Special Early Edition, because I want there to be some hope of this getting to people while it’s still timely. I won’t generally be this efficient, don’t worry.
Monoton - J.S.C.A.:: Minimal dark very German electronica circa 1982
There is so much noise right now about Burning Man. Every year, it comes earlier, like Christmas decorations that herald the onset of crass capitalism trying to sell you your nostalgia. Except in this case it’s a sort of intellectual capital, because everyone can have a loud opinion now (as a side note I want to see a study of the Long Tail of content in relation to Marxist ideas of distribution of wealth). And I’m deeply aware of the irony that I’m writing this planning to send it to all of you, but leave that aside for the moment.
So every year it was better last year, and the infinitely recursive shark gets jumped every year. Everyone has their threshold, seemingly, between when Burning Man is Trü Kült Ünderground and when it is clearly a Selling Out. For some it’s when rich kids started camping in RVs, for some it’s when the ticket amount reached some arbitrary dollar amount.
Disclaimer: I went to Burning Man once, in I think it was 99 or so. I helped build Thunderdome for one of the first years. I had an amazing, magical time, I loved it, and I have never particularly felt a need to go back.
Have you ever been to a show at a shitty bar, that you didn’t mean to go to, because someone said hey let’s get a drink, and the room is full of unbearable hipsters spilling beer on you and talking about their fucking startups or exes too loudly and you are trying to figure out when you can reasonably leave without being rude and oh god the band is about to start this is going to be horrible and then the band starts and everyone goes quiet and the guitar cuts through simple and clear and the singer breaks your heart and it’s an hour later and you just want to hug the person next to you because it’s the only reasonable response?
Well, that’s what Burning Man is like. Sturgeon’s Revelation is as true there as it is everywhere else, except that the 90% that is crap is potentially lethal and the 10% that is not crap is so outside the bounds of normal experience for most people that it takes on the air of religion, like any liminal experience that is simultaneously impossible to understand yet fervently demands to be communicated. So most conversations about whether burning man has jumped the shark operate on the same level of consciousness as Catholics talking about who shat on the Vatican floor.
I would also like to point out that, scrolling down a little on that Wikipedia link, Sturgeon’s Law (which is the name most people improperly give for Sturgeon’s Revelation) is “Nothing is always absolutely so”. Also applicable in this case. Whatever some subset of BM is or is not this year, there is always someone having a religious experience drilling holes in a small box in deep playa (true story) or being angrily offered pez (another true story). Or, someone who didn’t go who had that experience helping to build a project that went without them. Or someone who prototypes a technology in that pseudo-martian landscape that eventually goes on to help people in third world countries (apocryphal but possibly true story). Or, even just, as I just said nonironically to a friend in IRC, “tell me more about your 27 semiautonomous art projects”.
It’s a thing, unlike anything else. It doesn’t play by the rules of capitalism, which means that it is going to be distorted by the forces of captialism trying to mold it, and that will eventually lead to it either transmuting into something beyond recognition (I have a short story idea I’ve been tossing around about a Burner Mars Colony) or imploding messily. Either way, it will have been culturally useful for a period of time. There are some who say, and I believe this to be true, that living in San Francisco is such a bubble that going somewhere where nature is literally trying to kill you is an essential psychological release valve. I definitely see the value in that. That may well be applicable on a larger scale as well.
So if you want to go, you will find something that makes it worth going. If you don’t want to go, you can definitely find something more useful to do with your time. But the one thing that we can’t usefully do is make broad generalizations about whether or not anyone else should bother. If you don’t want to go to Burning Man, think about what you want Burning Man to be that it isn’t anymore, and then go make that happen instead.
Once again, I encourage you all to write back, should you have anything to add, subtract, or multiply to any of this. Have a great week, whatever you do.
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