What Comes Next?

Image: Livin-Lively/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: Livin-Lively/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Burning Man is dead, proclaims the San Francisco Chronicle. Grover Norquist and some hackers killed it. So, what comes next? Apparently, low tech partying with carrier pigeons in Bakersfield…

Burning Man got killed by hackers and Grover Norquist. What’s next?

Burning Man is so over.

This isn’t exactly news in some quarters. It’s been 10 years since I last went to Burning Man, and I remember meeting burners who were complaining about the “new people” and their “new ways” back then…the last couple of years have brought such an avalanche of sad developments — from Grover Norquist’s caravan to the luxury camps of tech millionaires — that I think we can all agree it’s time to close the book on Burning Man’s “10 Principles” of radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, blah blah blah.

It was always a stretch of the imagination for the Burning Man organization to espouse those things when tickets cost hundreds of dollars and attending the event requires a time and material investment of several hundred dollars more…

So what comes next? It’s an interesting question, because the need for something like Burning Man has grown, not diminished.

The Bay Area may have a secular culture, but we’re still deeply attached to religious ritual — hence all the desperate talk of meaningful work and businesses that are going to change the world. Burning Man’s annual cycle, detailed behaviorial restrictions and ethos of purification all served the ritual purposes that so many people seem to need. Whatever comes next will likely have some of those elements as well…

My hunch is that the next “event” will start in an unexpected place and focus on being as low tech as possible.

I’m thinking about a place like Bakersfield or Fontana — a place with a lot of foreclosed houses and a distracted population.

It won’t sound as attractive as partying in the desert, but in time that will become a bonus. An unsexy locale will weed out the riffraff and be more environmentally friendly, to boot — reusing and recycling are always better than having to restore an environment that should have been left alone in the first place.

As for the low-tech element, that too will become part of the event’s founding mythology: “Imagine a brief moment in time and space where people gather together to celebrate, via information they receive from handwritten tickets, word of mouth, and carrier pigeons.”

If it sounds good now, it’s going to sound amazing by 2020.

Read the full article at the SF Chronicle.

47 comments on “What Comes Next?

  1. I would disagree. For me, Burning Man is very much alive, and well!! I’ve been burning since 2008, and each year I meet amazing people!! Some repliers becry a departure from some of the principles, but I believe the principles are being more embraced. I’m Black, and in the last couple of years I’ve seen more black and brown folks on the playa. Is this not inclusivity? There are ostensibly more folks with money, but was burning man ever a festival for the poor? There is certainly a supply and demand imbalance, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to decline in the quality of the experience. I think it is hilarious to hear middle class white folks bemoan of a place taken over by wealthier white folks. Isn’t that what is happening? I have a problem with most of these repliers. When white(my assumption) middle class (my assumption) folks complain of a lack of radical inclusivity, community, civic responsibility without any mention of race or ethnicity, and then suggest going into an economically shaken area(Bakersfield) and taking over(usually from poor people of color, not poor white people), I feel compelled to extend a fuck you! Self reliance is one of the principles of Burning Man, so look it up and find what you’re looking for at Burning Man. It is really what you make of it, as is the rest of your life on this planet. Burning Man is just one aspect of the entirety of your life! I’ve got a ticket, and I can’t wait to see the folks I love out there again. It’ll be different this time, I’m sure, but isn’t every second of you life? -Echo
    Happy Burn 2015!!!

  2. Car culture kills cities, and art cars warped Black Rock. Nothing says privilege like sipping cocktails in a furry schoolbus or whatever. Imagine how differently BM would have developed if it had adopted a no motor vehicles policy early on (you know, arrive, set up, then park it in a separate area). Cars lead to excess and disconnects.

    Burner ’98-’02.

    • Interesting. What you describe is the motor vehicle policy at Transformus, though large art car buses are infeasible there. Still, it creates a different environment not having to worry about being hit by a bus that you cannot ride.

    • IMO it’s not just car culture it’s also the invasion of technology/cell phones. People will be walking around like zombies, thousands of miles away in their heads, texting, talking, or taking videos to send showing how cool they are. Goodby immediacy of experience and social interaction.

      The outside/dominant reality came, saw, and conquered.

