desert, which in late August is a furnace and dust extravaganza. Getting 45,000 people back to the garden takes an amazing amount of organization, and costs an estimated $222 per person. Applying good intentional socialist doctrine to their event, people can pay on a tiered system, somewhat according to how much they have or feel like paying.

The Burning Man people even have a list of ten guiding principles, which include such radical chic as: decommodification, radical inclusion, and immediacy. Dude.

Back in the late eighties--ancient history--a couple of California boys looked at each other and said, "Let's burn a man on the beach!" Makes sense to me. And they did. A--well--a stick man, that is. What started out as just a cool beach thing: fire, water, wind (What young lady can resist dudes burning a stick man on the beach after sunset--am I right here?), has now turned into a massive open-sourced modern day Woodstock, except everyone is a performer, and no one merely observer. Even if you have to have a ticket to get in.

So the first idea was just this fun cool experience. There was no philosophy, no New Age implications to a glorified fire on a beach. It is somehow inevitable, however, that a "Burning Man" event will accrue special, nuanced meanings as time goes on. Now we have talk of the "Community of Burning Man"; the "Art of Burning Man"; "Burners Without Borders". It is now an art extravaganza, and as you might imagine attracts every sort of free-thinker that America has been able to produce. Some element of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome -meets-Easy Rider is at work here. There is that strange phenomenon of wealthy, powerful nations: a sizable population of adults who refuse to grow up.

Except for the fact that I'd be breaking a major rule of nonparticipation, I'd love to sit and watch this for a day and a night. I'm sure it would rival Rio on Fat Tuesday for bizarre characters. I suspect the population sleeps in, mornings. Interestingly, because of the stark environment, alcohol and other trip-makers are fairly actively discouraged. Gettin' high on the desert and all that lovin' vibe seems to suffice. "We achieve being through doing" is one of many mantras of the Burning Man people. "Community" as an idealized entity is deified. The real world is refered to as "The Default World".

But here's the thing: it only lasts a week. To try to sustain it would be impossible. In one week, it is possible for all beautiful possibilities to be sought, for all spiritual systems to commingle. The dark side of human nature--sin--can be held at bay to a large extent. What results is pure experience, a Nevada mountain high that tastes of heaven for many a west coast pilgrim.

They're spiritual, not religious. Catherine Gacad, a Catholic who has attended the event, makes sure that her religious practice is not in evidence there.
“There is this mind-set that Burning Man and burners are open and welcoming. That’s true to a certain extent, but I find that people have to be spiritual and liberal to be accepted. I’m not spiritual, I’m just plain religious.”
So. The BM Community probably wouldn't immediately warm to an overweight, pasty-white middle-aged Lutheran guy wearing a New Reformation Press t-shirt reading Simul Iustus et Peccator on its front. Just a guess.


Lutheran Lucciola said...

I love that you wrote about BM!
I have never gone, because forced "artiness" makes me gag. But I had friends that started around 1990, when we were all very, very young. Back then it was only in the 100's in amount of people. Maybe 200 max. I think it was done out on the beach here, until that year.

Many a camper around here this week, hosing off the sand, that gets in everything....

Lutheran Lucciola said...

And no, you wouldn't fit in. ;-)

BM is very overly sexual, also. That was never my thing, even in my "bad" days.

Bruce Gee said...

I think "fascination" would be the word I'd use to describe my attraction to this. Unhinged, unconstrained creativity is always a bit fascinating, at first.

And yeah, I get that sexual stuff would be very much in evidence. "As long as it doesn't hurt the community, it's ok" is another of their mantras. But hey, that's paganism, right?

Lutheran Lucciola said...

After a while, seeing 10,000 people in the same variation of a pink feathered tutu gets really old.

If I were to go, my art statement would be in a replica of a basic livingroom, reading a book and watching the net/tv. Just sitting there. In the shade, drinking iced tea.

No pink tutu.

Friend of the Predigtamt said...

What BM needs is a Confessional Lutheran group. Imagine the hi-jinks and hilarity as we present hardcore Lutheran Theology.

As for teh secks...a sweaty, playa-dusty, dirty trustafarian is not on my list of turn-ons. DO NOT WANT!

Lutheran Lucciola said...

Trustafarian, as in trust-fund-baby?

There are definitely some of those out there. Yeah, and dusty, metro-sexual idiot men aren't my type, either!

Bruce Gee said...

Apropos of nothing at all, I keep wondering if you are "friend of the pfarramt" as well!

Metro-sexuals in pink tutus...yeah. I'd pass GO on that one.

Lutheran Lucciola said...

"Friend of the predigtamt" meaning am I a friend of the office also? Well, I'm not married to a pastor, (I think that may be the reason for Carol's handle), but I am married to a 'mad scientist'. Carol's blog caught my attention though, as our tastes in a few things are very similar. ;-)

I think I am older than her, though. I'm in my late thirties....(yikes. Time flies.)