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Burning Man is a capitalist lie Its radical self-sufficiency is a rich man's pose

(David McNew/Newsmakers)

(David McNew/Newsmakers)


September 7, 2023   6 mins

Marie Antoinette probably never said “Let them eat cake”. But she did provoke popular fury by building a model peasant village at Versailles, where she would retire to escape the pressures and opulence of court life, and even sometimes dress up as a milkmaid for picnics or parties.

If the 21st century has an aristocracy on a par with that of Versailles, it is surely the Silicon Valley tech elite. And their equivalent of Marie Antoinette’s toy farm is Burning Man: a utopian week-long summer festival in the Nevada Desert, whose culture captures a distinctive West Coast liberal ideal — and which is, in the modern context, every bit as artificial and tone-deaf as le hameau de la Reine.

Last week, torrential rain transformed Burning Man from Mad-Max-meets-Magic-Roundabout party week to a dystopian-looking mud-pan filled with three-eyed “dinosaur shrimp”. The downpour, and resulting delay in campers being permitted to leave, spawned a host of increasingly baroque rumours, including an online effort (complete with fake CDC notices) to persuade the world of an ebola outbreak.

Photos from summer festivals are a staple of the silly-season news cycle. But I doubt many images from Reading Festival make the LA Times. Burning Man, meanwhile, is an object of fascination well beyond the Land of the Free, thanks to the paradoxical quality of the American empire.

This nation has done more than any other, from Woodrow Wilson on, to enshrine the notion of “national self-determination” in international law and parlance, while also evacuating other nations and cultures of their culturally distinct lifeways and replacing them with American ones. Having terraformed many nominally non-American nations with American practices and ideals, inevitably the elites from whom this terraforming emanates have also become influential well beyond America’s nominal boundaries.

In the 20th century, this phenomenon was largely confined to Hollywood and the music industry. More recently, though, the cultural centre of gravity has drifted toward Silicon Valley’s tech elite: a group heavily represented at Burning Man. And the schadenfreude that’s accompanied this year’s Burning Man rumour-mongering speaks to a growing ambivalence both about this elite, about the culture machine they command, and about the American promise it mythologises and enacts: the fantasy of perfect individual freedom, on a blank cultural slate, underwritten by universal material abundance.

It’s two decades since my own Burning Man experience, but it was eye-opening both for what it made possible, and what it took to get there. The festival itself is very bonkers and very liberal: the two governing rules that I can recall are “no commerce” and “no spectators”. That is, if something exchanges hands it must be as a gift, or a barter trade; meanwhile, in social terms, pretty much the only rule is that it is not done to laugh and point at what people are doing, however weird that is. Join in, or move on.

There is a lot of installation art, a lot of sex, a lot of drugs and music and fancy dress. I don’t remember much of what I did in Black Rock City, but I do remember the cumulative atmosphere created by these constraints: a bewitching, enchanted sense of openness, serendipity, and infinite possibility. In this sense, it’s a perfect expression of the American progressive ideal: a world of abundance where everyone can do what they do in an atmosphere of welcome, affirmation and (if you desire it) mutual support, but in which everyone is always free to exit any scenario, at any time.

And like that progressive dream, sustaining Black Rock City requires considerable material effort under the bonnet: an effort that, by and large, doesn’t conform to the same high-minded morals. Sometimes described as an experiment in “radical self-sufficiency”, Burning Man is perhaps more accurately an experiment in creating a radical post-scarcity society by having done all your shopping ahead of time.

The “playa” where the event takes place has no shelter, no water, and no greenery. Nothing is left there between festivals, meaning all infrastructure a temporary, hauled in and assembled for the purpose. Depending on your actual bank balance, this means after the $575 ticket price you must buy or rent everything you need for an encampment, band together with friends, or at minimum raise the funds needed for membership in one of the annual larger pre-existing themed camps. You must pre-load with food, water and shelter. Plus you’ll have more fun if you also take trinkets and treats for barter, fun costumes to wear, drugs, and perhaps a bicycle to get around. All this is then hauled out onto the ring-fenced blank slate of a dry Nevada lake-bed, so festival-goers can enjoy a magical, week-long experience of life without buying or selling.

In other words: all this gift-economy joy is enabled by participation in the regular cut-throat capitalist one. And enjoying it at all is predicated on having enough surplus resource in your life that you can afford to blow at least a few grand on contributing to a colossal, ephemeral simulacrum of no longer needing money at all. And if you can afford to set aside the chunk of change required to resource yourself for a week-long extreme-climate self-catering fancy dress party, chances are you aren’t living hand-to-mouth. It is, in other words, very much a Marie Antoinette toy farm.

