Wonderhussy: Attack of the Superprudes

Sometimes the smallest thing will set off a chain reaction that leads to an epiphany.

sarah jane woodallSarah Jane Woodall, a fellow blogger (blogette? blogina? blogogyne?) and my favorite wonderhussy, got a private message from a reader the other day, and posted about it on Facebook:

The message said “If you want people to take your reviews seriously you should tone down the language. Just a thought.”

Sarah Jane replied to the reader:

“Thanks, but I’m not a serious person!”

To her Facebook friends, she continued:

Maybe she has a point, though….I’ll never get that gig with Town & Country at this rate. I’ll end up writing for Town & Cunty instead 🙁


Like Sarah Jane, I myself am rather free with my more colorful phrase-turnings, especially in casual conversation. Is that a fault? It isn’t that I’m unable to refrain from peppering my pontifications with profanity; I can be downright great-grandma-level genteel when I want to be. It’s just that the blue stuff is so useful; profanity is flavorful, and immensely versatile.

Those of us who habitually flex our linguistics to the fullest extent allowed by law know that we will, from time to time, be frostily confronted by people who wish to hear less of the dreaded ‘F’ word, along with an entire triple alphabet of other utterances they find distasteful, like the unspeakable ‘C’ word, which can actually cause a small stroke or even a dangerous attack of stabbiness in more extremely control-freaky prudes (which is how I got that horrible scar). There are settings in which you might well expect such an awkward encounter; at a funeral, for instance, or while dining with the Queen or Jack of England. But at Burning Man? And yet I’ve seen it happen there.

Above and beyond those who simply have delicate ears in general are the people who complain in particular about DPW’s roughneck talk, enshrined forever in the motto coined by the Jub Jub tribe: “Fuck Yer Day.” It’s a little hard to believe, but there actually are people who can handle the harsh environment of the playa just fine, yet wilt and shrivel, bacon-like, under the oppressive and baleful influence of someone in a black shirt calling them a fuck-knuckled son of a sack of piece of shitsucker, and demanding that they go eat a bowl of fuck, or sleep on a bed made of duck dicks.

As Burners, we are people who are supposedly free, to a greater than average extent, of the kinds of societal constraints that prevent people from playing effectively, the way children play, in untrammeled self-expression. If we can’t cuss a blue streak when we feel like it without having to feel responsible for someone overly-sensitive choosing to take offense – or perish forbid, Mary, being seriously traumatized – then we are being prevented from fully engaging with our most precious burner privilege.

You might think that the unmitigated freedom to spew obscenities is only something that some people want or need; you might see it as a sort of special interest, for vulgarians only. Consider, though: every natural human language – every single one – has profanity. In some jesus_i_think_youre_a_cunt_sm_Ultimate_trollbait-s450x431-99162-580languages it’s much more highly-developed than in others; the Russians have an entire sub-language called mat in which it is possible to express pretty much anything, using only words whose roots are no-no boo-boo words. The versatility that seems so impressive in English profanity – “fuck the fucking fucker, it’s fucking fucked!” – is laughed at as amateurish and dull by Russians fluent in mat. . . but I digress. The point is, the only human languages that don’t have filthy swears in them are artificial ones, like computer programming languages, High Elvish, and whatever the hell you call that weird gibberish that TV evangelists speak.

What’s more, different regions of the brain are involved in generating pottymouth than are used for non-profane language, which is why Tourette’s happens. Unlike normal language, which relies on the outer few millimeters in the left hemisphere of the brain, expletives come bubbling up from evolutionarily more ancient structures of the limbic system, deep inside the right hemisphere. Profanity is more primal than ordinary language; clearly, it serves not just some purpose, but some ancient and vital fucking purpose.

Dr. Timothy Jay, a psychologist at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who has studied human use of profanity for over thirty-five years, says that doody talk has many functions.

“It allows us to vent or express anger, joy, surprise, happiness,” says Dr. Jay. “It’s like the horn on your car, you can do a lot of things with that, it’s built into you.”

