Saturday, August 30, 2014

Reflections from a non-Burner on the devolving of Burning Man

Burning Man 'officially' began right around the time I turned 30.  I had just begun my own journey into a desert.  One bereft of color, art, diversity and quiet time to connect with the spirit world.  In fact I was neck-deep in fundamentalist, charismatic "christianity"...probably as far away from the light as I have ever gotten.  By 1990, when the move to Black Rock City on the Playa started, I was living in the 4th circle of Hell in Daytona Beach.   Forced back into working full-time while raising a 6 year old, there was no time or money for arts or nurturing my inner hippie.  I'd been separated from the LGBT community by a homophobic spouse and remnants of the mind-games of the previously mentioned religious group.  California wasn't just another state, not even a different country...a whole different planet, completely foreign to me.

My first knowledge of the annual gathering of the tribes on the dry lake-bed in Nevada came 19 years into its existence.  By then I was five years into the chapter of my life that saw the arts, colors and light return to my life.  Things about the event really spoke to me.  "Radical individualism".  Complete counter-culture.  Courageous art.  Unbridled collaboration.  Deep and genuine trust.  All races, creeds, genders, sexualities, rich, poor, painters, sculptors, writers, dancers, musicians, everyone.  All peacefully gathered to revel in life unrestricted. This was what had happened to the few true hippies still left, the ones that hadn't let me down.

Sadly, the indoctrination and brainwashing by the Powers That Be (the uber-wealthy, corporate controllers) have done a great deal of damage creating a mindless flock.  I'm not saying that young adults are not going to experiment, are not going to push back and swim against the tide but they do that as a herd now too.  I started questioning changes I was seeing in Burning Man just as quickly as I discovered the gathering.  By this year, as with friends who are veteran Burners, I am completely disillusioned and have no urge to ever attend.  "The Man", the societal norm, and commercialism have sunk their ugly claws into the festival and now it's name sake has become "The Man" that hippies sought to destroy fifty years ago.

Today Burning Man is mostly about disposable art much of which is set to the torch at some point during the six-days of BRC.  Yesterday I saw a photograph of one sculpture being immolated in huge orange balls of flame that rendered thick black smoke.  What is the message here from a people who claim to be all about saving Mother Earth?  How is this environmentally responsible? Other works leave huge carbon footprints being brought in by pollutant belching diesel flatbeds then disassembled and apparently delivered to some scrapyard after 'the burn' as they are never re-erected away from the Playa.  I wholly understand the Tibetan monks and their chalk/sand mandelas to teach that beauty and life are not permanent but they are made from natural materials and dyes and can be swept away and return to the earth.  However, two semi's welded together?  A great feat of art and engineering but what happened to these two trucks after Burning Man?  After the festival in 2011, crews reported that the temple had burned so hot that there was virtually nothing ash, no metal hardware shards, nothing.  What does that say about the vapors of that pyre? I'm thinking there was more than one toxic compound sent onto the wind that night.

What was once a gathering of people who were seeking their unique individuality who sometimes used drugs to reach a "higher consciousness" has turned into a whole lot of young adults seeing how high they can get as they rave 24-7 and completely miss the point of the whole thing.  Then there are all the RVs and travel trailers.  How does one learn radical survivalism if they bring their house and all the amenities with them?  Post festival, organizers are now saddled with a giant mess as more and more attendees come to party and don't heed the rule "of leaving the Playa the way you found it".  Businesses and homes along the exit route deal with dumpsters and trashcans overflowing with Burning Man waste from people too lazy to schlep it home and properly recycle and dispose of it.  The fragile desert is also subjected to the abuse of a makeshift airport.  How hippie is it to fly in, live in a rented RV that was delivered to one's camp complete with a/c and fly back out?  Let someone else take care of removing said RV, pumping the sewage tank, taking out the trash, and let the Rangers take care of rounding up the bicycles you left behind.

And then came the final straw...THE INTERNET!  What really triggered this blog was a Twitter post by Instagram to come look at photos from Burning Man 2014.  Immediate thought?  People are posting photos from the Playa to Instagram. This means they have access to the Internet which in turn says that either somehow the organizers are providing wifi or deep in the desert of Nevada, there is actually cell service.  Then comes the thought...why did you bring your phone to Burning Man?  Isn't this supposed to be about disconnecting from the establishment?  The organizers have radios in case of emergencies.  There are also local law enforcement officers on site.  State police are prevalent along entrance and exit routes to help those who breakdown.  Why do you have your cell phone?  You are now tapped into some big corporation that is providing your service.  You have access to other companies advertising.  You're using social networks to plan your activities instead of being gutsy enough to actually talk to other attendees and maybe make some new friends. You are putting all kinds of money in the pockets of "the 1%" who you are trying to separate yourself from even if just for a few days. This just feels like the final round that has brought the original intent of Burning Man down.  

No, Burning Man is just another product of the Establishment.  It is a make-believe place where people go to "rebel" for six days then go back to being their usual asshole, entitled selves.  Oh wait!  They did that while they were there too.  Shooting selfies with their boobs out, totally wasted on E looking for the next DJ set to party at.  The core tribes, the genuine artists and free-thinkers, fight for tickets to the event they started.  The groups that meet up to decompress are very small, a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands who populated Black Rock City.

It will be interesting to see how tribal gatherings will evolve or if they will.  Is humanity just doomed to continue an existence of segregation, war, competition, violence and indoctrination.  Will the many continue to allow themselves to be herded by the few?  Will the tiny little pockets of counter-cultures remain off the radar and only maintain true peace on a small scale? Feel free to chime in on this.  And you can disagree even vehemently.  Please, give me real reasons to think otherwise.  Give me real hope.  Or start a dialogue that actually sparks progress toward community building on a large scale.  Give me hope that we truly are in the early stages of labor to birth the New Age.