I unironically loved my Burn. The festival’s paradoxical blend of brutal desert conditions and stranger generosity, hedonism and survivalism, communitarian friendliness and radical individualism, felt (and still feels) like distilled essence of a liberal cultural ideal present in some form wherever the American cultural empire extends its influence. But I also remember finding the experience dizzying, not least because I went straight to Black Rock City from a whistle-stop tour of a great many parts of the United States for whom similar conditions obtain — just without the option to go home afterwards.

I had decided, that summer, that interrailing round Europe was too tame, and so I was going to do the American equivalent instead: a Greyhound bus tour. Greyhound is probably the closest America gets to genuinely affordable trans-continental public transport: a network of buses between major cities, not just on the coast but also spanning the “flyover states”, as coastal Americans disdainfully describe their country’s interior, including innumerable stops in the middle of nowhere. If you buy a time-limited ticket, you can get on and off as much as you like during that time. I stopped in a lot of one-horse towns and on the lengthy, cramped bus journeys themselves sat next to a lot of the type of Americans you’re never likely to find at Burning Man: drifters, recovering addicts and a hefty sprinkling of the genuinely crazy.

Whenever I recount this experience to coastal Americans, they look shocked that I survived at all. But my main recollection of the company I kept on those interminable and often noisome bus rides was friendliness, eccentricity, bizarre clothing, and generosity alike with their life stories and sometimes limited resources. Not a million miles, in other words, from the temporary citizens of Black Rock City. Meanwhile, outside the buses, the dustiness and jerry-rigged quality of architecture in many of the one-horse towns where Greyhound buses lay over bore more than a passing resemblance to that festival’s temporary infrastructure.

The main difference between the two was that for denizens of Black Rock City, there’s an outside to the experience of hardship and scarcity. The Google multimillionaires who helicopter into Nevada for a week of self-expression and gift economy against the (usually) arid backdrop of a dusty lakebed enact a crystallised essence the American civilisation’s founding myth of abundance manifested ex nihilo and brought into being through resourcefulness and creativity. But in truth they’re play-acting at the ideal, having pre-resourced that resourcefulness and creativity via a much more cut-throat reality of material competition in which there are, unlike in Black Rock City, winners and losers.

And unlike their fellow-countrymen in the “flyover states” — the losers, in fact, in the real economy that enables the Burning Man fantasy one — most of Black Rock City’s citizens have the option at any time to pull the ripcord, and exit desert survivalism and gift economies for an air-conditioned condo in some of the world’s most expensive postcodes. Unlike those who inhabit that scarcity all the time, they can enjoy the generosity and camaraderie that comes with scarce resources, safe in the knowledge that they have largely foreclosed the risk of genuine material suffering or interpersonal violence that so often accompanies real scarcity.

My own Burn, and the flyover-state tour that preceded it, happened before widespread fentanyl abuse blighted the American interior. The period since my visit has also seen the Great Crash, and widening income inequality. It’s a safe bet that in the intervening period the contrast has only grown starker, between those in the Land of the Free who can afford to play at trying to flourish in a world of scarcity, and those for whom that’s just everyday life.

No wonder, then, that public reaction to the prospect of Black Rock City experiencing even a temporary blip of real as opposed to opt-in material hardship held a vindictive edge. Had photos percolated out of Versailles of Marie Antoinette stuck in manure, forced to milk actual cows even for a few days, perhaps her subjects might have enjoyed a similar frisson.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
10 months ago

Lest we forget after summer holidays that Ms. Harrington is a genius:

“
radical post-scarcity society by having done all your shopping ahead of time.”

Summed it all up in 12 words


T Bone
T Bone
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

She is quickly becoming a legendary writer on a global scale. It’s very difficult to write so eloquent and sincerely that you can’t be pinned into an ideological box.

Don Lightband
Don Lightband
10 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

Well if we are quite honest then we can definitely ‘pin’ her with the paedophobes. She’s definitely down with the idea of our small beings as walking repositories of innocence, yet to be banished from ‘the garden’ along with that wicked Eve…

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

I had a similar thought when Princess Greta appeared to speak on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury last year. A 15 minute preach about saving the planet at a gathering that is basically a capitalist enterprise providing entertainment for fairly wealthy people to pretend they’re slumming it. The green pretentions of events like these are cringy to say the least. I’ll not forget when they announced her name and an old guy behind me said “oh for f’s sake!” Turned about face and walked away.

