How can such a rugged place that we only live in for a week be so warmly regarded by so many as ‘home?’
Lawrence Olivier as Crassus and John Gavin as Julius Caesar in Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 film SPARTACUS may offer us some insight into the nature of Black Rock City, and why and how we are all Burners:
Julius Caesar: Rome is the mob.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: No! Rome is an eternal thought in the mind of God.
Julius Caesar: I’d no idea you’d grown religious.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: [laughs] It doesn’t matter. If there were no gods at all I’d still revere them. If there were no Rome, I’d dream of her.
We are not a mob. Burning Man is a party in the desert for a week, but Burner culture is everywhere, all year ’round. . . because Black Rock City is an eternal thought in the minds of its creators: Burners.
When we go out to the Playa and build the city of our finest dreams to live in temporarily, the city we build and burn is not, in the truest sense, the real city. The real city is a thought experiment; it’s a conceptual construct, not a bunch of buildings and infrastructure. The Burn itself is only an annual party; the thought that is Black Rock City persists along with the culture, all year ’round. It’s johnwhat lends our culture its utopian ideals and gives us our cohesiveness as a single people with many divergent styles and modes of living.
As Terry Gilliam grumblingly points out about Camelot in the film Monty Python & the Holy Grail, “it’s only a model.”
There’s a connection with the ancient practice of making burnt offerings as well.
“. . .the sacrificial ritual would become a feast for gods and humans alike. The animal would be cooked over open flames on the altar and the pieces distributed. To the gods went the long bones with some fat and spices (and sometimes wine) – those would continue to be burned so that the smoke rose up to the gods and goddesses above. Sometimes the smoke would be ‘read’ for omens. To the humans went the meat. . .”
–Austin Cline, Methods of Sacrifice in Ancient Greece
We are the gods and goddesses, the dreamers of the dream, but we’re also the devotees. We eat the physical meat of our bacchanal in the desert, and our creativity and our sense of who we are in the aggregate, as a people, is nourished by the smoke of that great burning we ignite before we disperse to our scattered daily lives. We may be wildly different in aspect and temperament and opinion and style and preference, but still have a great deal in common.
The physical, geographical Black Rock City is only a model. It’s a means by which we all refresh our agreement on what the city is, so that when we meet in the default world we are still connected to each other by our Burner commonalities, in spite of whatever gross superficial differences we may have. It’s the reason that Burners are so often able to make instant friends of each other, and bypass any cautious standoffishness to plunge headlong into camaraderie and adventure together.
We don’t all have to agree on too many specifics, although a good work ethic and some measure of resourcefulness are key. We are a diverse bunch, and that makes us stronger and more resilient. It makes our tribe better able to survive the vicissitudes of existence within the context of the default world’s cultural paradigms and strictures. If we were all alike, we’d be in danger of becoming irrelevant and fading into the background noise, like Elvis in 1969, or a Neanderthal tribe surrounded by Homo sapiens.
Burn on, Burners, wherever and whatever you are.