Burn after reading
December 7, 2009 10:48 AM   Subscribe

What are some of the best articles or stories you have read about Burning Man?

I went to Burning Man this year and am doing a presentation about it soon. I'm worried about not being able to communicate what Burning Man is. The event is engineered to make you feel awesome for a week, so naturally one leaves with a very positive feeling about it. I know I did.

However, I want to know how to explain Burning Man to a group of people without having them miss the point. If you never went there it's too easy to write it off as a cheerful hippie event. The Burning Man "rules" such as radical self-reliance sound incredibly cheesy until you went there and understood.

So I'm looking for articles and stories like this one from the Huffington Post - or Viva Las Xmas by Larry Harvey.
posted by wolfr to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
There was a story by Robert Ooghe about Burning Man that I caught on The Moth podcast by a month or two ago. You can listen to it here (audio, ~15 minutes). The flickr pool of Burning Man is also worth a look, there is something about Burning Man I would find hard to describe without pictures.
posted by sophist at 11:00 AM on December 7, 2009

You may also be interested in Enabling Creative Chaos, which is an ethnography of the Burning Man organization.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:17 AM on December 7, 2009

The final chapter in Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It by Geoff Dyer is about Burning Man.

At the end of this interview, Dyer says, "The book is a journey towards the Zone. Which is why it ends up at Black Rock City, at Burning Man." He gets into his thoughts on Burning Man a bit more in the next question as well. (Worth noting that the book was published in 2003 and much of it is set in the 90's, so the festival described isn't all that recent, relatively speaking.)

I can't find an excerpt of the chapter online, but it's called Zone.
posted by juliplease at 11:32 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bruce Sterling wrote an article about Burning Man in Wired back in the Mesozoic--er, 1996. It was the first I'd heard about it, and I think it gave me a good feeling for the ethos of it all.

(I've still never been, though.)
posted by tellumo at 11:48 AM on December 7, 2009

This might be useful:
Tales of the Playa.

You could try posting for information at the Burning Man tribe at tribe.net. There's quite a bit of chat going on there year round.

Also, Facebook has a group for burners. You could probably get more tips there.

Or PM me. I've spent a fair amount of time translating the burn to curious folks.
posted by diode at 11:50 AM on December 7, 2009

My favorite Burning Man article was in the Black Rock Gazette (published at Burning Man). It was an editorial arguing that children should be banned from the event because their presence inhibits other people's free self-expression (e.g. swearing), which is a "toxic" behavior that violates the spirit of Burning Man. It's an interesting reversal -- in mainstream society, a crude person who swears should be excluded, but at Burning Man, inhibiting someone from swearing is grounds for exclusion.

This viewpoint was interesting to me because we had brought our 2 year old daughter, and it seemed contrary to the idea of radical self-reliance, but then again, most people didn't build their own generator and pump their own diesel out of the ground either.

Another fun memory: someone had set up a stage with a podium on the playa, with microphone connected to some giant speakers and a sign inviting passers-by to make speeches. As a natural blowhard, I was drawn to this, so I got up and engaged the crowd in a debate about the merits of Burning Man and a significant portion of the crowd felt it wasn't quite the mind-blowing experience it was made out to be.

This reminds me of when a friend went to Thailand for a month, and told me that people didn't really want to hear/were disappointed by her truthful experience that it was a difficult trip, ran into the language barrier, fought with her boyfriend, felt homesick, etc. Her other friends only wanted to hear the mind-blowing parts, obviously to use her story as a screen to project their own fantasies.

Clearly, the fantasy component is a necessary part of enjoying the experience -- without it, you are in the middle of the desert with thousands of drug-addled hippies (or in a foreign country far from home); the principles of radical self-reliance and transgressing norms are part of the fantasy, in just the same way that Disneyland promotes the idea that it is the happiest place on Earth, and not a desert of consumerism.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:09 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Larry Harvey's 2002 talk at the Cooper Union Viva Las Xmas
posted by donovan at 12:44 PM on December 7, 2009

A little while back, I saw a documentary about David Best titled The Temple Builder. Obviously it's about only one aspect of Burning Man, but it does a good job of conveying that it's more than a drug-fueled party in the desert.

I agree with Sophist that you need pictures (and Flickr has a lot of excellent ones). It's hard to express the magnitude of the major art pieces, the difficulty of the environment, and the scale of the whole project just through words.
posted by adamrice at 1:45 PM on December 7, 2009

I know it sounds terrible, but the Burning Man episode of Malcolm in the Middle may be useful (or maybe just offensive). You can easily find a copy with a Google search.
posted by liet at 3:19 PM on December 7, 2009

I highly enjoyed watching Current TV's coverage of the event (they showed videos made during the last few years over Labor Day weekend). My mom, who never got Burning Man, actually kind of understood it after I made her watch it. It really helped to have her see the visuals, how people set up their art installations, etc. in a way that she never got from my talking.

You may or may not be able to use video in your presentation, but at the very least there should be some good quotes you could use. This one looks particularly helpful to your cause.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:02 PM on December 7, 2009

please, if you write anything about burning man, do not forget those of use who are also seekers, sensitive, bloppity bloppity, etcetera, but also smartasses who need to use sarcasm to feel alive. for this i give you! PISS CLEAR. archives (since...'96?) available on the intertubes, also a book.

i had a few dark years there where i felt like the douchebag at the party and couldn't relate to these beautiful be-henna-ed and be-feather-ed and burning-sage-ed young things and then i would go to the cafe (fuck it, i don't care if they have a cafe, i like neutral territory to tromp upon for i am insecure and SHY!), and then i would read Piss Clear, and know i was not alone.

peeing on the playa FTW.
putting the burn back into burning man FTW.

fire fire fire.
posted by apostrophe at 8:08 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

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