Andrew F
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

Yes, Greta, uneducated goddess of woke, net zero morons.

Last edited 10 months ago by Andrew F
Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
10 months ago

The funny thing is these Silicon Valley tech bros love nothing more than to be snooty towards hippies, hunters, preppers, blue collar workers, and farmers. Guess who I am betting money on in a survival situation? The whole American “rugged individualism” thing came from the bottom up. It was a philosophy of those who were damn well determined to be left alone or those who realized that they might be forced to fend for themselves because other than your neighbors, it’s not likely anybody really cares about you and you’re not made of money.

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Hey Mary/Matt plenty of snooty rich females at the fest ?
BTW
Is not the sanctimonious Unheard selling the other side of the same tech coin ?

Last edited 10 months ago by Mark M Breza
Mark HumanMode
Mark HumanMode
10 months ago

A very good insight, that I’d never considered, on the irony of Burning Man’s philosophy being based on money and surplus. The Greyhound bus experience struck a chord as I had done the same unlimited travel ticket with my wife-to-be in 1992. The exposure to a little seen side of the US was incredible – we witnessed riots, shootings, crazy people and out and out poverty – and yet in a mirror reverse of the richness of Burning Man, the poverty of our Greyhound experience was sustained by the American dream – as the guy we met living in the dumpster after the collapse in his job and marriage, said: “this is only temporary – one day I’m gonna make it”.

T Bone
T Bone
10 months ago

Burning Man is Protest Chic Stakeholder Capitalism. It was bound to get captured by Champagne Socialists. It’s like the Royals, Avante-Garde and Communists got together to create a performative ideology masquerading as a music festival.

Burning Man pledges to be carbon negative by 2030. Despite that promise the Climate Evangelists were not impressed. The Climate Protesters watching their blockade destroyed by Tribal police for blocking Indigenous roads might be the best part of the story.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
10 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

Seeing the climate protesters roughed up was almost certainly cheered on by the multitude of people who have had their lives disrupted by these clowns.
One of life’s lessons is don’t piss off prople who can do some thing about it. All things are possible in this world. But probably the Climate protestors will have learned not to mess with Burning Man.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago

Club Med in Europe espoused the same schtick of using tokens instead of money and had the same post-hippy reputation for letting it all out and self-discovery ( although jaded Euros were less likely to be evangelical about it).

It also struck me that there are a lot of similarities between this and the Haj for Muslims;

1 Both take place in the middle of the desert.

2 Both involve thousands/millions of people turning up to order for a week or so.

3 Both require participants to endure physical hardship and bodily deprivations.

4 Both are a subject of puzzlement and fascination or even wonder for other people in the world.

5 Both involve personal and group rituals.

6 Both are required activity once in your life .

7 Both are claimed to be transformative for attendees.

8 Both are now cloaked in their own myths.

Verily, the modern world is full of old religious ideas gone mad.

Andrew F
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

It is interesting post but comparisons to Haj are very tenuous.
Could I try to have alcoholic drink or pork chop in Haj?
Probably when having terminal cancer.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

That’s funny. I woke up a couple mornings ago with the thought running through my head that Burning Man is like a modern pilgrimage to Mecca.

Duane M
Duane M
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I agree.The Burning Man event has the hallmarks of a ritual event, with self-imposed hardships that are real, despite the fact that it is expensive. Indeed, spending money on the activity can be seen as part of the ritual sacrifice.
But I would not say that it is an old religious idea gone mad. I would say that it is a spontaneous outgrowth of archetypal psychic energy. Which is a natural wellspring for what we now call religion.

Pyra Intihar
Pyra Intihar
26 days ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

9 Kaaba – black box at Mecca
Black Rock City – pilgrimage location for BM devotees

Dillon Eliassen
Dillon Eliassen
10 months ago

There was nothing in this article about that stop fossil fuels protest that tried to block the road leading to Burning Man that event goers and police broke open. Most, if not everyone, at Burning Man would agree climate change is the most pressing issue of our time UNLESS a climate change protest is preventing someone’s Burn. Not In My Burning Man!