    • Among other reasons, I stopped going when the cop presence started getting heavy. Watching people get shaken down and unjustly arrested by sheriff’s deputies was just no fun. It started getting bad around 2000 and by 2002 was just ridiculous with SUV patrol cruisers and K9 units. I saw more people harassed by cops in Black Rock City than I did at Occupy in Seattle years later, which is saying something. Anyway, cell phones hadn’t taken over yet then but I’m sure that too has warped things. I’m an avid photographer, but part of the BM experience was hanging up the camera for a week. That was part of the culture and picturetaking was looked down on and you had to more or less get a permit/press pass/camera tag if you didn’t want to creep people out. Is that no longer the case?

  3. Dream big and do bigger. Amazing things are totally at you disposal and you don’t need an organized event to rely on to creat it for you. If you feel BM is dead think about islands to take over and throw a huge party for a group of people that can find there way there.

    Get enough people to rent out a whole 747 and fly to uncharted areas. The world is your oyster.

  4. I have gone to burning man the past 3 years and burning man is dead. It is no longer about the 10 principles. I’m not sure it ever was. It seems like it is just a place for most people to get messed up on drugs for a week and fuck as many people as they want without consequences. Last year proved this to be true. There are definitely more idiots and assholes attending the event now. People’s egos are taking all the space on the Playa. There was more MOOP all over the Playa last year than I have ever seen and more pee puddles. The people that are getting tickets are disrespectful to the earth. Burning Man has turned into the “big event” to end the “festival season” for most festie people. Most of these people are not hippies at heart or burners, they are posers. If people want to have a spiritual experience in their life and they want to do something good in the world, they should live their life that way. Don’t spend thousands of dollars to go to the desert to “find yourself”. There are many small gatherings that offer more community than burning man does. To me burning man is the opposite of everything I thought it was. There is miles of trash left along the high way after the event, tons of wasted resources (such as propane, wood, metal, explosives, water, food, and money), and lots of drugs. I think that the next theme for burning man should be about green energy and require each camp and all participants to use green ways to fuel their camps, art cars, art installations, etc. We should use solar to power the lights at night, methane gas from the portos for fuel, and bacon grease for fire dancing, lol. I’m not saying that the Playa isn’t a wonderful place. It could just be better, the world could be better! If everyone spent a week volunteering in a different country and brought these 10 principles into the world, people wouldn’t have to pilgrimage to the burn. The world would be the burn. Everyone can have the spiritual awakening they need by truely helping others instead of wasting lots of money and resources out in the unbareable desert for a week only to find yourself right back in the default world you started in before you “found yourself”.

    • Michelle, you make an excellent point about the posers. Somehow, now, the NV burn has been sufficiently commodified and defaultified for the general public, and the Davos-wannabees, to go there without fear of having their comfort zone challenged. Of course it is unlikely they will find any transformation safely inside their comfort zone, but they can say they have been. And don’t ask them to volunteer, unless it is something mindless that they don’t have to give anything substantial of themselves.

      There was a lot to be learned from the Burning Man experience for me, and isolated pockets of that might persist at the NV burn, but they will be hard to create (with the camps sliced and diced by the ticketing), and will be disjoint from the popular poser expereince. The posers will never even see it, just as they don’t see it in the default world. (As you have observed, it is not confined to the playa, but is everywhere in the word around you if you understand it. And that transference is the real goal: come home in your regular life.)

    • And thank you for giving those of us that did not go the last three years a good, juicy rationalization for our not getting tickets and finding something better to do.

  5. The playa is a wonderful setting but couldn’t BM also be somewhere else that could accommodate more people and get it inclusive again? It has moved before.

    Some indian festivals have 100s of thousands of people all there in one place to share an experience. With some of the ridiculous art cars and money going into the BM experience it should be possible to align some donors and make it free again.

    • The playa alone is 200 sq. mi., and the Black Rock Desert is 1000 sq. mi. It’s not that the playa can’t fit more people, but the population cap is set by the BLM, which supposedly takes into account highway access and the ability of BM to LNT by the time BLM inspects the event site. Maybe if there weren’t so many goddamned RVs, the city could hold a lot more people in the same space. But seriously, if everybody were much better at LNT, blacktop access were somehow improved, etc. maybe the cap will be raised like it has been in the past.

