By: Veronica Schubert
Famous among nomads and celebrities alike, every August the Burning Man Festival draws a multitude of people to Black Rock City. Black Rock provides a “participative temporary metropolis in the Nevada desert” with art installations spread throughout the city. Larry Harvey and Jerry James began the tradition back in 1986 when the two held a bonfire on a San Francisco beach with their friends and burned an eight-foot-tall wooden figure to mark the end of a romantic relationship. The tradition continued on Baker Beach until 1990 when fire marshalls intervened. The yearly flambé then moved to the Nevada desert, and the number of revelers has grown from the original 35 to 70,000.
The event is advertised as “an exercise in creativity and community” while others call it “an excuse to party in the desert.” The layout of Black Rock City resembles half of a clock face, with a wooden man at its center. Burning Man has no headliners but the festival goers, nicknamed burners, contribute to the construction of lodging and the gigantic art installations.
Burners use a trade system based on gifts, rather than money. In reference to the burning man bars, run and supplied by burners, Benjamin Wachs wrote “All the booze is free, except maybe you have to sing a song or offer up a poem or something”. Along with bartering and drinking, nudity, sex, and drugs add to the atmosphere of Burning Man.
For the past two decades, save this year, Elon Musk has made appearances. In 2017, Paris Hilton DJed. This year, music producer Diplo posted with Chris Rock, sharing their experience leaving Burning Man. Over time, the average burner has become wealthier, some bringing AC and private chefs, though some loathe these new attendees for challenging Burning Man’s DIY aspect.
In 2004, Larry Harvey wrote the 10 Principles, a series of guidelines for the event. These principles include racial inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, participation, immediacy, and a leave-no-trace policy. For nine days, burners abide by these rules, experimenting with community living. However, this year torrential rain challenged these values.
Climate activists protested at the entrance to Black Rock this year, causing one of two major traffic jams. Ironically, the second dose of gridlocked traffic came about when it rained for a few days straight, trapping burners in mud. Experts say climate change is causing drastic weather, such as torrential rain in the desert (NPR). Festival organizers reopened the roads on Monday, but by then almost a third of burners were gone. Getting out of Black Rock was no easy feat, and the trash left behind proves it.
This year, a trace was left. In an email to the San Francisco Chronicle, Sheriff Jerry Allen detailed the scene left behind. “This year is a little different in that there are numerous vehicles strewn all throughout the playa for several miles. . .Some participants were unwilling to wait or use the beaten path to attempt to leave the desert, and have had to abandon their vehicles and personal property wherever their vehicle came to rest.”
(Sources: burningman.org, NPR, NYT, San Francisco Chronicle)
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