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
10 months ago

Perhaps next year, the stop fossil fuel protest should be staged near the heliport set up to drop in those billionaire tech bros for their play time in the desert. You know, the ones who can’t be bothered to drive like the others.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
10 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Unless the climate protestors are not very bright, which is definitely a consideration. They will giver burning man a wide berth in future. Or get roughed up again for their troubles.

Mark V
Mark V
10 months ago

Hate to quibble but I’m not sure it’s a ‘capitalist’ lie, it’s rather the typical self-aggrandising, self-serving lie of those who claim to not be self-interested (i.e. so-called ‘anti-capitalists’).
Calling it a capitalist lie is somewhat akin to believing Stalin wasn’t a communist and real communism hasn’t been tried.

Last edited 10 months ago by Mark V
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark V

No it isn’t. Communism is nonsense, and B Man is a capitalist fig leaf for rich hypocrites.
What planet are you on mate?
Stop your lame intellectual contortions – the place is rammed full of very rich people, corporate law firm partners, Silicon Valley bros, etc. 
Here is a typical B Man attendee:
https://www.hoganlovells.com/en/neal-katyal
Is he really someone you can see out chucking stuff at the police and spouting leftie crap? Really? 
https://www.rollonfriday.com/news-content/hogan-lovells-partner-makes-harrowing-escape-burning-man
I’m a corporate lawyer and I know the culture in corporate firms. Lawyers in big firms are not even called lawyers, we’re called “fee earners”. We’re consumed by fees and by money all the time. Acquiring more and more money is what we live by. You’ll do anything and represent anyone so long as they pay you. Morality has no place in a corporate lawyer. It’s the cab rank rule. I also know the salaries / profit shares in the white-shoe / City firms. It’s into 7 figures mate, and in a place like Hogs, well into 7 figures. And you think this guy is an anti-capitalist?  Are you mad?
God love your delusions is all I can say.
What bores me about people like you is your blind group-think religiosity and your lack of self-scrutiny. There must be always someone else to blame, right? Ha ha
I’m a capitalist, and a globalist one. I love it. I do very well out of it. I live for money, and I have no time for countries (nationalism is a dumb creed, propagated by elites to get the uneducated plebs on-side) or protectionism. I also over-consume, shamelessly so. I don’t need half the stuff I’ve got.    
Your problem is that you’re an ideologue, convinced of your own unimpeachable rectitude, and that there is always someone outside of yourself to blame.
Whereas my credo, to the extent that I have one at all, is an adult one, best summed up in one of my favourite songs:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_o4omd8T5c
I’m a capitalist, and i own my failings. I don’t go to burning man, not out of egalitarian or environmental concerns, but largely because I think it would be full of unbearable fake-talking twats extolling b/s adolescent hedonism. Trying to live like you’re 25 when you’re 55. All that b/s. But I do ski. I spend a lot of loot to get a nice villa in an exclusive resort etc, so that I can enjoy pristine mountains away from having to mix with rowdy poor people. When on holiday, I try to avoid the real world as much as possible, as I know what it’s like – mostly s**t. Even though people like me are damaging said mountains. The mountains would survive better without an influx of folk like me. But I still do it, as I do not want to be the first cohort to stop.
It’s a cynical and hypocritical position (obviously), but there you are.
At least I’m not an insufferable moralist, out pretending to be virtuous and that it’s only the people I don’t like who are “bad”, lol.

Mark V
Mark V
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Thanks for the mostly irrelevant diatribe and straw man batshirtery, but you haven’t clarified how advertising a party as no commerce makes it capitalism.
It’s inherently hypocritical just as socialism is – as it goes against human nature.
My position doesn’t come from (pseudo) intellectual contortions, something characteristic of your post, the logic of it sprayed around like a madman’s urine, it is only direct observation of the basic facts.

Last edited 9 months ago by Mark V
Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
10 months ago

YouTube has been running some ads, presumably for a sports utility vehicle, which portray a wholesome, all-American family heading out into the Great Outdoors to do a spot of camping. When they get there, alas! The skies open and rain falls. So what do they do? They cram themselves into their SUV and fire up the Blu-Ray player! Just like our hardy pioneer forefathers used to do.
To go camping, provided you’re not going someplace absolutely frigid, you need four things: a tarp, a box of granola bars, a jug of water, and a bog roll. And if your intended campsite is in an arid region, you can probably forego the tarp. And, depending on your sense of personal hygiene, the bog roll, too.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
10 months ago

Which is why I hate tenting. I spend nearly 50 hours a week in a building site so I don’t have to live like a tramp, why people do it for fun baffles me

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Everyone is different. I camp in a ridiculously large trailer, but my son would have none of that. Even as a small child, he insisted on tenting outside the trailer.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Wild camping – the thrill of illegality and of waking up in somewhere beautiful. Certainly has its moments. And as a penniless student, I used to use a bivvy-bag in the S of France and sleep in woods / dunes / outside youth hostels (you’d always meet someone who’d let you use their facilities). But institutionalised camping, agree with you, really can’t see the point.  