      I’d look it up myself, but am not sure where to look; aren’t there access roads that are normally open, but get closed off around the time of BM? If so, is it to make it easier to guard the Perimeter, or some other reason?

  6. “…a place with a lot of foreclosed houses and a distracted population. It won’t sound as attractive as partying in the desert, but in time that will become a bonus. An unsexy locale will weed out the riffraff and be more environmentally friendly, to boot — reusing and recycling…”

    You mean like FigmentNYC? Art installations in abandoned houses? Sculptures in a park? On an island surrounded by the ultimate distracted population, only a free ferry ride from Manhattan. Many installations are up all summer – no “final” event, only your personal experience of the art when you are there? And some fantastic backdrops to drone flight videos.

    And tickets? Sorry to disappoint, but it’s free. And you can get a beer on island at a bar.


  7. Communities rise and fall. I see the same thing happen in other festivals, and it is a GOOD thing. Healthy communities should be nomadic, organic, and anarchic. when a gathering gets too rooted to a ritual, to an ideology, it becomes just like the nation states, and the best thing that could happen to our nation states, would be that they fall and reassemble in a better, smaller, form.

  8. Everything evolves. Organisms, ecosystems, organizations and events, if they did not, they would die out. Burning man has changed, yes, but it isn’t dead. Complaining that things aren’t like they were 10years ago, 20years ago is like complaining about the law of entropy. You can’t unpour the water, you can’t unlive your life and go back to drive bye shooting ranges and catapulting pianos. Part of the beauty of the event is that little else in life illustrates that unbridled “this can never be again,” atmosphere with all the irreverent pomp and circumstance of the burn. Its intransient, inconstant and ever evolving. Yes, it hurts to see something you love change, especially as we get older and try to reach out to that which is comforting and familiar. That burning man is dead feeling is only mortality, staring you in the face at the end of the road.

    • I agree with the first few posts here. All things change and evolve. Nothing can remain static yet continue to be viable, affirming and relevant. I think where the Burning Man train jumped the tracks was the persistent insistence by the BMORG that the event grow without making a concerted effort to acculturate many new to the event and to the idea of true self-sufficiency, communal/collective participation. The result – the consequence – is that what once might have been slow, bridled, incremental growth morphed into what has become a tumorous amalgam of self-serving petite fiefdoms (DPW, Rangers, Gate, ESD, etc., etc) within the organization coupled with entitled, uber-rich/frat-boy/party chick/Republican bucket-listers demanding access to the event (by any means necessary) only to vicariously suck on the creative energy of the smaller (and smaller) minority that still feel invested enough to create something radical on the Lahontan lake bed.

      So yeah, things change and often that change sucks. In this instance the growth, the failing of vision, rank hypocrisy, greed and a slow dissolution of the social contract has, I believe, contributed to the slow, gradual commodification of a once great idea packaged in a once fantastic event.

      • To me, a burn event is to be surprised. Something new. Something creative. A theme camp. An art car. Playa art to experience. None of that comes from the BOrg.

        Tonight I read with dread a description of the 2015 “Trade Show” setting. Our local group asking for proposals to fill 10’x10′ or 10’x20′ booths. Wholly convention center, Batman! In the middle of a vast open space, and you fit into a booth along one of the four corridors leading to the man. Sorry, been there done that, in many contexts.

        Yeah, been done before in a MUCH more creative manner: it’s called Lost Horizon Night Market. It’s fantastic, but you can do it anywhere because you do it in the back of a panel truck. Paying $400 to travel hundreds of miles to the middle of nowhere to do that is uber stupid.

        The BOrg is doing their control thing, and again fraaking it up. Ugh.

      • >Republican bucket-listers

        i don’t know how republican bucket-listers are worse than bucket-listers who are democrats. liberal and conservative ideologies… they’re both worse than the other. ideologies and isms don’t belong on the playa, or at least keep them in your camp.

    • Some things evolve, all things die. It’s time to recognize that this event, due to its management, is irredeemable and it’s time to move on. Let the mainstream poseurs play in the desert and pretend to be hip at their stagnating event. It won’t do any harm. Hopefully many will see that nothing revelatory or significant is occurring.

      I hope something new will be built where those responsible actually believe and practice the values they espouse.

      • I think like all civilizations it is collapsing under it’s own weight and self importance. I will still go, give what I can and take what I need.

