What Exactly Is Burning Man?

10 09 2010

Our $40 giveaway is still on! To enter, just leave any comment on this post.

We’ve received emails from a few blog readers interested in knowing what Burning Man is. So before we share our Burning Man experience, we thought it would be prudent to give some background on the event.

Many attendees describe Burning Man as indescribable. Some say it’s a circus for adults, others parrot the official “experiment in community, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance”, and others focus on Burning Man’s 10 principles.

To us, “circus for adults” comes closest. Burning Man is an annual event that takes place in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. For one week 50,000 people come together to create a city, sharing of themselves in an accepting and freeing environment where costumes and body art are the norm and music blasts day and night. Massive-scale art is everywhere, from tricked-out ‘art cars‘ to illuminated 40-foot tall sculptures. Bright lights and creativity are everywhere, and the playa is covered in massive art projects, some blasting propane fireballs four stories high. This is Black Rock City. (A true city, with streets, a post office, an airport, medical crews, bathrooms, a “Department of Public Works”, and a “Department of Mutant Vehicles”.)

With the exception of coffee and ice, nothing is sold in Black Rock City. Burning Man’s economy is based on gifting without any expectation of reciprocity. Headlining DJs, watermelon booths, restaurants, performances, airbrush artists, classes in cooking, bondage, electronics or any other topic, costumes, and an endless list of other things – all are gifted. Burners happily share their talents, knowledge, and possessions. (A snow-cone theme camp was down the block from us. As you may have guessed, they existed with the sole purpose of handing out snow-cones. Awesome.)

The event culminates in the burning of an 80-foot constructed wooden man, a spectacular event with hundreds of fire dancers, fireworks, and tens of thousands of excited burners. To me, the greatest thing about the Man is his meaninglessness. The man doesn’t represent anything specific and isn’t burned for any good reason. (Another funny theme camp: “Save the man! What did he do to you?”) The burn is simply a marvelous culminating event.

Actually, the burning of the Temple is the lesser-known yet true culminating event. Cherie from Technomadia (and Camp Nomadia – our awesome theme camp) described it best: “The temple is built a bit behind the man – and it’s generally designed and constructed by a different team each year. It’s the place where people go to write the things they need to release or manifest – the death of a loved one, forgiving, committing to change, etc. I visit it several times during the event, and reading some of the things written will bring you to tears. It’s a very somber place, a spiritual center of the community built at Black Rock City. It defies all of the mainstream stories of Burning Man being a big naked drunken party in the middle of the desert.”

But on Cherie’s end note, Burning Man is to some a big naked drunken party in the middle of the desert. It really is what you make of it, and it really is a life-changing experience and event.

Burning Man leaves no trace. The event officially ended on Monday at 3 PM, but a volunteer crew will remain in Black Rock City for the next month, returning the desert to its pre-event condition. In one month there will be no trace of this city of 50,000.

Coming soon: Our experience at this year’s burn.

posted by jay and ayo

composed on Tuesday, September 2nd on our return to Reno and the ‘default world’

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5 responses

12 09 2010
Roberta

My suggestion for the RV name: beiteinu

19 09 2010
amybetho

I just saw this – thanks for the input! 🙂

12 09 2010
mopps

dopps aka daddy/dad suggests “call of the wild” ( which was also the name of a book by jack london)

mopps suggests ” the tenth man” or “the tenth wo-man” , which references burning man and our tradition of being the 10th person to make a minyan (prayer group).

or maybe a name in the great indian tradition of names that you used to bestow upon us, ames?

15 09 2010
Laura B

Isn’t the man “The Man”? As in, The Establishment? That’s what I have heard…

19 09 2010
amybetho

Some people would say yes, while others would disagree. It’s open to interpretation. 🙂

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