There are also studies that say cutting loose with a good hearty expletive can help us cope with pain. There’s a reason you scream out bloodcurdling oaths and epithets when you hit your stupid thumb with the stupid hammer, and that reason is all tied up in a bundle with a whole host of instinctual actions and involuntary reactions that presumably kept your distant ancestors slightly safer from the dire woodchucks, saber-toothed clams, and other hominid-eating predators that roamed the veldt during the Flintstonian Era. If you choke back your unthinking cry of “Assballs McPoopshit von Porkerbastard the Third!!!” when you’re in pain, even if only to stop long enough to think and substitute “gosh darn it,” then you’ve short-circuited an evolutionary benefit that would have made the pain more bearable.

If erupting in a brief torrent of the most vituperative invective possible is a defense mechanism that helps ease our pains, then who could blame a tired, overworked, unpaid, sunstroked, insufficiently-fluffed DPW worker for firing off a farty salvo of conceptual nerve gas at the slightest provocation? And given that the human condition itself is a life sentence punctuated with pains and joys, who can fault a free-spirited young woman for seasoning her blog-sauce with motherfuckers, motherfuckers? If she cleaned up her language and excised the most primal elements from the text, she would be inescapably obfuscating a certain amount of frank, honest openness straight from the limbic system right along with it. She would be exchanging truth for mere versimilitude.

Friends, burners, and all you other pissfaced dickshitting bugfuckers, lend me your ears! I come to fill them with festering phonic filth; loosen your tongues in turn, and embrace the Dark Side. The language is on fire, and we must spit it out!

Gerry Anderson is GO!

Gerry Anderson, the creator of the puppet sci-fi TV show THUNDERBIRDS, died Wednesday at the age of 83. He went peacefully, in his sleep.

 A German mining disaster inspired Anderson to create a TV show – using puppets – about an elite high-tech search-and-rescue organization of the latter half of the 21st century, and it struck a chord in two generations of children. He later added to his body of work with live-action shows like UFO and SPACE:1999, but it’s Gerry Anderson’s puppet shows – THUNDERBIRDS in particular – for which we remember him best.
Thunderbirds---Brains-and-001The THUNDERBIRDS TV show and movies and spin-offs were amazing in many ways, and they appealed very strongly to kids who admired badass hardware and liked to tinker with things. It was a world in which excitement was GO! Adventure was GO! Danger was GO! and also totally GO! was an entire panoply of exotic, thrustingly hyper-Freudian aircraft, spacecraft, submarines, u-name-it, all just screaming for a product tie-in at Toys ‘R’ Us, and expertly piloted by a clan of lantern-jawed, steely-eyed missile men, or missile puppets at least. This stuff appealed really strongly to kids who grew up to be Makers and explorers and adventurers. . . and that’s you, burner.

If you’ve never seen any of Gerry Anderson’s puppet shows, go get yourself a copy of THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO! and watch it. There’s something for everyone there. . . you can feel all smug and superior as you train your massive grown-up intellect upon the task of analyzing the psycho-fecund landscape of the film, or you can just revert to being six or seven years old and enjoy the viscerally awesome power and Thunderbirds art carcoolness of the T-Birds’ high-tech world and very special effects. Thanks to Lady Penelope and her pink amphibious Rolls-Royce with the machine gun that sticks out the front of the grille, even the girliest of girls can get in on the action! Think you’re too old and hep for puppet shows? Hang on to your fruitcake dungarees, ’cause there’s a Cliff Richard & the Shadows puppet music video segment for “with-it” teenyboppers like you to groove and shimmy and frug to (apparently, in the future, Cliff Richard, Jr. is the biggest rock star in the universe).

Clearly, the Thunderbirds were the inspiration for TEAM AMERICA – WORLD POLICE, but don’t let that stop you. THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO! stands on its own surreal merits in spite of the similarities. It’s defo a kid’s film, made very masterfully in a way that kids of the time could really dig, baby. I love the scene where the abandoned Zero X returning from its mission to Mars crashes into the heart of Craigsville, Virginia, completely wiping out several large apartment complexes and tons of houses and other buildings. . . and the Thunderbirds’ tense radio messages ask only about the safety of the Zero X’s crew. Once they know their guys are safe, they happily go party, since they judge their astronaut-rescuing mission a massive success without ever once thinking about the hundreds or thousands of burning, mutilated civilian corpses strewn about the wreckage of once-peaceful Craigsville. It isn’t that the ‘Birds are insensitive aerospace Nazis, it’s just that it wouldn’t have occurred to kids at play that the unseen townspeople might suffer in the fury and aftermath of the Zero X’s bitchin’ crash, so it doesn’t occur to the characters in the film.

