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Burning Man Pt. III

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Burning Man Pt. III

We usually don't post on Fridays, so this will probably be Candy and Cigarettes' last post on Burning Man. Which is probably good since I've spent more much time talking about dirty stinking hippies than I'd planned, and after a strong original and perhaps even stronger sequel, I worry we're broaching dangerously close to Godfather III territory.  So to keep things fresh, in yesterday's column we invited readers to offer their views on Burning Man, pro or con, not so much in the name of expanding the conversation but as a convenient excuse not to have to write so goddamn much ourselves (seriously, I write this fucking thing practically every day. You have any idea how much that drains a person?  You only get so many words a week; when I am done writing these posts, I'm reduced to a series of nods, grunts, and moans in my remaining personal communications).

If you weren't among the thousand or so to be reading the last couple days, here is what you missed: And  Or "Dirty Stinking Hippies" and "Dirtier Stinkier Hippies: Back on the Playa."  Honestly when I wrote these two posts I expected to catch more flack from the granola sect, since it seems like so many people are so in love with this goddamn thing; I figured hordes of hairy hacky sackers would be descending on my house in the hills like a plague of locusts in knitted beanie caps.  But by and large, the response has been mainly supportive, and the insults I have received have been fairly mild (if patchouli scented).  So either the hippies can take a joke, or they've just been too busy with "the burn on the playa."  Whatever the case, glad everyone has a sense of humor, and thanks for the extra hits.

I asked yesterday for both camps to defend their positions.  And the response was overwhelming.  I mean, they just kept pouring in and pouring in.  I just now finished reading them all (exhale).  And with so many terrific entries it's really hard to choose.  But choose I must.

So first up on why Burning Man doesn't totally suck balls, we have Carolyn Keagy, who writes,

Despite my years in recovery and therapy there is still that dark hateful addict and vicious critic in me that revels at destroying the joy (willful misconceptions and mistruths as I understand them) in someone else’s life so that maybe, just maybe, they can see the world the way I do and for a single moment I won’t feel like some aberration of nature.
And, know what?  That is part of why I enjoyed Burning Man when I went last year:  radical self-expression.  I can sit there with my megaphone, stone sober, trying to lord my sharper wit over the masses of blissfully happy and mostly naïve burners.  I can be that asshole heckling them for their poor wardrobe choices, or if I feel like being particularly braying on peoples’ nerves I can remind them that “radical self-reliance”—one of the core 10 principles—is possibly a major hindrance and social exclusionary factor of Burning Man, ultimately contradicting another fundamental tenant of radical inclusiveness.  All that gear is expensive, which means individuals of lower socio-economic--and may I point out often minority--status are therefore inadvertently excluded from this festival, which may as well be a glorified country club for those with enough financial resources to afford it (who I like to remind everyone is almost exclusively white). 
I wasn’t raised in the dirt camping, despite my father’s big-game hunting habit; I fucking hate camping; it is a distinctly middle-class activity and most of my experience with it was the required camping trips of my high school, Maybeck.  This isn't to say I was not raised in a penny-pinching derivative of the Great Depression manner that spurred on middle-class values; I just prefer to be comfortably indoors with a book (and these days a furry companion as I am starting to believe the last worthy male died under the auspices of Friedrich Nietzsche).  
I find it very difficult to pretend to be normal when I know that being the gifted sick kid with behavior and addiction problems isn’t exactly average.  Ennui and angst are currently my two favorite words. This year I am passing on this dirty hippie ritual of self-indulgence and celebration of unbridled hedonism as a lifestyle to care for a sick pet.
Yet, honestly as I sit here, debating back and forth taking my small friend into the vet to be put down, I know I can turn to these squishy lumps of unquestioning kindness for support.  I know that if I put Milo down before Sunday I can drive to the desert with ticket in hand and a goodbye letter for him.  I can put that goodbye letter in their temple and watch it burn, hopefully taking some of my personal sadness with it (both the man and the temple are their reconceptualization of the Buddhist practice of mandala-making as far as I can see—making something ornate, extravagant, and intimately challenging only to destroy it in a remembrance of the impermanence of life and everything we hold dear).

In this way, Burning Man is a double-edged sword.  I avoid going there because I strive to be clean, but battle constant physical pain and withdrawal from prescribed medication.  Burning Man provides me an image of rich temptation wherein I might be able to escape the physical plight that ails me if I could just be a functioning addict or alcoholic.  In this sense, it is tantamount to evil incarnate for me.
However, on the other side there is something there that is willing to take my ire, pain, spite and maybe ameliorate and transform it.  It cannot do it on its own; it is dependent on how I approach the experience.  With that said, never forget that humans cannot escape their humanity, and when backed into a corner I have never known an animal to not become defensive and survivalist—often bringing out the worst in us.
So with that, I don’t know if I have made any sense, but I am going to go take my cursed Oxycontin, and give my beloved Milo a dose of prednisone that only makes him hate me more... And ultimately question if the best thing I can do for him is end it early, or let him try to fight on however he sees fit, and know that when I fall over crying over this tiny creature it might be a burner who catches me.
Many good points.  And it's hard to not to be empathetic when it comes to small, sick animals.  A few months back, our 8 lb. poodle, Lucky, had a seizure in the middle of the night, and we were at that vet so fucking fast, willing to spend whatever it cost to make him well (turned out the seizure was because I feed him fresh beef all the time, which has too much salt.  But I've stopped doing that.  I mean, I still feed him beef, usually high-grade steak, but now I don't add any extra salt).  And I especially like the part about how Burning Man (or the aptly abbreviated "BM") panders to the financially secure who cash in on privilege under the guise of self-discovery, and is a racist event that hates black people.  Re: self-expression, believe it or not, I really am all for it. And I like that Carolyn can feel like less of an oddball surrounded by so many other odder balls.  And if Burning Man really were just that, I'd be more likely willing to overlook its racist, classist, eco-unfriendly, douchy shortcomings. Still, if Carolyn can use the event to get over the loss of something dear, I'm happy for her.  But I also have to believe similar pockets of relief are available for less than the $300 - $400 price tag, and probably somewhere indoors and with less venereal disease.  (Plus, it still doesn't explain nor excuse those goofy hats.) And while I love the last line of Carolyn's editorial, as purely a literary turn, I don't entirely buy it.  It reminds me of the exchange between Carl the Janitor and Richard Vernon in The Breakfast Club.  