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago

The bogroll would indeed be redundant at Burning Man, where the main preoccupation appears to be licking each others arseholes.

Last edited 10 months ago by Steve Murray
James Hooper
James Hooper
10 months ago

Ahh the memories of the Greyhound Bus! I did it back in 88 and travelled all of the East Coast to Florida and then longest stint was New Orleans back to Chicago. My take away from it was that everyone should experience it once
and then never again. One truly sees the country at ‘ground’ level
warts and all. Long time ago but seem to remember that most people were pretty cool
..

Ian S
Ian S
10 months ago

So the author reviews Burning Man TWO DECADES after visiting, and then postulates on the 2023 festival. For a more nuanced take on this year’s festival read Lee Fang on Substack two days ago.

Jack Martin Leith
Jack Martin Leith
10 months ago
Reply to  Ian S

Thanks for the pointer, Ian. Just finished reading Lee’s Substack piece and agree that it’s a more nuanced take.

Zaph Mann
Zaph Mann
10 months ago

I partially agree – both authors have a point – Fang’s defence that it is a rarely created egalitarian space is valid and I think that Harrington covered this in her ‘enjoyment’ of her experience there 20 years ago. I still suspect that Fang’s stance is bias by his participation and privilege and that most of Harrington’s points are relevant – shame that they couldn’t debate it.
Personally I wouldn’t be caught dead there, or rather, I probably would (be caught, dead).

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
10 months ago

Love Mary but must object to the idea that American cultural imperialism has been coercive. “National self-determination” led lots of cultures to prefer American cultural excess to their own folkways. I don’t applaud that – but the shift from Vera Lynn to Elvis Presley was wholly self-chosen by record-buyers of the day.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
10 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Completely agree. And I certainly don’t applaud it either.

John Riordan
John Riordan
10 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

True. It’s a bit like a sinner blaming temptation instead of their own weak will. It doesn’t fool anyone.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

You assume we had a free choice and that there was not some colossal marketing/brainwashing effort pushing American culture

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
10 months ago

Marketing is not the same as brainwashing, and yes, you do still have free will even though people advertise their goods and services around you…

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

The extent that you exercise free will is far more limited than you think particularly when you are not aware of the manipulation.
See Who Paid the Piper (Stonor) an account of how the CIA infiltrated and co-opt artistic movements using funds Channelled through the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Ford Foundation.

Andrew F
Andrew F
10 months ago

Usual lefty nonsense.
CIA supported alternatives in countries conquered by Communism.
I was born in one.
You deploy standard Neo-Marxists trick of claiming that people in the West are not as free as they think.
Only enlightened people like you see through manipulation.
Even if true, people in the West were and are more free then under any alternative system.
Do you see much traffic towards Russia or China or Cuba or Venezuela?
It is always out.

Last edited 10 months ago by Andrew F
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

I am about as far from a lefty as it is possible to get
In my world view the CIA is a lefty organization.
I suggest you read the book

Andrew F
Andrew F
10 months ago

It was free choice.
Just look at marketing effort devouted to Communism or now so called “Russian World”.
No one bought it freely in countries conquered.
Only idiots in the West who never experienced reality of “alternative systems” support it.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
10 months ago

I was of the impression that this was an art festival focused on giant outdoor sculptures/installations with various ‘happenings’ around them.
There was a desert rock scene a few decades back so the alternative half of the record industry used to provide a soundtrack too. All the old drugs were available as they were in Glastonbury when you could still jump over the fence.
I can only assume, again, that there has been a disastrous turn of the generations and what used to be an American festival of surrealism has turned completely sappy.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

“Its radical self-sufficiency is a rich man’s pose”

Apropos that, some will be delighted to hear that the ‘Blenheim Estate’ is rumoured to be about to cover 3,500 acres or 1416 hectares of farmland with solar panels, generating an income of about £1 million pa.
Anything for net zero eh?

John Riordan
John Riordan
10 months ago

Brilliantly expressed.

