Why I Will Never Go To Burning Man.

Via Joslyn Hamilton
on Aug 26, 2010
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(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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Comments

153 Responses to “Why I Will Never Go To Burning Man.”

  1. ARCreated says:

    I think I have been both…I agree with your assessment…some days I feel shy others I feel introverted…in my youth I was more a shy extrovert but now I'm an outgoing introvert…I think this is our answer too…Shy Extro = burning man good; Outgoing Introvert = burning man not so much 🙂

  2. Joslyn,

    I can relate to that. I'm a Gregarious Hermit.

    Bob W.

  3. cnc says:

    "we do not need another whiny yoga instructor on the playa" — ? really? that was just mean.

  4. cnc says:

    thanks this was very illuminating as to what theexperience is like.

  5. clara says:

    Joslyn, I really enjoy your posts which dare to question the sacred cows of life (esp among spiritual circles). I esp admire you for risking putting your thoughts on this blog – like Wayne said recently, it really does seem to attract some mean folks. Opening yourself up to that kind of attack is courageous as far as I'm concerned.Keep those blogs and letters coming!

    I have no point of reference on Burning Man but have heard many talk abt it in glowing awe-filled terms. Looking at the crazy pics and knowing abt all the fun substances being consumed, I was thinking it was like "spring break" for all the highschool misfits lol.

    I really can't deal with the desert so it is a no-go for me from the outset. …… But When I think abt how controlled our lives are IN THE MATRIX I guess I can see why such an experience could be compelling – I think it could be worthwhile to eat gruel and live raw & wild for a few days just to feel free of the machine.

    Cheers to all who go and Cheers to all who don't!

  6. clara says:

    So true, thanks for posting this, it reminded me of a simple truth, applied to everything.

  7. Also, I'm not a yoga instructor. Not to nitpick.

  8. Kelsey says:

    i have thought this for a while (i think it was the whole moving to france thing we have in common)…..that you are my long lost twin sister. thanks for the laugh and although i too prefer to be alone, it's nice to feel the opposite sometimes.

  9. Rosalind says:

    You're right. That was one of the things I liked about Burning Man: it really did have a lot of spectacular art. Especially at night. Of course, only Burners could see it. Why can't it be put in public spaces so EVERYONE can enjoy it?

  10. Bryon Suet says:

    I am enchanted with the idea of the liberation treatment to cure multiple sclerosis. From what information I can acquire about doctors that provide treatment, I can only find one nebulous list repeated on a dozen websites. Is there a more preferable way to find treatment, per say in North America. There are places that offer Liberation Treatment for the United States that no one knows about, such as Liberation Treatment Now

  11. BryTee says:

    I do go to Burningman, and have been many years, and gone to regional events.
    I think you have assessed what it is through what friends have told you and the photos/video you've seen. My experience is nothing like any of the reasons you don't like it. I also think most of the photos and video do not capture the place. I guess not many people photograph the emptiness as it's not going to make a great photo!
    Consider, if you're on a mission to go see various pieces of art, there's at least 15 minutes of cycle ride (more if you're walking) between each piece. I find I am alone for all that time! But maybe that's because I don't camp with anyone. Others (probably your friends) like to do that, ie join some camp – I don't. I did join a theme camp once (on my 4th year there), it was my worst year there, and that's why I know (and am happy) to not do that again.
    However, I'll admit I don't camp out in the middle of nowhere (but some people do, and maybe you would), as I do like to be near the potties, and despite what others report, unless you're in the packed in camping areas (within a few blocks of center camp), they're pretty clean, and well stocked.

    Burningman is only a festival if you go to those places, if you don't like festival style, then don't go to the places there that emulate a festival environment!

    I read your non-Burner friends don't want to go for a few reasons that include "it's too dusty" or "their friends experiences are not what I'd want", ok, good, but don't judge something based on what others tell you about it. I hear stories from friends about their experiences and it rarely matches mine. But I don't do drugs, I don't buy anything (no ice, no coffee for me), I don't dance, I don't wear fur, nor tutus, I'm not naked. Actually the idea that "everyone" is naked or dresses up, does drugs, or has random sex with strangers, pure BS. I didn't even notice any sexual aspect my first year, and was almost offended when someone claimed Burningman was a sexual environment!
    FYI: I do come form Europe, nudity does not mean sexuality, and is no big deal. I understand most Americans cannot disconnect nudity and sexuality in their minds, I maybe wrong. But anyway, my guess is only 10% of people have some sort of nakedness.