In the comments' section to yesterday's post, Duane S. of Texas cites the same scene, only earlier, with Vernon's saying how the thought of "these kids running the country keeps him up at night."  But when I read Carolyn's last line, I think what follows is more relevant.  (I'll be paraphrasing.)

"Think about it," Vernon says, "when I get older these kids are going to be taking care of me."

To which Carl responds, "I wouldn't count on it."

I like the idea that in her time of need, someone falling believes a burner might be there to catch her.  But I wouldn't count on it.  Not because they are "bad" people.  But because they'd be too high, horny, and self-absorbed to notice.

For obvious reasons, I have to say I side more with the "con" position, here offered by Jarret Cooper (, who writes, 

Okay, let's just begin by saying that Burning Man, for me, sounds like a reasonable attempt at describing my personal "hell on earth." To say I have no inclination towards attending the event is a bit like saying I have no inclination towards pouring salt in my eyes while setting my pubes on fire and jumping off a ten-story building. To each his own, have fun, whatever.

Five years ago I saved an article from the SF Bay Guardian (that "hell-raising," "ass-kicking" free paper of ours) wherein the post-Burning Man letdown was described ("Nobody told me about this – nobody mentioned the aftershocks," a first-time burner tearfully exclaimed on the phone last week. "I want my mommy.") This was eye-rolling enough, but was followed by a sort of manifesto in which the authoress subtly skewered all non-BM-attending types as the timid sheep they are, by listing "the social habits of the 'real' [quotes in original] world, as seen from the vantage point of Burning Man", here reproduced with [my] comments (italicized) added because my boss is out today and I'm bored:

1. Even the most stylish hipsters, mavens, divas, and superfreaks look funky, but frighteningly clean.

(Clean equals frightening. That is just so cool and mellow.)

2. It is not socially acceptable to pick your nose in the presence of others.

(No shit. Are you three years old? I'll bet the old fuddy-duddies frown on eating it too, but don't you let them harsh your buzz...)

3. People are subdued, and not inclined or encouraged to draw out neighbors, peers, or entire rooms with spontaneous performances. There's no unsolicited intangible gift exchange, aside from the occasional compliment or well-put-together outfit.

(Maybe, just maybe, the average passerby doesn't really give a shit about you, let alone posses desire to be "drawn out" by your "spontaneous performance." There is a yawning gulf between challenging and just plain annoying. And if you want to exchange gifts so badly, I have a wish list on Amazon.

4. People keep to themselves and their friends and don't generally walk around giving thumbs-ups and "woo"s and feel that there's something to celebrate.

(God, what's wrong with people? I mean, you'd think that ordinary folks walking around the city weren't constantly looking to feed their egos and get in people's faces. It's soul-crushing, is what it is. I want my mommy.)

5. People make an effort to blend.

(See above. Those stupid people! I'll bet they're all looking at ME now!)

6. People don't have to consider the unpredictability of the weather in every action, as most nighttime activities "worth doing" are enclosed and separated from the natural world.

(And if you don't say this in overly solemn, pitying tones, it just reads as common sense. Thank God I can hear this woman's patronizing, smug voice in my head as I read this.)

7. People don't hug strangers, and if they do, it's weird, and grounds for arrest.

(No. Fucking. Shit. And God bless America for keeping your smelly ass at a respectful distance.)

8. Art is nowhere near as relevant or important or revered as it should be to everyday life on earth.

(Debatable. But I'll bet YOURS isn't, huh?)

9. The world is composed of 95 percent spectators, and those of the 5 percent creators and participators who aren't accepted in the mainstream are generally doomed to a misunderstood life of ridicule and financial instability.

(Bingo. Maybe, just maybe, declaring yourself a "creator" and "participator" and walking around with the back of your hand nailed to your forehead in perpetual misunderstood anguish doesn't make you an artist. Or more accurately, doesn't place you above ridicule and require that your life be funded by taxpayer dollars.)

10. People absorb entertainment rather than create it. Commerce, not community, is the basis of diversion and recreation. Gimme.

(Ouch. That "gimme" just lays in my gut and burns. I don't think I'll ever be able to absorb entertainment again without hearing "gimme" in the back of my head, and realizing what a mindless, sucking parasite I am. On the other hand..."community" is not the basis of recreation? So friends never get together to enjoy each other's company -- it's all a false front for "commerce." Yikes. I guess if that's how my life worked, I'd have to go to Burning Man too, if only to find true community. You know that all the interpersonal relationships formed at BM are built on solid ground. Me, I'm going to stay home, indoors, clean, and crab-free...)

And with that, let's close with a little John Bender, who despite being a first-class burnout, never would've been caught dead at Burning Man.  (It's more an event for the Andys of the world.  And, yeah, my parting shot really just was burners are nothing but frat boys in disguise with worse headgear, looking to flaunt their privileged birthright and party every chance they get.  And self-righteous partying?  Don't get any better than that.)

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At September 1, 2011 at 11:34 AM , Blogger Sean said...

So...Next year road trip to Burning Man?

At September 1, 2011 at 4:21 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

You better believe it!


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