I suppose I’ve avoided Burning Man so far out of a sense of punk rock puritanism. Going to the center of a desert to celebrate being different seemed dishonest to me. Dressing up for one week out of the year and then going back to your day job also seemed dishonest. It was so decadent–paying a whole bunch of money just to go out to the desert, be different, and burn things? When it was introduced into the Open Directory Project taxonomy as a subculture, I fought it. It was a festival, perhaps comprised of subcultures, but was otherwise an isolated event and not a culture in and of itself. I would no longer fight that classification.
Perhaps a couple of years at Berkeley has introduced a bit more relativism into my world view, or maybe my punk rock ideals (or delusions) have grown weak with age, but I’m going this year. I’ve tried to suspend my skepticism to a certain extent, but I still have mixed feelings. I’m afraid that Burning Man will just reflect the elements of the larger culture of the Bay Area that make me want to move away as soon as possible. The self-congratulatory different-ness. The extreme navel-gazing yoga/newage/liberalism-in-a-bubble. The flimsy wisdom of self-help and surficial cultural borrowing. The sense of entitlement that motivates people to say things like “the fly-over states” and to step over the homeless lady on their way to the “free tibet” benefit.
So, with trepidation, I’m putting on my motorcycle boots and going to the desert. I love the people that I’m going with, and that, I think, will make the difference for me.
I also have to admit that Burning Man is pretty fascinating as a cultural construct. The idea of a whole city being built in a week, and then, in theory, leaving no trace behind is a great archaeological experiment–very pertinent to much of New World archaeology where sparse, accidental remains are common. So, with that perspective, I’ll be back in a week to give you the results.