Ah, the days finally came when the mainstream media caught on to the existence of Burning Man.
How typical the reaction.
Countercultural experiment. Hedonistic "festival". Art and Music "festival". Disneyland for adults. An event run by an exploitative for-profit. "Burning Man goes mainstream!" A hippie extravaganza.
From the mainstream press propaganda, you'd think that a bunch of loser hippie wannabees gather suicidally in the desert to act weird, stupid and everything in between.
But wait! Could it be possible that the public that isn't already familiar with what Burning is might be being misled? Gasp!
Then what oh what could this satanist gathering* on a salt flat be?
The Man that Burns. Literally, a tall wooden effigy of a hominid male that is lit on fire by humans, who gather and share the experience of standing around something they created so that they could destroy it together.
THAT is Burning Man. Shockingly simple, I know - and surprisingly devoid of lights, music, costumes, drugs, nudity, sex, police, alcohol, etc. etc. etc. In other words, devoid of all the things that the mainstream media, having decided to finally care about Burning Man this year, has used to sensationalize (and therefore stereotype) the event.
And those things you read and see about ARE happening, have no doubt. But the point of the event, from its humble beginnings on a beach in San Francisco twenty-five some odd years, is nothing more than just that simple first paragraph.
Yet what is truly remarkable is how powerful such a simple act can be. For in that space, where we share an immediate moment like watching something burn, we create an instant human community that unlocks the most primal aspects in all of us: that of sitting around a fire and simply being human together.
And that is the kernel from which the most remarkable human experimental community in recorded history has come about; a celebration of the immediacy, honesty, compassion and expression that comes standard with every model of homo sapiens sapiens. Features that our modern hyper-rational, alienated society has seemed to forgotten or strives to actively repress.
So how do you go from a handful of people standing on a beach in San Fran watching a jumble of logs burn to a 50,000 person experiential event in the exact middle of nowhere? What the hell could attract so many people to an admittedly barren wasteland to spend time with other people of equal or greater questionable mental health?**
Perhaps the simplicity of creating and participating in a community that Tolerates, Accepts, Explores, Respects and Creates?
Because that is the simplicity of the attraction - as powerful and potentially life-changing as it can be for the many that attend it and that have attended it in the past. When we as humans gather together voluntarily - when we allow ourselves to be challenged by nature in the raw - when we create and share for the purpose of destruction - we engage with our own fundamental humanity. Something that our sheltered, individuated, consumption-driven, cut-throat, repressed culture has strayed too far away from.
People come for thousands and tens of thousands of miles to ultimately stand on the dried bed of a salt lake to watch a tall wooden effigy burn after a week of trying to reconnect with what it means to be human BECAUSE Being Human has become a challenge, if not an impossibility, in our "normal lives".
That's why they Burn. That's why I Burn. So remember that when you read the spin, the slant and the stereotypes in your paper, online and watch it on TV.
And whenever you want to come and engage with Being Human again, you're always welcome.
*Its actually not satanist. That's a joke. The nearby residents, before they decided that the loved Burning Man, were afraid that it was a satanist gathering... approximately twenty years ago.
**Actually, the vast majority of people that are there are quite responsible - mainly because they have to be as a requirement to survive in the desert. In fact, quite a few attendees are people of significant responsibility out "in the real world" - people that keep you safe, run your businesses and schools and keep society functioning. It is possible to attend Burning Man and be a pillar of the community; shocking as that may seem to certain Puritanical sensibilities.