Burning Man was popularized globally as an annual week-long event at a remote desert location. People call it an experiment in temporary community, where participants build Black Rock City, fill it with art and creativity, celebrate rituals around fire, and then disassemble the city to Leave No Trace. But that’s like describing an iceberg by its tip, seeing only the piece above the waterline. In 2020, we showed the world more of the iceberg — and it runs deep!
Burning Man has become a major cultural movement and year-round global community, morphing and growing every year beyond the iconoclastic event that birthed it. Our culture of Radical Inclusion has taken root worldwide in more than 44 U.S. States and 37 countries as part of the official Burning Man Regional Network, and there are Burners worldwide involved in civic projects and artistic expression every day.
At the center of this culture stands the rather enigmatic “Man” — a wooden effigy and symbol completely open to personal interpretation that we burn in spectacular fashion on Saturday night (Burn Night) at 9pm — which is the apex of the annual event. Some may think of the “Man” as male, but for me it is about our shared humanity and has no specific gender. The Man Burn brings its own special energy that happens only on Burn Night as the culmination of our week-long community gathering, and likewise holds its own special meaning for each individual.
To many of us, burning the Man symbolizes releasing old baggage and freeing our psyches to dream about what’s next. For others, burning the Man is the start of a new year akin to New Years Eve. The power of the Man Burn has always been as a ritual to unite us without any dogma that might otherwise separate. A ritual that points to our common humanity and embraces while letting go. Fire has a way of bringing people together while reminding us of the ephemeral nature of life itself.
Highlights Reel of 200+ Mini Man Burns Worldwide — Kaitlyn Caldwell, Los Angeles CA
Thousands of Celebrations Ignite Burning Man Culture Around the World
This year, COVID-19 reminded us of life’s fragility and forced the cancellation of Black Rock City, but it certainly didn’t cancel our culture! Instead, the massive, creative effort that tens of thousands of Burners annually invest in artistic offerings was pivoted into digital, online platforms, to be shared with the world — along with our culture. This year, our creativity and culture spilled over in a way it never has before. Our community traded welding machines, nail guns and cranes for keyboards, virtual reality (VR) headsets and broadband networks.
Blocked from creating one city five mile across in the desert, Burners in many countries instead co-created eight entire virtual Universes. Each was filled with digital art, interactivity, events, and ways to engage people creatively while encouraging deep community among people of all backgrounds, races, ages, genders, abilities and ideologies. The Universes were visually stunning, digitally created and digitally displayed, but is it still Burning Man if we don’t burn the Man? We sort of, kind of, HAD to burn the Man!
So, at the same time our entire city would usually form our annual great circle around the Man in the Black Rock Desert to ignite our new year and the potential of new beginnings, we instead formed thousands of small COVID-safe circles around mini Man burns in almost every country. In both the physical and spiritual senses, one big Man exploded into endless little ones around the planet. For 24 hours, time zone by time zone, we digitally connected those small circles into one global “great circle” around the Man. At 9 pm local time, anywhere on this planet, there was a Burn for you! We called this integration of small circles into one great circle Burn Night: Live From Home, and it truly brought Home, home.
Mini Man Burn With Mutant Vehicles Circle — Marco Turrubia, San Diego CA
While no one mini Burn could match the incredible experience we create as a community in the Black Rock Desert or our 100+ official Regional Events around the world, our global community created a different kind of community experience and ritual that encircled the globe. We burned the Man from New Zealand and Australia to Hawaii, and from Switzerland to Tahiti. And in Russia, China, Ukraine, France, Germany, Spain, England, Japan, India, Austria, Thailand, Argentina…on and on!
We burned the Man looking familiar, we burned the Man wearing a dress, we burned the Man in Buddha pose, we burned the Man small enough to fit in an ashtray, and we even burned the Man with fake flame effects wherever real fire was too dangerous (kudos to everyone who considered safety FIRST and did NOT burn anything in fire risk areas because that was so important to consider this year). There were also a swan and other effigies burned in celebration of various Regional Events around the world that are united in ethos and values.
Tiny Man — Joyous Howell, Salt Lake City, Utah
More than 51,000 digital devices joined this circle, and with two or more people around many of those devices, our circle around the Man in 2020 likely contained more Burners than we could ever fit in Black Rock City. Even though we were physically distanced, we were not socially distanced, thanks to a high-tech online portal with chat functions and camp watch party rooms. If you missed it or just miss it now, stay tuned for a highlights reel coming soon! Until then, sit back and enjoy a highlights reel of over 200 mini burns that were not even submitted to Burn Night: Live From Home! No, this year, the Man did not burn in Black Rock City — instead, the Man burned in YOUR city! This year, we were all on The Man Build Krew!
Yard Man — Sunshine Daydream, Sacramento CA
This year, we also took Burning Man culture to untold thousands of new people who may never reach Black Rock City, and created a much more inclusive experience than ever before. Countless Burners lit up the Man with their families who may have previously spurned our culture, and in explaining the 10 Principles, they formed new bridges of understanding and acceptance — true Radical Inclusion. Some just created little versions of the Man and didn’t burn them, which was wonderful also. One group even created an incredible Balloon Man — and in a variant of our ephemeral ritual — joyfully and mischievously popped the balloons that were its limbs! There were so many imaginative and socially responsible versions of our beloved ritual of ephemerality and new ways to express and share. Wow!
We Burners like to say, “The Man will always burn.” Perhaps we say that to remind ourselves to not give up. Perhaps we say it because we value rituals that bring us together instead of dividing one another. Like the Man itself, the meaning is up to you. And we really proved it this year! By emphasizing the impact, richness, and diversity of our culture around the world and around the clock, Burn Night: Live From Home showed our community and the world that the Man will always burn, and will always burn everywhere — in increasingly new and profound ways. We. Really. Needed. That.
May we all meet again next year in Black Rock City and at Regional Events around the world — and even if we can’t, I encourage you to keep the flame alive within you and remember what you are connected to globally. Happy Burning!
Header image courtesy of Burn Night: Live From Home host PORTL.com