Burning Man is the best adult playground ever devised, a vast testing ground for one’s resourcefulness, imagination, and sense of adventure, managing to amuse 50,000 or so tech-addled, sleep-deprived, uncomfortable Moderns for up to a week or longer, while keeping them active, eating less, constantly testing their limits, morals, and comfort zones, and providing them with a social arrangement of managed freedom within limits acceptable to the paying participant.
It’s even more fun than college.
This was my sentiment on Thursday night of Burning Man 2010, as I sat by myself on the benches outside the Temple, aiming my dying headlamp into my little, red, dust-coated notebook. It was Metropolis, the biggest burn ever. In fact, it was my second biggest burn ever. The American Dream, 2008’s Thompsonian seizure of that mythological, materialistic nirvana for our own twisted purposes, was my first time.
When they first burnt the man on Baker Beach, I was negative one year old.
I think it’s safe to say that Burning Man has changed a few times since then.
I would submit 2007 as the year Burning Man bloomed into its present incarnation. Veteran Burners had become increasingly fed up with what one participant called the “alterna-Disney” transformation of the festival, and The Green Man saw this come to a head in a… let’s call it a counterproductive way. Read more about it, if you like. My first burn was the year after that.
I could see from the art that some people hated 2008’s American Dream theme. Some of the disgust with “alterna-Disney” seemed to have firmly entrenched itself that year. Right on 4:00 (I think), behind their giant chicken, a camp had planted this sign, which I felt summed up the curmudgeonly element’s opinions about what had happened to their festival.
But my young crew had no nostalgia holding us back. We had made a whole year of preparations, looking forward so eagerly to this, and we expected nothing less than the biggest, brightest party we had ever seen. We got exactly that, only bigger and brighter. Sure, it was grotesque. Yes, the fireworks that year were obscene. But we loved that about it.
I had been warned repeatedly not to develop any expectations beforehand, but of course, who can help it? Nevertheless, to my amazement, Burning Man actually managed to exceed my expectations, as far as the scope and the scale of it. Considering the effort we had made to get out there, it all seemed perfectly appropriate. Burning Man had gone viral, whether or not its participants were ready.
Consequently, there’s a new crop of Burners in town. We’re the same age as Burning Man. We learned about it on the Internet. We shared our pictures there when we got home. Some of us came from the East Coast (but the sensible among us have since moved Out West). Some of us, yes, are too reliant on faux fur and EL-wire. But we’re here now, and Burning Man is on South Park.
In my tenure on the Burning Blog, I’m going to ask us, as a tribe, to talk about the generational shift underway at Burning Man. I want to observe how a new generation of participants is coming of age, learning the principles, and contributing to the life of the city.
Some thoughts about Millennials as Burners, to be continued in future posts:
We’re nerds. We’re going to need some help with the whole Immediacy thing. Starting in 2011, I intend to help people with the aid of a megaphone in the face. I swear, if I see you iPhone-ing on the Esplanade, everyone in Black Rock City, and Gerlach, for that matter, is going to find out about it.
We’re hipsters. Sometimes, we comport ourselves with too much irony. Eventually, we will learn that Burning Man is immune to ironic attack, and we will stop wearing pot leaf McDonald’s tee shirts on the playa.
Finally, We love the word Epic, and I think we can work with this. One of my pet peeves is the way great English words get their meanings watered down by overuse. Gen-X killed the word “awesome” forever, so it now sounds like a totally brainless way to describe Burning Man. Millennials have begun to pervert the word “epic” in the same way, such that I have heard more than a few grimy basement keg parties described that way. Well, if any word describes Burning Man’s new format, this NASCAR-sized, iPhone-enabled, virtual reality-enhanced, Ein Hammer-era metropolis, “epic” might be it. The word is out about Burning Man. The hype will only continue to grow. Now we have to live up to it. Help me out, people. Don’t let an epic word like “epic” go to waste.
(If you’re interested, here’s my BM08 journal, which got me into this mess.)