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.

is that the festival there? i should know this stuff, my grandfather is from NM! i am a terrible NM legacy child :(
If you like fireworks (and who doesn't?), I mean if you really like fireworks, let me show you sometime the difference between what you have seen and REALLY GOOD fireworks.
OMG I LOVE FIREWORKS point me in the right direction!

The best I've seen so far is Lake Tahoe 4th of July. one day I plan on going to Australia just for the NYE fireworks.
your beautiful picture posts have inspired me to plan on going next year with my bff.
Burning Man sounds fun on a shallow artistic/photographic/watching people(sociological) level. the fixtures look awesome but i'm over all this hippie bullshit and potential destruction of my property. do they share the weed or is it BYOD (bring your own doobie)?

thanks for sharing pics btw :) living vicariously and all!
that is a really good way of putting it. its a shallow exp in those regards exactly. i also admit that one of the reasons i like going is that i like to hate on stuff and bm affords me endless targets for my vitriol. i realized this year that going affords me a unique perspective on my self identity. by going and figuring out all the things i hate i can more truly feel like myself, a creature of hate.
Two things I noticed from your pics: it looks a lot more crowded than the last time I was there (06), and the man looks like he's wearing a bolero suit.

Also, I think if the burn went for another week, it'd implode because folks would run out of drugs and start getting on each other' nerves, and the insular society would suddenly become limiting instead of freeing. Better to take the good stuff rrom BM home with open eyes and try to implement it in the default world in a real way.

PS Kiwiburn has a lake.
it is definitely bigger, i think it's doubled in size in the last 4 years. 50K people means the playa feels *crowded* which is a novel experience.

i totally agree re: implosion. half of the privileged blinders style way of looking at the world is a direct result of having a drug fueled desert experience.

i envy your lake!!!

A friend of mine grew up,at least partially, on a reservation. She said one of the things that bothered her the most was outsiders used to stare into their windows like they were in a zoo or something. When you talked about the statistics for rape it reminded me of that story. It's like many outsiders don't see the people whose land they are visiting as real. They are exhibits here to amuse whitey or something. :(

I truly don't understand why people hate hippies. What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Maybe don't answer that though. I want to like you. ;)

Also, that first picture is adorbs.

Edited at 2011-09-12 04:16 am (UTC)
see the part where i was forced to live in a hippie commune. it's one thing to choose of your own accord that you want to live without limits or boundaries in an idealized version of the white world, it's a whole other thing to force people who can't legally make a decision about it into the same thing. i went constantly from living in a POC family in abject poverty (to the point where a dollar was a lot of money, always. our food budget was about $10/week to feed 12 people, and making the $170 rent was a huge hardship each month. our biggest splurge was that every payday my mom would buy an extra large fries from burger king to share out one fry per person at a time.) to living in a complete fantasy world where everyone is equal and with just a little elbow grease you can totally change your circumstances. that kind of dichotomy is extremely rough to put an impressionable child through and is the reason why i carry a lot of fucked up baggage to this day.
I will still view Burning Man as "the best week in San Francisco". The city becomes nicer and more peaceful every year, the more people leave to attend. :)
srsly man. the only reason i get sad about going is i miss "the week sf doesn't suck". empty tables at zeitgeist, no line at dotties, the ability to sit on the lawn at dolores park and not be relegated to the sidewalk if you haven't shown up by 5am on a saturday to stake out your spot. its amazing!
wow, good post. i've never been to bm and i have no desire to ever go. it looks cool, but i just have no real urge to party for a week straight while being hot and dirty with a bunch of other hot, dirty, hallucinating people who paid several hundred bucks each to be there. i guess if i want something like that, mardi gras is once a year, but i usually don't party for more than a couple days straight during mardi gras anyway, and i always have my bed and my shower when i need it. my point is i enjoyed your perspective re: the privilege inherent in the idealism/naivete expressed by those who have the time and money to enjoy a party like that.
I found this post fascinating. I had never heard of Burningman before and have completely wasted my morning internet searching it ;)
i see that would be starting fights with people wearing headdresses
oh i do. most of them tho, they aren't gonna get it down there. hence privilege camp idea. have a ton of stuff already printed or otherwise available to add to me just calling them a stupid white girl with no respect for the traditions of others, kwim
thanks for articulating this perspective, it's not one i see many places, although i think it is entirely appropriate.