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I am the Arianna Huffington of Black Rock City - The inexplicable charisma of the rival [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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I am the Arianna Huffington of Black Rock City [Mar. 1st, 2004|03:35 am]
Just me.
[music |The Osmonds- The Plan]

As I wait for my Paypal transaction to clear the overloaded tickets.burningman.com servers, I thought I'd expound on why I plan on going to Burning Man this year to those of you who know about my past antipathy towards this event.

Let me first set the stage: I lived in SF from 1994-late 1997. For most of 1997, I worked at a dot com. For all of my time in SF, most of my acquaintances were music geeks, regular geeks, hipsters/slackers and the like. A year (I think) before the infamous Wired cover story, the Bay Guardian (a free alternative weekly with an unhealthy obsession about the wrongs perpetuated by PG&E) published a cover story on Burning Man in 1996. Many of my acquaintances went that year. And many of them came back changed, the most notable changes being that 1) they seemed to condescend towards anyone who hadn't been to BM as not "getting it" 2) They acted as though participating in BM was a revolutionary act that would somehow shake up the straight world.

Both of these things annoyed me immensely. I think even people who have no interest in attending BM can "get" the experience of it fairly easily, much like one can "get" the experience of giving birth without doing it. Like giving birth, maybe attending BM changes your outlook in some fundamental way, but you don't have to actually do either to understand that gee, I bet that might be an intense thing to experience. Listening to all these folks talk about their mystical playa experiences wasn't so bad, it was the implication that my life was somehow lacking because I hadn't attended that peeved me. Imagine the first kid in your high school peer group to get laid bragging about getting laid and then openly pitying you, because you just -couldn't- understand how great and life-changing sex was, and its the same sort of principle, with the big difference being that in high school we all looked forward to the day we'd have sex, whereas the majority of the population still couldn't care less about BM.

As for the touted "revolutionary" aspect of BM, my feeling was (and still is) that while going naked in the desert might be fun and give you a sense of community or freedom, it's not particularly naughty or subversive to do the things one does at BM around -other Burners-. If you really want to shake up the world, bring your art to a public place in your OWN community where people who don't usually encounter unusual things will see it and respond (perhaps negatively) to it. I've driven my art car through rural West Virginia and talked to people who'd never seen such a thing about it when they asked "Why'd you do that?"; contrast this with bringing an artcar to BM. I'm not denying that some powerful and well-thought art is brought to BM; I'm questioning the idea that the act of bringing it to BM has any effect on anyone not already familiar with BM.

I think it was only after moving to Washington (after years in the midwest, where the only Burner I knew was my cheating boyfriend, but that's another story) and meeting Seattle and PDX burners that were nice, real people (despite being Burners) that I realized the fundamental problem with my prior conceptions about the BM faithful:

It's not that Burners are necessarily deluded and self-important, its just that way too many of the SF burners are (were?). Burning Man doesn't turn you into a idiot about the importance of your "art" to the everyday world; living in SF does.

okay, just kidding about the last part. I think part of my problem was that when there's a certain "type" of person who enjoys activity "x", it's easy to disdain activity "x" if most of the people you meet who enjoy it bug the shit out of you (whether said bugging has anything to do with love of activity "x" or not). Perhaps I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe I managed to meet the 10 most annoying Burners on earth in only a year and a half.

So I repent, more or less. I've got my ticket and the time off of work, and hopefully any paradigm-changing experiences I may have from attending will not result in me annoying the shit out of my friends and acquaintances.

[User Picture]From: das_prompt
2004-03-01 05:00 am (UTC)
Next you'll be listening to Tupac.
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[User Picture]From: dirtylibrarian
2004-03-01 06:58 am (UTC)
Alas, I'm not planning on going this year, but if you need any help planning, let me know.

I find I enjoy it most if I don't over-commit myself to other people's projects (is it very easy to get sucked into all kinds of time-eaters, in the name of community), and view it as a complete vacation of the body and mind. One thing you can say for Burning Man is that it is almost nothing like being at the reference desk ;). And that is a very good thing.
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[User Picture]From: lara7
2004-03-01 07:45 pm (UTC)


help planning sounds great..I may also hit up veterans like you who aren't attending for basic camping stuff (coleman stove, camelback, etc) if you'd be willing to lend it. I have almost no camping gear to speak of. as thanks, I'll turn over my keys if you want unfettered hottub access while I'm gone (not that you can't come over and tub other times, but you know what I mean)...

right now I haven't thought too much about it because it seems so far in the future. just committing to going is all I'm up to now, never mind the "who you camping with" question...

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[User Picture]From: dirtylibrarian
2004-03-03 04:01 pm (UTC)

Re: hmmm

Yeah...we can talk about gear closer to the date...we can set you up good. July is a fine time to get details worked out :)
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[User Picture]From: lemur68
2004-03-01 07:20 am (UTC)
Please be kidding.
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From: ex_futch238
2004-03-01 07:45 am (UTC)
Lemur, I think this is a secret LJ switch again, someone else must have written this post
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[User Picture]From: lara7
2004-03-01 07:48 pm (UTC)

I promise

I promise I will not "rave" while I am there, nor will I partake of fat beets, which are apparently all the rage with the kids.

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[User Picture]From: lemur68
2004-03-01 08:11 pm (UTC)

Re: I promise

And under no circumstances are you to "groove" or "vibe," either.
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[User Picture]From: sarahellco
2004-03-01 09:25 am (UTC)
I think part of my problem was that when there's a certain "type" of person who enjoys activity "x", it's easy to disdain activity "x" if most of the people you meet who enjoy it bug the shit out of you (whether said bugging has anything to do with love of activity "x" or not).

