I was reading a contentious discussion thread on one of the many Burning Man sites the other day, shaking my head in wonder at the energy put into proving that the event was bad in one way or another. Here’s the gist (these are not precise quotes):
“The art’s too big”
“The art’s not good”
“The people are too rich”
“There are too many hippies”
“There are too many people”
“I don’t like the politics”
And, my personal favorite:
“It’s just a cock measuring contest”
It’s not the least bit troubling to hear all of these opinions, but most of the writers seemed hell-bent on convincing others not to attend Burning Man for the reasons they stated. Here’s the way I see it: Burning Man is whatever it is to an individual. It is not the same for everyone. If people don’t find what they’re looking for, they shouldn’t come back. If they’re unwilling to put up with the harsh environment and the need to bring everything with you, they shouldn’t go in the first place. But please don’t try to tell me what I should or shouldn’t like about the event, or convince me I shouldn’t go because of your experience.
For me, every complaint I hear has validity for the individual voicing it; but it doesn’t matter. I love Burning Man for the effect it has on my life. I have always loved the art, but I recognize that much of it is gimmicky and fun rather than aesthetically important. If people are wealthy out there, I don’t notice it. Since there’s nothing but coffee and ice to spend money on, nobody’s walking around conspicuously consuming in front of me. If someone has a better costume than me, I’m more likely to admire it than feel I have to compete with it. And if there are lots of people there, it just makes the week more exciting from my perspective. Since I don’t walk around naked, I’m not involved in any measurement competitions, and I haven’t seen anyone walking around with a ruler.
Hippies? Not sure I can identify the look, speech pattern, or attire that would clue me in. But I am certain that every year I’ll encounter people who are different from those I meet on a daily basis.
I see the world turned on its head every day I’m on the Playa. People are acting in ways that are different from how they act back home. They’re more carefree, less concerned about how they look to others or whether they’re “dressed for success.” People are invariably nice to each other at Burning Man, but they don’t twist themselves into pretzels to be who they’re not.
Burners are often overtly sexual – wearing provocative clothing (both men and women) and loving how that makes them and others feel. They touch, they hug, they kiss. But they do not debate the minutia of whether the hull of a 747 is art or not, whether it’s ruining their life that someone with lots of money is there, or whether they have adequately sized genitalia. They just have a great time … or, they never return.