imai_zeroxWhen THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO! came out in 1966, America was still embroiled in the space race with the Soviets, and humans had not yet walked on the Moon. There were no video games, and the lives of children were spent mainly outdoors during daylight hours. Little kids with insane collections of action figures and toy rockets, planes, space stations, Hot Wheels cars, Tonka trucks, etc. would gather together to flesh out and collectively enact whatever brain-damaged little quasi-military scenarios they could come up with. Many a dauntless soldier in the Green Army was blown sky-high by enemy ladyfingers in those brave days, and entire platoons met the fearsome melting death meted out by the terrifying space-based magnifying glasses of the Soviet Union.

Part of the wonder of being a child is that words like ‘science’ can be catch-alls for pretty much any magic that needs explaining. Science is the cargo cult of children at play; in the mind of a child, ‘science’ acts as a broad-spectrum explanation that allows for a wide suspension of disbelief. There’s no impulse for a child to point and say “that’s not for reals!” if the story takes place in the future, because every kid knows the future is a glittering showcase of scientific wonders. For a child, science is the mysterious force administered by eggheads in lab coats that promises to deliver magical cargo to all our islands; kids don’t really know how it works, but they do understand it as a concept that allows them to watch and dutifully, bravely act out the adventures of their heroes and alter-egos without regard to the petty restrictions of plausibility. It teaches them how to dream of personal goals beyond what is known to be possible.
Back in those days of playing outdoors, there would always be one kid in the neighborhood who was too poor to have any really suitable toys, but at certain times of the day he’d be flying his hand around, making whooshing sounds and rocket engine noises with his mouth.

Gerry Anderson’s life was dedicated, with heaps of avuncular love, to that kid.


Millenials Fight Back!

I have to say hats off to Nick Molnar, a guy who I’ve never had a problem with, and who has now impressed the hell out of me with this rapidly deployed post in response to the recent IDEATE controversy. No checking in with the Millenial Tribe “leadership” required by this dude, he shoots from the hip and clearly speaks from the heart:

I’m Nick Molnar, a 4-year Burner who found himself a part of the somewhat-controversial Ideate theme camp last year. You can read more about Ideate here and here.

One of the defining features of Burning Man is its impermanence. Every year a city is built and then demolished to the point there is no physical evidence it even existed in the first place. Black Rock City is under a constant existential threat. Will the BLM keep handing out permits? Will the town of Gerlach still portapottie hottieaccommodate the throngs of Burners passing through? Will the Port-O-Pottie’s keep getting serviced? Having an ever-growing number of people come together in a specific piece of desert every year is a doomed proposition. One year, the rumours will finally be true and BRC as we know it will be no more.

The Burning Man founders know this better than anyone. But they have also been abundantly clear that Burning Man is not confined to a patch of sand in the desert. Here’s a quote from Maid Marian from 12 years ago:

“It gradually dawned on me that many things we do before and after the event are a part of Burning Man’s culture. Burning Man is not a select club or a clique or a closed subculture. It is a kind of tapestry, an ever-widening network of actions and relationships extending far beyond the place called Black Rock City. As a result, many of us have gained a way of looking at life that is similar. Regardless if Burning Man has changed our lives, we share certain values in common. Now it’s time to begin to communicate as members of this global community.”

paper-mache-porta-potties1Black Rock City may die, but Burning Man will live on.

This is where the Ten Principles fit in. They are what makes Burning Man portable and resilient. Regional Burns are a great example of this: someone who has never set foot in BRC can be a full-fledged member of the Burning Man community by attending a Regional and seeing the Ten Principles in action.

