In the course of advising a student the topic of Burning Man came up. The folk-notion guiding burning man, of course, is that it is a total revolt against our empty modern age and that it provides an opportunity for people to experience ‘their real selves’ and otherwise recover the authentic core of human experience — found, for instance, in primordial ‘tribal’ activities like fire eating and dancing without your shoes on — which has been denied to them by the commodity-padded iron cage of modernity that they live in.
As the following paragraph might suggest, I think of Burning Man as the ultimate in bourgeois extravagance — building a space complete with cars and water and music in the desert like that requires a mastery of technology which is nothing if not modern. Enthusiasm for all things “tribal” seems to me to invoke the most exoticizing of ‘noble savage’ tropes. And of course these days Burning Man requires a ticket, has a department of -motor- mutant vehicles, and even has Burning Man Cops. Worst of all it sinks people’s energy into endeavors which are often politically quietistic. Painting yourself blue and taking a lot of acid and then going back to your day job does not count as smashing capitalism, at least not to me.
That said, I think doing an ethnography OF ‘the Burning Man theory of subjecitvity’ — the culturally specific notions of authenticity and revolt that it embodies — would be fascinating. The entire thing is extremely Durkheimian both in its ‘annual collective effervesence in the outback’ sense but also in the sense that the US alterno scene has a genealogies connection to Durkheim (via notions of potlatch, the college de sociologie, etc. etc.).
But whatever. Perhaps its unfair of me to have this opinion of Burning Man. To each his own. But in my support I offer a random smattering of links to help deflate the tendency to write Burning Man as the Ultimate Postmodern Revolt:
*Here’s a “Bad Subjects”:http://bad.eserver.org/issues/1995/21/wray.html article on Burning Man from 1995 — very early.
*”Achtung Hippie!: Reflections On The Burning Man Scam”:http://blog.hisnameistimmy.com/?p=12 and a “follow up article”:http://blog.hisnameistimmy.com/?p=14 from the same blog.
*”Confessions of a Burning Man”:http://www.burningmanconfessions.com/ is a new documentary I’d be interested in seeing — has anyone else seen this?
More links or ideas would be great — feel free to let me (or Burning Man) have it!
UPDATE: Here are some links from readers —
- “Burning Man: A Working-Class, Do-It-Yourself Affair”:http://www.processedworld.com/Issues/issue2005/burningman.html by Chris Carlsson, Processed Worlds 2.005 04/05
*”Many More Films About Burning Man”:http://euroburners.org/filmfestival/films.html our commenter rachel reccomends ‘Dust Devils’