  9. It’s ritual and ceremony and the repetition of those things that killed BM, or rather – changed it into what it is now. The Man burns on Saturday night, or ELSE, kindathing. The spiritually starved placed more importance on the repetition of ritual than having stupid find time blowing shit up in the silliest fashion imaginable. That transition happened (IMHO) between the years of 2003 and 2006 – when it became complete.

    What we see now on that ancient lakebed in late August is sort of like the Christmas ritual we see today. Totally vacuous of meaning, just a mirror reflection – time to dress up and play like they used to. Put the tree in the house. Burn the Man. Whatever.

    • When Paul David Addis torched The Man on Monday night in 2007, I originally thought it was “supposed to” happen (later, when I learned it was arson, I was hopeful noone was hurt, and concerned for the art that my friends had installed at The Man base). When I saw The Man on fire, while most of the playa’s attention was focused on the eclipse, I thought Burning Man had finally outdone itself, as if to say: “Burning Man isn’t about The Man, The Burn, living for Saturday night, sitting around watching some stick blaze and fall, or Weekend Warriors- it’s about immediacy and living in the moment.”

      Unfortunately, they took the scorched Man down like it was nothin gmore than Crime Scene evidence, built a new Man on the Ranch, and hoisted him atop the old Man’s platform. It could’ve been a turning point for TTITD: letting people participate in the rebuilding and raising up; like in the olden days. But no, The Borg set out to destroy Paul’s life; a task he sadly ended up finishing up for them. IIRC, the cost of the replacement Man, replete with neon, was used in Paul’s trial to trump up the charges against him, and ruin any chance he may have had for self-reliance in the default world. I’m not saying he was in possession of all his mental faculties, or had the right to damage art other than his own; he was not, and did not.

      Emotions ran high that Tuesday, and danger had been reinfused into BM. Investigations were appropriate, and Arson; especially on Federal Land, was not going to be taken lightly. My point is; in the aftermath, an opportunity was missed. Rather than allow the awesome Burners to address the situation as a community; whether to carry on without our mascot, or to rebuild, re-illuminate, and re-hoist it as an act of group healing, decisions rained and reigned down. Replaced with extreme prejudice, an equally ornate, but somehow seemingly sterilized version was erected in its place with a fervor that read like aggression.

      For the hardcore participants who were already in BRC on Monday night; including those who had built the city, the art, the Theme Camps, and the MVs: we saw The Man on fire, and it challenged out perceptions about what the fuck we thought were doing out there. It probably didn’t warm the hearts of those who had built it, to see it unceremoniously immolated 5 nights early. But for at least some of us, when we still thought it was intentional, we found it to be a brilliant gesture of non-commercial, complacency-shattering, non-conformity; as if to say: “arrive at the beginning, ‘cuz this ain’t about cultist idol worship ; it’s about being here to make things and build the energy together. If you’re here for the weekend party, we never guaranteed you The Man burn, but you can still solemnly attend the Temple Burn.”

      Instead, when the replacement Man burned on schedule for all the yahoos, gawkers, and gropers, to me, it seemed more contrived than usual. The message was clear: “Burning Man isn’t about spontaneity and going with the flow- it’s about spectacle and stale, regurgitated ritual for the expectant customers. No Man shall be consumed before all eyes pay him tribute”.

      It was my 5th Burn (6th if you count the early Burn). Following 2007’s revelation that ended with a fizzle, I had a proper sendoff to my Playa days with a 12-day stint of hardcore Esplanade participation a few years later. I witnessed my final Man Burn from a distance- through a dust storm; secure in the understanding that Radical Spectatorship was not what I had Burned for.

      • That was a fun night.My 4th Burn, and even though it left me a bit distressed, I can be of two minds, and admired how the Monday Burn really was an extension of past practices and cultural values. It did spice up the whole event. I was a taken aback by some of the pure, raw anger in some people about it. Seems I recall they built the new one on site rather than the Ranch. (?)

        I am forming the opinion that when demand exceeded ticket supply, that is the biggest, most pivotal, consequential, and I would say negative factor that is affecting the evolution of the event. It marked the death of “radical inclusion”. Necessity makes “exclusion” the new rule. Sad.