    I think Burningman is what you make of it, or where you go there. And if you want to do what your friends think you'd do there, then… yes you'd probably not want to go. I'd not want to go if I went by what much I read/heard about it. But you don't have to do what they think you should do, you can really do your own thing, and that's why I like Burningman.

  12. BryTee says:

    There are reasons I'd not go:
    1) The coffee area in the center camp because a) it's make an otherwise soothing place WAY too noisy, b) there's money trading hands. One of the things I like about Burningman is "gifting" (which is NOT barter – to understand it go watch YouTube: "Halcyon tips and tricks gifting" video). Gifting does not include money. I feel center camp gives out a negative vibe because of this. So I simply avoid that place. If you like coffee, bring your own, or visit the free coffee camps.

    2) Creepy guys who take photos of nudity.
    But they can be ignored or told to go away, and they mostly do.

    3) Too much law enforcement and too many Bureau of Land Management (BLM) "little Hitlers"
    But I can see why they're there, people give the (I think false) impression that there is much drug activity going on, and while it might be the case if you search for it, I'm sure the people who do it, do it outside of Burningman anyway.
    I think the fee the BLM charges Burningman (for the location use) would be reasonable if there was no clean up, but since time-after-time the place is reported by the BLM to have been left cleaner than it was before the event, I think the BLM should be paying the Burningman organization for cleaning the land for them.

    4) Ticket price.
    I have not seen the outgoings increase over many years, there's nothing new provided, they still get free labor to do most of the work, the number of potties is about the same, yet the ticket price has gone up and up. So I believe they are making serious money from this. I wish they'd admit it, but… if they revealed this, many would not volunteer, many would not go, and they'd lose their cash cow.

    5) It's almost a repeat every year
    People expect the "firework show" and many got angry when someone semi-burned it early. I think the arsonist was wrong, but to go after him legally was not in the spirit of Burningman. Me… I don't watch the man burn. I'm not really into that party atmosphere. The temple burn is far more reasonable. Even with tens of thousands of people, it's quite an individual feeling of an event, but I've missed the temple burn a few times too because those things are NOT what Burningman is about for me.
    The road system is the same – BORING – they need to come up with alternative variations! Yes they do minor changes, but something more radical would be welcomed (by me). However I know the typical attendee expects things to be the same, and that is sad.
    Same location – it'd be more fun if they moved the main event around the country, if not, the world! But I don't think they'd make the money they make now… so that's very unlikely.

    But those reasons have yet to outweigh the reasons I do go.

  13. Jenn says:

    Exactly. Most of the quotes operate on misconceptions about Burning Man.
    1) It is NOT a barter economy, it says that explicitly in the survival guide. It is a GIFTING economy. It is not allowed to give something with the condition of getting something in return. So the Jen quote is just plain WRONG.
    2) Every theme camp I have ever been associated with has solar showers with an evap pond. WE DO SHOWER.
    3) I would say that none of the burners I know feel repressed. Quite the opposite we are all very successful and powerful people, partially because we were empowered by what Burning man showed us what we were capable of by telling us not to be afraid to give our dreams a try.
    4) I wore normal clothes my first few years there. Many do. For some people it is about costumery, for others it is about art. It is not a cult because it means different things to everyone who attends.
    5) As for the clique thing: yeah, people like to talk about shared experiences, it is how people relate. Burning man is no different from anything else in that way. If that makes you feel left out, maybe you need to be a more interesting person so you can be more capable of steering a conversation and choosing interesting topics, or maybe you arejust too much of a pussy to take control of the conversation.

  14. Jim says:

    I love it how many people are latching on to the private airstrip as a reason to diss Burning Man and say they would not want to go. 50,000 people attended Burning Man this year. There were less than 50 small private planes at the airstrip…… How many of the FIFTY THOUSAND PEOPLE do you think flew in on them? Sure, it's easy to see how you can make a sweeping generalization that it's being taken over by rich people.

    AYIYI. Get a grip. Also there are no feathers (they would blow away across the desert and pollute the playa). There is not a barter economy. It is a GIFTING economy where bartering is no more accepted or allowed than commercialism. The amount of misinformation in this thread from the people out to discredit and ridicule Burning Man is really pretty amazing. There are reasons to not want to go. But alot of you are laboring under misconceptions and superficial stereotypes of what it is really like. Generalizations about what "everyone" does at Burning Man really do not make sense as it is about SELF-expression. In a week there I never once heard anyone say a single judgemental word about what someone else was wearing. It just does not happen. If you can't deal with heat, with dust, with nudity, with intense music and art and radical expression, with being non judgmental about people who may be very unlike yourself and have VERY different interests then it's not the place for you. Many of these other reasons are just people parroting second hand stereotypes and predispositions to justify looking down on something and ridiculing it without experiencing it.

