Let’s say before Euterpe came to Burning Man she decided to do a little research. So she goes to Instagram and looks at the popular photos tagged #burningman. A picture of the event emerges. It’s dominated by a shimmering herd of sparkleponies living their best lives. There’s some art and pyrotechnics that poke through the pastiche, but mostly it looks like a dusty runway for skinny white women. Euterpe might think all she needs is a fur bikini and (shudder) a headdress, and she’d be a “Burner.”
She’d be wrong. What you don’t see among the most common online imagery of Black Rock City — even the artful stuff — is everything below the surface: the unsexy work (or sexiest, depending on your worldview) of building, welding, sewing, packing, driving, hammering, connecting, zipping, lifting, sawing, painting, and maybe even hot-glueing a unicorn horn or two.
You don’t see the values that govern our culture. You don’t see all the different kinds of people and bodies that make up our community.
You don’t see the big picture.
We get that this photogenic ogre is of our own making. As a society, we feed the beast with pictures. We signal to the beast which ones are “best” with our views and likes. The beast, being fairly simple-minded, just gives us more of what we said we wanted.
A new caste gets chiseled from these clicks, too: the social-media “influencer.” These are folks with decent-sized audiences who commodify their posts. While there are rules around disclosure, selling your opinions is not exactly a trust-building exercise. We’ve come to a point now where “influencer” is a dirty word. The Fyre Festival debacle tarnished whatever influencer cred folks were holding onto.
There is a movement to bring more transparency and authenticity to online content, and there should be. But being a Burning Man influencer should mean something else entirely, and we need your help to reclaim the narrative around what it means to be a Burner. It’s a big responsibility: these days Instagram may well be the first place that people encounter #burninglife.
We think about this when we curate our own Instagram account. We know pretty pictures from the event will get us likes and comments, but more and more we are trying to showcase the less-glamorous side of the playa, pictures that are not so perfect, and of course the tremendously vibrant, less-seen examples of Burning Man culture manifesting all around the world.
Please join us! Let’s radically shift our mindset and practices as an online community and show virgins like Euterpe what a Burning Man leader can look like online. Here are some ideas. We’d love to hear yours in the comments.
Be an Intention — not Attention — seeker. Black Rock City offers so much eye candy that’s fun to share with the world. It’s been done before. To death. Instead, try to create posts that speak to one of the 10 Principles or to an aspect of our culture that doesn’t get enough exposure, but should — like smaller-scale art, cool things your camp has designed, or acts of generosity. Let’s make each of the 10 Principle hashtags as popular as #burningman itself.
Get real. Sharing pretty pictures is nice and all, but also sooooo obvious. Take photos of people behind the scenes of your making. Show us something we’ve never seen before (keep it clean). Bring us inside your studio, tell us about your inner journey, or talk about why Burning Man can be challenging. There are so many facets that can be shared. Send us a direct message or email ‘em to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to be considered for our account.
Vote differently. These platforms run on engagement like views, likes, and comments. In order to change what’s surfaced, we need to change what we’re interacting with. So perhaps next time you see an image of a beautiful female form on Instagram, admire it in your brain, but save your ‘likes’ for the stuff that matters. We’ve heard more and more people say that they won’t go to the playa because they’re “not young or cute enough” or they “don’t have the right outfits.” That’s sad. It’s not who we are.
Tag, you’re it — but stop tagging brands. Spread the love to members of our community doing interesting things. Share their posts, tag them in yours, tell them you appreciate their work. At the same time, stop tagging brands or trying to direct attention to commercial efforts. Burning Man should not be a backdrop for selling anything.
Put the phone away and forget this whole thing. Yeah, we probably should have started with this one. Black Rock City provides a weeklong opportunity to be fully present, to plug into your humanity, to connect with others in real-time, to live the Immediacy principle.
Top photo by Gail Reyes