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.