  15. […] The other day, I saw a couple of kids in Whole Foods wearing their Halloween costumes a good week ahead of time. I asked one of the boys—he looked to be six or seven— about his football player costume. He informed me that this was not his “real” costume. His “real” costume hadn’t arrived yet—it was a mail order Dearth Maul getup. Of course, he explained, he couldn’t wear that to his school Halloween party, because it was against the rules to wear a scary mask. So, he would be saving Dearth Maul for trick or treating, and had a third costume lined up for the school function. Three costumes. The kid is ripe for Burning Man. […]

  16. Jolene says:

    I agree with you, Joslyn, on all your counts. As Tommy Lee Jones' character, K, says to Will Smith's character, J, in "Men In Black": "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

  17. You have talked about quite a few curious points in this article. I found this by using Google and I have to admit that I am currently subscribed to your blog, it is extremely great 🙂

  18. disco says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    You've just convinced me to continue my practice of never trying to convince anyone to go to Burning Man. You make assumptions about the event, and its participants, that simply aren't true. I don't like crowds either, and I've still managed to find time and place on the playa to be very very alone. You want to camp alone? You can do that out there. You'd be surprised how spreading 50K people over a huge expanse of desert can afford you plenty of chances to be all by yourself. Not a big fan of fan of festivals either, as I grew up with Mardi Gras. But I still manage to find very quiet spaces at Burning Man.
    As with anything in life, Burning Man is what you make of it. Sounds like you've already made it what you want it to be.

  19. Brad says:

    Brillant! And why I won't ever go to Coachella, either.

  20. rusty rebar says:

    anything that attracts 50,000 people is not any one thing — if you really liked the people who asked you to go, you'd go (but you don't & so you won't) — there is no "joining" involved — no cult & certainly no life-changing experiences to be had that you can't have at the local laundromat — no doubt the fantasy of living for a week without having anything to shop for is not for you — nor is the realization that SACRIFICE is essential for a healthy psyche — has been always will be — burning man is an ersatz new-age half-assed rite of passage — a ritual — a process of throwing away something important so as to affirm it's value — maybe there's hope in that, maybe despair — but it is truly human & lovely to see & be a part of — sorry you'll miss it…

  21. Jon says:

    wow, this author seems like she's a great time…dont go to burning man b/c we don't really want you and you are the one missing out!

  22. jon says:

    not exactly shocked she works in yoga and lives in marin county…what a bore!

  23. jon says:

    don't know why you didn't do enough research to realize you needed goggles and a gas mask…

  24. Half says:

    Thats a lot of attention, time and energy paid towards something you don’t want to do….I hope you expend as much clear energy and obvious talent towards writing about things you love and that inspire you.

    BM is no cult. It’s just a city that people build once a year where they wont be judged and condemned for expressing themselves. what they choose to express is not always something I want to watch or listen to but it’s also a place where I am free to walk away.

    It makes me sad that we need a place like black rock city to experience freedom like that.

  25. Peter says:

    You know, I wish I wanted to go to Burning Man, but I don't. Although I'm sure there are plenty of "artistic moments" there is also a terrible "poser" element to it too. We all know what I'm talking about.

  26. Katherine says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oyk63br0tY

    Beats Fucking Antique didn't get tickets…

  27. merret mann says:

    Dig it girl

  28. David Ludwig says:

    Sorry, but it's not an experience that can be considered or evaluated from the outside because it defies evaluation. I felt the way you feel "before" and I am now converted. Judging something you haven't experienced based on hearsay is a total left brain exercise, and BRC is decidedly not a left brain place. Better to say you are not attending because you have projected an experience that you do not think you will like.

  29. assword says:

    i get the non-people-liking aspect. i'm introverted and generally socially phobic. there are lots of us on the playa. but the other reasons in the quotes above are exactly why we don't want you to come to burning man. if getting a spa treatment or being clean is a main focus for you, then please, please, please, never come as you promise. and discourage your friends.

