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Monday, February 6, 2012
Below is a message I wrote to the now defunct Burning Man Email list way back in 1996 after my 3rd Burning Man.
With all of the discussion going on right now about the Ticket Lottery etc., it is interesting to take a look back at what some of us (okay, *I*) thought the future of Burning Man might be like and the concerns we had at the time. Some of my thoughts seem eerily prescient...however, I also have still been attending far past the point where the event reached 10,000 attendees and will likely continue to go (if and when I can) for the foreseeable futur, so my predictions of how I might FEEL about a larger event did not come to pass.
At any rate, I feel a large lump of irony rise in my throat when I hear all the consternation about the challenges folks are having try to get to an event they RELY on, given that, at one time, the event seemed to be about celebrating (in some part) the fact that things don't last.
Sent: Sunday, September 08, 1996 11:20 AM
To: burn list; Juke
Subject: Thoughts on the future of Burning Man and the transient nature of things
Well, another Burning Man has come and gone, and, as always, in it's aftermath we are left to ponder its future.
Two years ago when I attended my first Burning Man I thought that I might have just made it in under the wire. Since I had read that attendance had approximately doubled every year since it's inception I figured that by the next year (1995) there would be too many people for it to be the same event that I had enjoyed so thoroughly.
Then when I went last year, although it was definitely bigger, it still held some the magic (excuse the sentimentality) with the exception of my missing some friends who were not able to come (A & R & T - you know who you
I still enjoyed the MAN. But again, when it was over I was concerned about the continued growth of the event. How would it be with 10,000 people on the playa.
Well, now, give or take a coupla thousand, I think I know.
Although I had an incredible time, and thought that the MAN had a helluva burn (not to mention HellCo!) , I again have mounting concerns for the future of the MAN.
SOME POINTS TO PONDER...
With even the current number of attendees it will be nigh impossible (for safety reasons especially) for many of the events to be as participatory as they used to, thus these events will have definitely lost their intimacy. With the likely increase in Burning Man attendance next year here are some of the changes that I predict will happen.
1) Even more reduced participation for the "bigger events"
2) With more people coming to the Playa it becomes easier and easier for folks to get there, meaning that more people who are not "in" to the experience will "tag along". Some of these folks are the ones that I feel were causing some of the un-community spirited goings-on (I was amazed this year when some people were throwing beer cans when they got impatient for a particular event to start).
3) More "organization" to control of where people camp, drive etc. to attempt to keep accidents from happening.
4) Less spontaneity of events, ("Hey! You got an official BM permit for that exploding aardvark, mister?")
I was talking about the attendance issue to a friend who had recently produced a large outdoor concert. She, not knowing much about the Burning Man "thing", suggested: "Well if it's getting THAT big, maybe you could get BGP (Bill Graham Productions) to help put it on.
***** ARRGH! *****
While to my friend this was a logical solution to the specific problem of how to deal with an event of that size, to me it was heading down the road to "BurningManLand":
"Come, bring the entire family to "BurningManLand"!!! Ride the HellCo Trolley down through Main Camp! See the AMAZING Electrical Art Car Parade! Visit the AMAZING Piano Bell! Watch as pyrotechnic wizards perform amazing feats of fire magic! Fun for the whole family! "E" tickets starting at $40.00 per person (Discounts ticket books available for schools and other large groups and organizations). Air-conditioned charter buses available from Reno, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle!"
Well, it comes down to this. First we had an extended family in the desert.
Everyone could fairly quickly meet as many of their neighbors as they wanted. There was a STRONG sense of community.
Then we grew to a town. While we still saw the people we had known, there were far more people than we could possibly meet in one weekend and so we were slightly less of a tightly knit group as we had been.
Now we're a city. In a city it is very easy for people to be anonymous. It is easier to not know your neighbor. We have less and less of an overall communal bond. And with being a city comes the problems usually associated with cities everywhere. Crime, pollution & stupid people (ok, cities do not have a corner on the market of stupid people...). Some people come just to see the City, some come just to hustle.
As we grow people are forgetting that Black Rock City is THEM, not a separate entity unto itself.
This year in Black Rock City more people seem to have the attitude of : "It doesn't matter if I litter, "They" must have a clean-up crew..." and "Well if "they" (again this separation of the city into "us and them") don't have a clean-up crew, what did I pay my $40.00 for?!?"
"Things Change" - as I recall, this concept is fundamental to the premise of Burning Man.
Three years ago I heard Larry, while being interviewed, describe Burning Man as a "monument to impermanence". Well perhaps now we are seeing some cracks in the monument that is the Burning Man event itself. Perhaps this is the time to NOT do Burning Man for a year or so. Perhaps we should splinter up to more regional events of a similar nature (Hmmm...Burning Man Northwest - Eastern Oregon has LOTS of desert you know...).
Well, perhaps it is just a sign that we may not be able to rely on even the things that we do to remind us of the transient nature of things.
(Ow! I think I hurt my head on that one!)
BURNING MAN CATCH-22:
"Say, let's have a festival to celebrate the fact that nothing lasts."
"Hmmm...The festival didn't last."
"Well, Nothing Lasts."
And so it goes.
Maybe next year we should all just grab a few close friends, find a nearby beach (or other suitably fire resistant location), gather up some scrap wood and build something ( could be a MAN, could be a WOMAN, could be an ARMADILLO...), raise a toast to Larry, John, Fireman Dale, Kimrick, Danger Ranger et al, then burn it down.
That might be a neat experience.
Just a thought.