I have this problem as well.

I think the key to enjoying BM (not to be confused with bowel movements, though they are similar in certain ways) is to not take it seriously, that is, not take the rhetoric seriously. Think of it as a big-ass party rather than a "revolutionary act" or "art". Most of my friends that [still] go view it in this regard, the folks that see it as akin to the latter two (save for the few that actually go there to make large things they can't do elsewhere) tend to be the annoying people you've encountered.

The two years I went, I worked, not sitting around a camp "participating in the gift economy" but actual physical labor, which puts you in a position, I imagine being similar to being a busboy during Mardi Gras, though I didn't have to clean up any frat boy vomit.

The last year I went, (2000), I was on the pyro crew, a close friend was the chief pyro guy responsible for doing the fireworks for the burning of the man. My better half got a free ticket, and we split the difference, so we got in for half price. A good friend of ours got in free to serve as the crew's cook.

The "peak" experience of that year was interacting with the public during the last minute rush to get all the fireworks installed and placed for the big spectacle. For security reasons, there was a ring of caution tape around the work area. Only the crew and other event bigwigs could go inside the caution tape. I ended up spending a good portion of the time preventing non-authorized personnel from going inside the circle of caution tape.

For some reason, a good number of people didn't think the "do not cross" yellow tape did not apply to them. These were not people that asked to help. These were people that wanted to get that extra three feet to take pictures. Amazing, Burning Man is such a revolutionary event that by acting like tourists they're sticking it to the status quo ... uh, wait. The picture-takers weren't the most annoying.

The most annoying people were those who greatly resembled grown adults whose social and linguistic skills had somehow regressed to those of five year olds.

Sample conversation 1:
Adult 5 year old: Whatcha doin?
Me (with sandwich in hand, masticating): Eating a sandwich.
Adult 5 year old: No, over there, whatcha doin?
Me: Putting the fireworks on the man.
Adult 5 year old: Really?
Me: No.
Adult 5 year old: Are they going to go off?
Me: That's the idea.

Sample Conversation 2
Adult 5 year old: Why is the Man down?
Me: We're doing some work on it.
Adult 5 year old: Is it broken?
Me: Yes, and if you keep asking questions and talking to us while we're trying to work, we won't be able to fix it in time.

Sample Coversation 3 (this is after having Sample Conversation 2 far too many times)
Adult 5 year old: Why is the Man down?
Me: It's broken.
Adult 5 year old: Will it burn?
Me: No, it's not going to burn, you might as well leave now.
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[User Picture]From: rwx
2004-03-01 11:05 am (UTC)
Surreal and unexpected. Who are you camping with?

I got my ticket yesterday as well. It'll be interesting to see what happens with the (hopeful) ramp up to grad school and all. At least this year I'm not flying out to NY right afterwards.
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[User Picture]From: lara7
2004-03-01 11:21 am (UTC)

your fault.

I blame people like you for changing my mind. If you Seattle burners had been bigger pains in the asses, I'd continue to stay home or just go to Bumbershoot.

>> Who are you camping with?

No clue. I figured I'd work that out later; getting the cheap(er) ticket was the first priority.

are you feeling any better?

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[User Picture]From: rwx
2004-03-01 11:36 am (UTC)

Re: your fault.

I'm feeling a lot better, thanks. I'm still somewhat sick, but I'm down to ick per day where i was yesterday/saturday ick per hour and friday ick per minute.

That'll teach me to have a week of bacchanalian revels in Vegas (just look at my reading list.)

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[User Picture]From: gryph
2004-03-01 05:45 pm (UTC)
I love BM, but it wasn't a life changing experience for me. I always think how lame it is when people say that. And the people I usually hear say that are still dorks and haven't unleashed anything.

As for me, I just love all the art, the community and how people interact. Most people, not all are very community-ish. And this last year I loved hooking up with Camp DeNile. They are the best people to enter my life, and I'm just so grateful that they are in Seattle, and not just some group I can see once a year.

I really like what you said about making art and showing it in your own community. That's perfect advice.

I'm glad you're going, and I look forward to seeing you on the playa. Ah, but I'll see ya before then!
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[User Picture]From: holyoutlaw
2004-03-02 09:10 am (UTC)
Far out.

Fat beets are great juiced with fat carrots and fat ginger.

Imagine the first kid in your high school peer group to get laid

This is either a generational or a gender difference. When I was in high school, all boys pretended to have been laid.
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[User Picture]From: tyrsalvia
2004-03-02 07:50 pm (UTC)
I feel very similarly to the way you have in the past about Burning Man, though I still find it annoying. My first experience with it was when I ran the Denver Cacophony Society. A number of the group decided to start a theme camp, and I went to their meetings with the intent to go. Every idea I had got shot down as being unrealistic because since I hadn't been clearly I didn't know anything. The attitude was too much for me and I lost all interest in going. I'm not big on hot or dirt, and the combination isn't particularly appealing.

I feel like these super creative and amazing people that make art for Burning Man are kind of starving the rest of their communities by not doing their art in their own environments. It makes me angry when I feel like these people have just given up on the rest of society and, instead of trying to make it at all better by contributing their worldview and creativity they simply decide to go elsewhere. I feel like they have effectively left the rest of the world out. I kind of resent it.
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