Aristocrats slumming it of course isn’t new: ever since Marie Antoinette put on a milkmaid costume as a means of getting away from her courtiers, the privileged have been finding illusory solace in the sort of simpler living that only people like themselves can escape from if it all gets a bit too simple.

This aspect of such behaviour is not lost upon the people they’re slumming it with either, of course. I’ve been guilty of it myself to a modest extent back when I was into clubbing and a party lifestyle, though I never tried to fool anyone else that I was just like them. (The closest I get to it these days is prebooked seats and priority boarding on Ryanair).

I can’t help but think, though, that there’s no harm in conducting the occasional experiment in post-scarcity economics. The apparent hypocrisy in turning up to such a thing have shopped in advance for everything you’ll need isn’t really a problem because that’s what a post-scarcity economy actually is: one where extravagant material abundance has eradicated the economy entirely such that there’s no longer any need to trade-off between alternative uses of resources. It’s worth pointing out that this is a long way off, true, but so what?

Last edited 10 months ago by John Riordan
David B
David B
10 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

“I wanna live like common people like you…”

Neil Sykes
Neil Sykes
10 months ago
Reply to  David B

Beat me to it. I do enjoy Mary’s articles but was going to mention that Pulp had already expressed it more succinctly

Ardath Blauvelt
Ardath Blauvelt
10 months ago

Perfect synopsis of today’s acceptable snobbery.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago

I love music festivals, small ones with less than 1,000 people. The music is often mediocre, but the people are great. We attend one every year. This year we brought 300 Jell-O shots. It was an amazing way to meet people and have a lot of fun. People open up at events like this. They let their guard down. There’s nothing special about Burning Man – good or bad – but you couldn’t drag me to a festival with 60,000 people.

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
10 months ago

It seems that the extremely well-heeled seek something simpler and more basic; they just don’t know quite what it is or how do it, so their approximation to it is not even close.

Last edited 10 months ago by Erik Hildinger
ben arnulfssen
ben arnulfssen
10 months ago

The whole “counter-culture” was based on this. “Easy Rider” is about drug dealing; but the protagonists ride hand-built custom motorcycles, pick up a dissolute alcoholic ACLU lawyer who is clearly looked up to for no obvious reason except his fathers’ wealth, and look down their noses at the working people they meet in the diner.

Fifty years ago, they would have bought drafy deferrals and yelled “baby-killers” at the traumatised veterans who didnt have the option.

Stephen Carb
Stephen Carb
10 months ago
Reply to  ben arnulfssen

Point of amusement dept.-my father stood up and cheered in the theater when the hippie cyclists were shot dead at the end of EasyRider.

Rick Lawrence
Rick Lawrence
10 months ago

I did not and likely never will go to Burning Man. Mary’s account of what BM has become is probably accurate and sounds like it is heading towards the inevitable endgame that many original and forward thinking events and products inevitably morph into. I mean, even Mary went once in the earlier days presumably because it was a cool thing to do. Anyway, what’s wrong with someone coming up with an idea and making it happen year after year even if it something one might not relate to or agree with the politics of those who run it and attend. The implication that it is offensive is rather woke ie better not do it if it if might offend someone. Is the solution to only do stuff that everyone can participate in. And yes, part of me did enjoy the scenes of mud and discomfort of this year’s event but I am glad that such events exist.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
10 months ago

It’s as if some American hippy saw The Wicker Man once, and thought it seemed like a good idea.
The Burning Man is now a symbol of the Burning World we are all experiencing in real life.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
10 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The first one was just about like that – located in a cove along the Pacific, just south of San Francisco. Few hundred people. Burned big wooden effigy of man up. Rah. Made a mess though. Locals wouldn’t let them keep doing it so they found Black Rock instead.

Andrew H
Andrew H
10 months ago

Great article, thanks for this.

Ardath Blauvelt
Ardath Blauvelt
10 months ago

The corner grocer is a capitalist, one who works hard and long hours to own and operate that store. Burning Man is not a capitalist lie, it is a rich lie, told by those who never have to worry that it might come true.

Phineas
Phineas
10 months ago

Sad country going into the dark ‘Things fall apart, the centre will not hold, Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’ (WB Yeats). Two nut cases lead and are followed, Trump and Putin and Biden won’t stand up to both but Putin and his fake nuclear sabre rattling most of all (let’s not forget Trump supports his fellow nutter Putin).

Peter O
Peter O
10 months ago
Reply to  Phineas

Burning man? But Trump