  30. faern! says:

    im with you, and i am a living, breathing artist.

    not for all the same reasons or anything… some yes, some no~

  31. Lindsey says:

    OMG MOVE AWAY FROM THE BAY! Ha, and wait for someone to give you a ticket and go for an hour, then when you tell those people they will just stare back at you in horror for not liking it and disgusted at your violation of their special happy place. but also maybe move. That is so sad people ruined bm for you. it is just an over the top party but it isn't actually crowded because it's huge and it is just a beautiful place where you can see the excess that is possible when people bring together everything they can find that blinks, very bizzar, but for some reason one of the most beautiful creations ever.

  32. Karen Eliot says:

    Totally with you. BM is not the same animal it was earlier, in any case.

    And it’s not dirt, it’s talc-fine *caustic alkali*. Sweat at all and your skin burns. I helped a friend clean a tent of playa and it convinced me never to go.

    Once you do go, you will have playa in your stuff for the rest of your life. In everything. It’s unstoppable, you’d have to get rid of everything you own and move to get shed of it!

    The crazy thing is these days I’m getting status updates from Black Rock. Really folks, it *was* about getting away from all that and into a TAZ — a temporary autonomous zone.

    But all my love to those who can afford it and who love it. My friends do build the most amazing things for BM, so it serves a wonderful purpose that way… but I’ll stay home, thank you 🙂

  33. warriorsaint says:

    I have the same feelings about Burning Man as I do about tattoos: freakishly fascinating from afar but I have no desire to wake up at it or wearing it.

  34. ezekiel says:

    You say you get it… but, wow… you really don't.

  35. Devin says:

    One of the many reasons that some "veterans" decide to return to the Burn/Black Rock City is precisely that they enjoy facilitating the process of other people's exploration of their personal liberation. As most teachers will tell you, helping others with the basics that you think you have mastered usually teaches a decent teacher as much as the student learns.

    And yes, pigeon-holing the experience into a peer-pressure group to get glitterier-than-thou is an applied exercise in missing the point (not that that does not happen A LOT).

    But PLEASE tell me if you can honestly tell me that you have ever experienced a creative/artist community/culture/movement/school that did not involve much of the masses involved getting completely lost in the process of following/emulating/trumping eachother/p*ssing contests – rather than staying "true" to the idealized intent and goals of the "faithful"

    Yes; I am a burner that has been for 7+ days 5 times, I aspire to be a better artist, I even spin fire pretty regularly, and yet I too do not feel the need to return to B-man in the remotely near future for a host of reasons.

  36. "No doubt the fantasy of living for a week without having anything to shop for is not for you"? Really? Smug much? I'm actually not a shopper. At all. And I love my friends, whether they go to Burning Man or not. But thanks for highlighting one of my pet peeves about the whole "you should go to Burning Man" culture: the judgment narrowly disguised as open-mindedness.

  37. See above comment. Jesus.

  38. Yes. Don't take steroids. K?

  39. Yes, we do. We all do. See 90% of comments on this article.

  40. Yes! Thank you for expressing this. At a certain point in your life I think you let go of the insecure need to "try everything once." The more I get to know myself and trust myself, the more I can intuit what's for me and what isn't. Sounds like you and I are kin.

  41. Or…. cuz I trust my intuition?

  42. ali says:

    I still agree with your friend kevin's statement!

  43. Jamie says:

    A ticket to enlightenment is only $300 away.

  44. Ward Walker says:

    NEVER! Been to the festivals that preceded BM, and from what I have learned from "burners" ( hip-clique name, no doubt ), the entire event is the inclusion of everything that was NOT good about the original events of the past. BM is for city folks to bring their city-shit with them to the desert and have a collective self-congratulatory giant-ego circle-jerk. I, for one, have never been inclined to be around such predictable and predicated exercises in cliquey hipness. The entire idea was a rip-off, and the original gatherings of such events were FREE! ( which would be the proper price for liberation and creativity, of course! ) Art? My ass. What important ANYTHING has come out of BM? Just the inspiration for a slew of anecdotal egotistical ravings, that is all. "Burners" in itself tells the whole story.

  45. Julie says:

    You should go to Burning Man

  46. Asystolgod says:

    The Butthole Surfers played a show in my hometown! I had to save up money for 2 months to afford a $30 ticket which was well worth it. I see Burning man as a mini Plutarchy. Small group of people making a fuckload of money off a large group. Pay me to go, feed & house my family for the entire event and I will be there, other than that, i have to go make a living.

  47. Monty Hansen says:

    Great article, I knew burningman was not for me, for the exact same reasons – but I have gone the last 2 years because my girlfriend loves it and wants to experience it together. I know if there were something equally important to me, she would go for me, even if it wasn't her thing…but I would much rather spend the week camping by a cool lake in the mountains.

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