September 11th, 2011

pacman inkee

burning man post #4 - the man (and black rock city)

burninghep and yura by hep
burninghep and yura, a photo by hep on Flickr.

so what is burningman anyway? i know most of you locals are srsly rolling your eyes right now, but i noticed a good amount of comments asking about what the actual event is all about, so i decided to make this post a little about the whole thing, and a little about the man himself. (and an aside about comments: i am REALLY bad at answering comments. don't think i hate you if i rudely ignore a direct question. i have an incredibly busy and demanding schedule, and i often end up reading my mail on my phone. this means i READ your comments, and i INTEND to respond to them, but unfortunately my inbox is like an endless stream of incoming bullshit i have to attend to. so even tho i star things intending to get back to them, i star a LOT of things and end up forgetting about things over a page away except for the one time per month i clean out the starred stuff. and yes, i know about folders, etc, but the problem with those systems is that i would need to CHECK the folders. which apparently i am not capable of. because everytime i switch to a folder, or label, or other such system i am able to remember to check those extra boxes about three days in a row before i stop remembering them except for once every two weeks. which is disastrous for stuff like work or volunteer stuff that i need to stay on top of at all times. stuff has to be in ONE inbox or i never see it.)

to get an idea of the scale of burningman check out this satellite image. each of the blocks along the ring roads are about the length of a normal city block. each of the spoke blocks is about as long as a city halfblock. this year 50,000 tickets were sold before they cut off ticket sales, the first time in the 25yr history of the festival that there was a ticket cap. many people were angry about this as a lot of people put off buying tickets until they reach the gate (in previous years there were always tickets still available at the gate at the top tier of pricing, usually around $380). the city structure gets started in early may, by the time festival participants show up the monday before labor day (when the gates officially open, although you can apply for early arrival if you have art or a theme camp that needs lead time to be set up) the basic structure of the city is built, streets laid out with street signs, roads, lamp posts along esplanade and spoke street corners, theme camp locations set and markered, banks of portopotties deployed, the center camp cafe, the man, and the temple as long with a lot of other city infrastructure that makes up Black Rock City.

people show up in their rvs and vehicles, towing art cars and large scale art. tent clusters sprout up with extensive shade structures of all kinds in the various city blocks. burning man encampments have a lot in common with the surf communes that i grew up in with my father, large concentrations of hardcore hippies searching for the perfect wave (or perfect party as in the case of burningman), endless pursuit of intangible ephemera. as i said in a previous post, people come to black rock city for a variety of reasons, and the camp styles reflect these reasons. from the parachute covered dubcamp that barely moves during daylight hours, sleeping off the debauchery of dancing until dawn, to the eco princesses who emerge at sun's first light to start their day of hitting every event in the playa book. 50,000+ people means people of all walks are represented, the top tier "elite" class of the much searched for yet rarely found "First Camp", the rich in their air conditioned sarah palin style tour busses, the dub warriors showing up in a spray painted 1980s econoline van that barely made it over the mountain passes, the burnout hippies in their old vanagons, the now-rich hippies in their decorated air stream trailers. with no money in use throughout the city outside of ice sales and coffee at center camp's cafe, once you get there and set up there is little to tell the difference in class level between participants on the street excepting that they obviously were able to scrounge at least $300 for a ticket.

the parts of burningman that i have the most problem with are: 1. hippies. 2. the white entitlement that runs rampant through the community, 3. the complete lack of understanding of how the world works. the first is obviously self-explanatory, see: hippie surf communes. the second should also be somewhat self explanatory. burningman is an extremely white event, you can go days without meeting anyone but privileged white people from the bay area. what poc do attend are almost religiously fetishized, there are even events that boil down to "Come Worship the Sacred Sexuality of POC" and market this as a POC safe space, a complete lack of understanding of what that term actually means. and, as mooflyfoof pointed out, endless white cultural appropriation of native regalia. (this post, as always is still relevant, as is this graphic.) hordes of scantily or entirely unclad white girls (and more than a few white boys playing "chief-for-a-night") wearing anything from a shitty dollar store feather encrusted arts and crafts homemade headbands to elaborate headdresses, obviously meant to be seen as the "real thing", with beautiful feathers, tassles, and adorned with complex beading. only at coachella is it so acceptable to see white people trash the cultural heritage of a people they are still oppressing (and if you think natives aren't still being oppressed in the us, you are fucking stupid. from the utility companies refusal to run power or water to reservations to the federal governments refusal to help the overwhelming amount of crime inflicted on natives by outsiders, including massive amounts of rape, a native woman in the us is 2.5x more likely to be raped than any other female group, usually by an outsider on their own reservations. the litany of crimes against humanity still perpetuated on native peoples by peoples in the us is pretty much endless.) this is hardly the least of the white privilege displayed at brc, but if allowed i will rant on all evening instead of tying this up to eventually hit post.

