Opinions about Burning Man Can Be Wrong

Many of the people who have heard of Burning Man have some deep-seated misunderstandings of the Festivals. Among these misconceptions are:

1. Burning Man is music festival, like Coachella
2. Burning Man is a hippie rave, where everyone is on drugs
3. Burning Man is a one-week orgy, where everyone goes naked and has sex with each other constantly
4. Burning Man is liberal; conservatives are not welcomed
5. Burning Man is for the young – there’s nothing there for older people
6. Burning Man’s art isn’t serious – it’s just part of the entertainment

There’s a touch of truth in all of these statements, but for the most part, they are all inaccurate. I’d like to examine both the realities and the origins of the misperceptions:

First, while there’s plenty of music at Burning Man, it is not a music festival. In fact, the vast majority of music you’ll hear on the Playa is recorded and the biggest “stars” are the DJ’s. While there are a few live bands, there’s rarely anyone famous who performs there. For live music, Burning Man is far more noted for its rag-tag marching bands, drum circles, and volunteer performers at Center Camp (who range from excellent to ludicrous). Music constantly wafts out of art cars as they roam the Playa, but it’s rarely live.

Second, while there may be rave-like parties here and there in Black Rock City, they are neither universal nor part of the scheduled events. They just happen at times among Burners who enjoy raucous parties. The desert is big, and one party can’t influence the whole of Burning Man, so you may never encounter such parties. By the way, few Burners consider themselves hippies, and most of those are in their 70s or older. Many of the attendees don’t even know what a hippie is. And while some people do drugs while in Black Rock City, this activity is not ubiquitous and there’s absolutely no pressure to partake if you’re disinclined.

Burning Man art featured at the Smithsonian show running through next January

Third, orgies are neither universal nor “required” activities. Some people enjoy sexual activity with individuals they have just met on the Playa; others remain monogamous or even chaste. There’s no question about the erotic atmosphere that pervades Burning Man, but how you act on it (or don’t) is entirely up to you. Nudity or partial nudity is common, but not universal.

Fourth, Burning Man attendees probably lean liberal, but there are plenty of committed conservatives who come annually. In fact, the Playa is a haven where you can escape the constant drum of political talk or any form of news. Some of the art may reflect a political point of view, but subjects such as concern for the planet and human rights are far more typical of Burning Man art themes than politics.

Fifth, if Burning Man were strictly for the young, why would I write this blog? There are families with toddlers, young adults, mid-career men and women, and people as old as their 80s. Walking or biking across the Playa, you’d be hard-pressed to identify an “average” age group. Activities are open to all ages, and accessible alternatives with those with disabilities (age-related or not) are plentiful.

Finally, the creative value in the art created for Burning Man is subjective, especially given the frequent whimsical or provocative content. But one measure of the artistic integrity of what you’ll see at a typical Burn is a new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery entitled No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. The show began on March 30 and will run through January 21, 2019. Click this link for more information. We’ve always considered the art our favorite aspect of Burning Man, and feel this new exhibit validates our sense of its importance.