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Re: The Truth About Burning Man

Burning ManI just read an article by Jay Michaelson on the Huffington Post web site, which hoped to dispel some of the stereotypes about the Burning Man festival. While I agree with some of the points he was making, and I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been to Burning Man can truly understand the culture or the event, I’m not convinced that the negative perceptions associated with Burning Man are distortions. So I felt compelled to say so, and what follows is the extended version of comments that I had to shorten.
I’ve never been to Burning Man. As close as I ever got was stumbling across a bunch of people coming from Burning Man in a truck stop in Winnemucca, Nevada. Whatever transcendental experiences those people might have had during Burning Man, it didn’t translate to the outside world. They were some of the rudest, most inconsiderate people I ever came across in eight years of traveling the U.S. Perhaps some thought they had become ascendant beings and were somehow better than the mortals around them. I don’t know. All I know is that they were milling about, getting in everyone’s way, being rude to the staff (perhaps because they actually had to pay for stuff?) and generally being assholes. Most clearly I remember one couple who decided to linger in front of the entrance to the bathrooms and discuss their itinerary. They didn’t offer to move as people tried to get around them. Noting the level of annoyance that seemed to be emanating in their general direction, the female pointedly said, with some self-importance, “I guess they’re not used to freaks around here”. My first thought was “don’t flatter yourself”. That general attitude seemed to prevail. That experience also brought about a revelation that I use to this day; “You may wear the uniform of the Counter-Culture, but you’re still wearing a uniform”.
I suppose my experience can be summed up by the supposition that for every genuine person who goes to Burning Man with a full appreciation of the intent and spirit of the festival, there are a dozen surface skimmers who just wanted to mark it off on the yuppie checklist they made of “twenty things I want to do before I die” in the hopes of being able to claim a collection of interesting experiences before taking their rightful place among the rest of the drones in the corporate culture they claim to hate so much. It’s unfortunate that those people, who will no doubt be sporting bumper stickers and t-shirts to advertise the fact that they’ve had the Burning Man experience, represent the most common interaction the general public has with the culture, and are largely the reason, in my opinion, that certain negative images are associated with Burning Man.
I’ll go to Burning Man myself one of these days, to find out first-hand what it’s all about. And when I do, I won’t be including it as just another stop in a travel itinerary that also includes Lollapalooza and The Warped Tour.


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