August 26, 2010

Why I Will Never Go To Burning Man.

(Yet I still dare to call myself an artist.)

I respect the concept of Burning Man and think it’s a pretty cool idea. I say “concept” and “idea” because I’ve never actually been to Burning Man. I can’t remark with confidence on something I’ve never done. And as a rule, I don’t think you can judge something until you’ve experienced it. But I can say with 100% confidence that I will never go to Burning Man.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area since the dawn of “the playa” and have many friends who go every year. I have to live through their waffling for the weeks and months leading up to this August event, and also endure their endless, “You’ve never been to Burning Man? You HAVE to go. YOU would LOVE it!”

I bite my tongue every time a person I just met a minute ago takes me aside, holds my hand, looks me dead in the eye, and tells me with utter confidence that they know for a fact that Burning Man is going to be my personal spiritual salvation. Followed shortly thereafter by some smug commentary about how I can’t possibly know what Burning Man is like, what it’s really all about, until I go and experience it for myself. The convincing is relentless, insistent, and a bit presumptuous.

While I am generally a big believer in trying everything once (except skydiving, crystal meth, and murder), I am quite sure that Burning Man is not for me.

These might be the reasons you think I don’t want to go to Burning Man:

  1. Because I don’t like art. Au contraire, mon ami; I love anything creative! Yay for Burning Man and creativity! With that said, I don’t necessarily think that donning glittery hotpants and phosphorescent platform shoes (and nothing else, for a week) necessarily renders you an “artist.” (And yes, I get it; there’s more to it than that. But, there’s also that.)
  2. Because I don’t get it. I definitely get it. I grew up in a very progressive part of The Berkshires (Massachusetts) where even our summer camps were like mini Burning Mans.  My parents were young idealistic hippies who let us dress ourselves from day one and insisted that we call them by their first names. Our “costume trunk” held more outfits than we had real clothes.  We lived in a tent in the yard for an entire summer while the foundation was being laid for the house my parents built—with their own hands—with wood from an old torn-down tobacco barn. We barely had plumbing, and to this day my mom doesn’t own electric appliances. I think it’s safe to say that my entire upbringing was a prerequisite for Burning Man.
  3. Because I don’t like to get dirty. I’ve heard other people say that they don’t understand why anyone would want to spend a week in the desert getting dirt in every orifice (see below). I actually don’t have a problem with that. I’m not overly attached to showering and quite appreciate the idea of a hot, dusty, dirty week in the desert. Alone.
  4. Because I don’t like camping. I love camping. Again, alone.

Here are the actual reasons why I’m sure Burning Man is not for me:

  1. I don’t like people. Well, let me qualify that. I like people; I just don’t like big groups of them in one place. Especially if that place is locked in by miles of desert and horrible traffic jams.
  2. I don’t like festivals. See above, and also, they are loud, and frantic, and filled with people whose drug ingestion has hindered their perception of appropriate personal space. (Disclaimer: I’m not specifically talking about Burning Man here, since I’ve obviously never been to attest to this myself. I’m just talking about festivals in general and my experience of them.)
  3. The air of preciousness around it. Not long into high school I developed an aversion to clique-ish situations. The moment the world was divided into “been to Burning Man” versus “haven’t been to Burning Man” camps, I knew where I stood. The same place I stood in high school: on the outside.
  4. Because I have an aversion to situations that masquerade as non-conformist when they are actually the norm.  If you’re going to do what everyone else does, don’t pretend like it’s some radically new and different idea that’s going to rock the establishment and start a counterculture.

I’m not the only freak who doesn’t want to go to Burning Man.

I asked a few of my other really cool, creative friends why they won’t go to Burning Man, and here’s what they had to say:

“It seems like the place where repressed people go to give themselves permission to act with abandon.  If I wanted that I’d hang out with Republicans at a rave. ” – Vanessa

“I’m 40, that is why. If I went to Burning Man I would arrive on a private flight, party for 24 hours and fly straight out.  I don’t think I embrace the spirit of the Burn when all I want to do is check out the shit show and shower ASAFP.” – Kevin

“I can see why people go to Burning Man and have a blast.  BUT SORRY, NOT FOR ME.  Where do I even begin?   The idea of spending days in the desert with the sun beating down on me and sand blowing in my face is not my idea of fun.  I would consider going when Four Seasons opens a hotel there.   I could then try to have fun during the day, and then go back to my hotel for a spa treatment, followed by a gourmet meal, and end the day sleeping in a comfortable bed with air-conditioning. ” – Tom

“I’ve never been to Burning Man because it operates on a bartering system and most people want to barter drugs and I hate doing hard drugs in crowds with Port-O-Potties and no showers.  And I hate people that are on drugs.  And I hate Port-O-Potties.  Even though I’m fine with no showers. ” – Leslie

“Burning Man is the king of all icebreakers. Remember in school, or in groups, when the teacher would say, ‘Ok, now I want you to break off into groups and come up with…’ Or, ‘Ok, now we’re going to go around the room and introduce ourselves and say one thing nobody knows about us…’ There are those who cringe and want to cut themselves under the desk when they hear this, and others who are secretly ecstatic at the idea. There are ‘icebreaker lovers’ and ‘icebreaker haters.’ Guess what I am?” – Jen

“It’s a cult started by some man who’s discovered a way to charge thousands of people approximately $300 to go camping. Also, I would die of thirst and starvation out of fear that everything was ‘kool-aid.’ And the freaky ginormous ‘Burning Man’ seems a little too KKK-ish to me. I mean why burn him? At night? Why couldn’t they paint him with glitter or use all that wood to build houses or something?”  – Christine

So yes, I hear you when you say that I would LOVE Burning Man, but trust me on this one, I wouldn’t.

Brilliant illustration uptop by my very talented friend Vanessa Fiola: www.vanessafiola.com
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