but i am getting off-topic. burningman started in 1985 when a bunch of drunken pranksters held a party at ocean beach in san francisco (back when you were still allowed to burn shit on the beach) at the end of which they set a giant driftwood sculpture of a man alight. this party continued at the beach for a few years until it got too large and unruly, at which point they moved it to the desert 350miles away in hopes that it would keep from getting oversized and jumping the shark so to speak. for many years as the city grew larger the man, now standing atop elaborate stages that you can explore each year, and festooned with neon outlining his structure, also grew taller. these past few years he has been shrinking, and this year was astride across the playa instead of just standing in place. from monday through friday the city gets continually fuller and more busy, the gates usually close for good on thursday evening with no more admissions. by friday the city is in full swing and saturday night at 10pm is when the man burns.

first he raises his arms in the classic burningman logo stance. then a large fire orgy takes place, wherein hundreds of fire dancers converge around the man for a long dance session that no one can see anyway because everyone is sitting down. this is usually when i begin to hate everything and everyone around me. up there i referenced a third point, the inability to comprehend the real structure of the world. usually i am surrounded by people bemoaning that "the whole world cant be just like burningman" and saying things like "wouldn't it be nice if everyone could go to burningman, then there would be no more fighting". no shit, it would be awesome if everyone in the world had a spare couple thousand dollars and resources to blow on going to a debacherous weeklong party campout in the desert. it sure would be great. these people honestly believe that by going to burningman, and making art for a privileged few to witness, they are doing something to change the world. some of them do come back and attempt to make inroads on bringing burning man ideals to communities outside their own, which leads to things like this which has a nobel intention but i think should have more of a disconnect between burningman and what they are trying to do. there is plenty of bike decoration tradition within the communities they are trying to affect, from scraper bikes to the elaborate stylized motorcycles that my uncles and cousins all ride. tying this kind of community outreach to a festival most of these people will never be able to afford is somewhat of a privileged white slap in the face in my book.

fire orgy over, a fantastic 20min long fireworks show commences. this is where all your money goes from those pricey tickets. i have never seen a fireworks show better than the man burn and the other various fireworks shows they have out there, and i have been to some amazing fireworks events, such as the golden gate bridge 50th annv fireworks extravaganza which i watched with my family from south tower. this year colored flame explosions were really in, we had a fun time playing "which element did they use to make that color", which is a super fun game if you remember your chem colored fire classes.

eventually the fireworks are coming so fast and quick that it naturally catches the base on fire and turns into a full on conflagration. once the man is actually burning it becomes a death trap. embers, usually several inches wide are borne up into the air before falling down on the tightly packed crowds below. each year as it starts to burn in earnest we make a mad dash for the edges of the crowd lest we actually catch fire. a quote from the guy behind us "whoa im on fire" and he actually was, and had to remove his burning clothing and stomp it on the ground.

after the man is fully burning the entire playa surrounding where he stands erupts into the most debaucherous party of the week. this is the night we refer to as daterape zero hour. legions of people on every substance imaginable stumble around the embers of the man looking for the ultimate party. every art car on the playa gathers there to watch the burn, before pumping up their sound systems for a night of competing decibel war. along the main road of the esplanade theme camps go all out to party what will be the last night of true revelry before the somber burn of the next evening, a complete 180 from the last party on earth atmosphere of the man burning, which i will write up tomorrow. and to be clear, there are many amazing aspects of bm, and amazing people to meet. but go into it expecting the rampant white privilege on display, or if you, like me, are connected to communities of color or other communities of oppression, you can end up seriously disheartened at some of the attitudes out there. it is however definitely a worthwhile thing to experience and witness if you have the resources available to explore it. someday i want to make "privilege camp" which spreads privilege education to those who need it most. however that is a project that requires far more energy than the limited amount i have now at my disposal. someday. someday.