Today, that “ever-widening network of actions and relationships” has made its way much further into society than Regionals and Decompressions. Google, the 4th largest US company by market-cap, is a part of that network. When Larry Page and Sergey Brin had to pick a CEO to help them grow the company they gathered a shortlist of prospects and picked the one who had been to Burning Man. The Googleplex is littered with Burning Man art, and photos from the event. The first ever ‘Google Doodle’ was the Burning Man logo.


It’s trendy in tech circles to make fun of Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra, and they have certainly made occasional missteps into evil territory, but Google is a leader in everything from environmental stewardship (leave no trace) to  workplace diversity(radical inclusion) to protecting internet freedom (civic responsibility).

Google is far from the only example of Burning Man principles infiltrating mainstream society. Zappos’ quirky – and celebrated – company culture borrows from Burning Man principles. Ridejoy, a successful ridesharing startup, began as burningmanrides.com. Couchsurfing.org is a part of that tapestry. So is Free Grilled Cheese Day. Big-time CEOs like Jeff Bezos, Chip Conley, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Bill Gates have all attended. It’s hard to imagine that they didn’t bring a little bit of their experience back to their organizations. In aggregate, those types of changes may one day touch more people’s lives than BRC ever will.

The is why The Burning Man Project is so important. The Burning Man Project is a new group devoted to bringing the Ten Principles into broader society, spun out of the Burning Man Organization. It’s a big bet that the leaders of tomorrow are going the principles of Burning Man into their organization, and that even people who have never set foot into BRC are going to incorporate the Ten Principles into their lives. 

Now, back to Ideate, Bear, Zos, and the root of this whole controversy.

bm_2001_26Was it a practical move to put the largest number of virgins in a single camp ever? No.
Was Ideate as welcoming and inclusive as it could have been? Nope.
Was the Reallocate drone project enjoyed on the same scale as The Trojan Horse or Opulent Temple? Not even close.
Was it worth it? I think so.

We fucked up. There was too much back-patting and networking and way too little radical inclusion, participation, and communal effort. Hubris led us to set expectations too high. The Reallocate drone project was a remarkable technical achievement, but its limited scale made it a pretty marginal gift to the larger Burner community. We hosted some amazing talks, but they were probably 70% attended by people from inside Ideate. We had fantastic meals, but we only shared them with our campmates and our almost-as-elitist sister camp. As a group, we got more value than we gave. 

There were times where it felt like a dustier version of TED, Summit Series, or SXSW. We created the kind of place where who you knew, or who you were, mattered more than what you contributed. The already-exclusive group had even more exclusive sub-groups: private salons and retreats to Fly Ranch, where only the most elite of the elite were invited.

But here’s the thing: it was a long-term investment. We were all virgins once, and none of us got it right the first time. I frequently grapple with how to be a better member of the community. It takes time to wrap your head around Burning Man culture, and how to be a part of it. The people I met at Ideate were some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, kind, and tenacious people I’ve met inside or outside BRC. It might take years to pay back all that the group got from the event, but I’m confident that this group of people is going to make the playa a better place and be exemplary members of the community. 

The big gambit is if they can take these lessons home and use them to build the next Google or Zappos. The people I met in Ideate are certainly an ambitious bunch: theSummit Series team just bought a mountainReallocate is doing radical work around the worldShervin’s funding the next wave of innovators, and on and on and on. If even a small percentage of the Ideators actualize their ambitions, there are going to be a lot of Burners in positions where they can really make a difference.

Remember, BRC might not be there in 10 years, but Google sure will. The Burning Man of tomorrow won’t look like the Burning Man of today. That’s why I think Ideate was a bet worth taking.

carson kundaviWell said Nick. And certainly, friends of mine who were in this camp in 2012 are people I HIGHLY respect. But not all. They know who they are. Many of these Ideatez had some potential, but lost my respect, not only through their actions at Burning Man, but also through their actions afterwards.

Anyway, you have earned my sincere respect; you get the Burners.Me GSD gold star for today, for having the balls out of all 210 of them to get this here post out there. We eagerly await a more detailed response from the Camp Leader of Ideate, Carson Linforth Bowley, as well as Bear Kittay who we’ve asked for an interview. Bear has contacted us to let us know that he is actually on the BMOrg payroll now. As we understand it, in the role of Social Alchemist. Email bear@burningman.com if you desire to know more.