There Is A Very Wrong Way To Do Burning Man
A Tale of Heartbreaking Tragedy
This year’s Burning Man was a bit dustier than usual. The day of the man burn was particularly bad. From around noon until after sundown the entire area was basically shut down by a massive dust-storm.
Not truly shut down, because this is Burning Man and everyone chooses what to do for themselves. But it’s a rare person that would go out in those conditions, and there’s much less to see and do when everyone else is hunkering down anyway.
The burning of The Man usually happens just after sundown. It was delayed for over two hours because starting a giant bonfire in high-wind conditions is stupidly dangerous. I left mid-afternoon due to conditions and other considerations. I was sad to miss the burn, but it was the right decision this year.
Many hours later I arrived in my motel for the night, still covered in playa dust. The lady behind the register asked about the conditions and the burn, and after I replied she said
“Oh no, that’s terrible! Did you get a refund?”
I laughed at that. :) No no no, I told her. It’s not about the Burning of The Man. It’s about the entire week, the life we get to experience and explore out there. Sometimes a raging dust storm will shut things down, and that’s all part of it. The unpredictability and uncontrollability of nature, the way we handle such events and connect through them… it’s all part of the ethos. Even if I lose one day to a storm, I had a week of experiencing a wonderful thing I can’t have anywhere else. There is no refund for life.
A little later, as I was signing papers, a couple in their fifties or sixties came in to get a room. They were complaining bitterly about something. I glanced at them, but figured they weren’t burners, because they were immaculate. Not a speck of dust or grime on them.
“Well that sucked,” the older woman said. “We waited all week for this, and we didn’t even get to see the thing burn.”
The cognitive dissonance in that moment was dizzying.
Apparently, this couple had come all the way out to the playa, spent most (all?) of their time sealed away in an RV, just so they could see a big wood structure burn down and say they had “Been to Burning Man”?
That’s not being at Burning Man. I cannot begin to say how much that’s not being at Burning Man. I feel terrible for these people. Someone sold them a lie, a very expensive lie, so that they could check off a box on a list of notable things they’ve done in life. And they’ll never know they hadn’t actually done it.
They “waited” for the burn? Like the burn is the purpose of the event? The burn is the capstone, the ritual celebration of the previous week. It’s like “waiting” for you life to pass, sealed away in an immaculate RV, so you can get to the awesome funeral party at the end. To say you were there, without ever having been there. If you were waiting rather than doing and living, you missed the entire event. You missed what matters.
That such a prepackaged “experience”, completely divorced from everything that makes it meaningful, could be substituted for the real thing is disgraceful. Will people unaware of the culture and community come to think that this is what Burning Man is?
I kept my mouth shut. But I’ll be thinking of this for a long time. It’s some sort of metaphor for modern society, and I bet I’ll be referring back to it in the future.
Waiting all week… it hurts to think about