      • Good observation on the premature burn in 2007, and how the BOrg had a top-down control reaction in all respects. Due to a delayed flight, we were caught on the entry road that night, coming in. Traffic stopped as they closed normal entry. Great moon. Very surreal. My third burn.

      • @reb

        On the night of the early burn in 07 I was wandering around the playa with my new friend neighbor and had a blast. Got too drunk and went to bed before Addis lit it up. We did manage to take my mobile cocktail table under than man and serve a few drinks, but it was kinda depressing under there, so he took off.

        When I woke up and heard the man was burned, my immediate reaction was laughter. I knew so much butthurt would ensue. Everyone’s favorite corporate icon got itself done lit up – what will they all do Saturday night? What a shame.

        I stayed at camp on Saturday night and barely noticed the re-burn. It was actually a shame that they rebuilt it, IMO. So many opportunities lost.

        Then after the burn, Shooter’s ‘Art or Arson’ poll on tribe made me realize that it was all over. 80% arson. And the hatred towards Addis was disgusting – wishing him to be raped and sexually mutilated in prison. Those were are not the type of people I wanted to associate with. So 07 was my last burn, directly as a result of the popular burner attitude towards Addis and BMorg going after him with full guns blazing, effectively ruining his life and leading to his death.

        I still reflect on the attendees that I served in 07, and the shift in attitudes towards entitlement and general assholery. I still remember taking my mobile cocktail table to the dump, it had been at the burn for 5 years in a row bringing much enjoyment. But there it sat waiting to be destroyed and I watched as the crusher killed it.

      • Totally agree here, it would have been awesome to embrace what Paul did and change the focus of the event on the fly. Radical spontaneity. Rebuilding the Man was proof of being too attached to the trappings of the event.

  10. So you haven’t been in 10 years and you feel you can pass opinion on the current state of this event. That’s really funny!!!! Seems to me there are lots of opinions everywhere by those that don’t attend, or are negatively minded, or love to complain about anything and everything or expect the world to be a perfect place.

    • If you haven’t been, how would you know. Your basing your opinions on articles that are also opinions, or your basing it on other people’s opinions. Opinions, opinions, opinions. Lots of opinions everywhere. So bored with people’s whinging, it adds absolutely nothing to the world. It’s a vortex of stagnated miserable energy. I’m out of here otherwise I’ll also get sucked into this stupidity.

      • It’s a clear sign that you’re involved in a cult-like experience when criticism can only be born from ignorance of that experience. And I’ve been to the Nevada burn more times than you, sweetheart.

  11. I like to say when you look at the photos of past burns and the few coffee table books printed that every picture of everything that ever was cool and fun is now banned and against the rules, You won’t find the DNA helix car or the subjugator, or random burns w homemade effigys, nor will you find orgy domes or even public sex acts…. Now the new modern burn is PC safe for kids and policed like a 3 rd world country , rangers act like law enforecement w threats and chasing down anything they can to say what some poor burner is not allowed to do, and the big bands like infected mushroom playing shows w set times like a concert scene. Year the years of freeform art and mind alter ing con sciousnes have been replaced by fly ins on bikes drunk as fuck and do not walk the esplanade a drunk biker might take you out, guess there a no rules on drunk bikers yet… Btw who was selling those BM t shirts last year as you came through gerlach, really?

    • Oh, there are still orgy domes, probably more now than ever, and public sex acts have been banned since the mid 90s. Probably only the first 4 years in the desert were truly free for alls, with rampant guns/drugs/sex/danger.

  12. So…..they’re bringing back outlaw raves, is what you’re getting at here. This is not a new concept, but it’s definitely one I can get behind. Exclusionary culture for life!

    • That is the thing, exactly. Recreating Burning Man in another location ain’t revolutionary, and in fact feels kind of sad. If we’re looking for some new transcendent thing (and aren’t we always?), then we’ll have to be more creative. And let’s face it, it’s not gonna come from the Burner community. It just isn’t. And it most likely won’t even be for us.

      • TAZs are still going on, but Burners don’t hear about them because… well, Burners. When a TAZ grows beyond a few hundred people it’s time to shut it down. BM was effectively shut down in the mid to late 90s by those who created it. Larry & Co didn’t create it, they just leached along with the Cacophony Society and then turned what Caco created into a vicious business. BM hasn’t sounded like cacophony for a VERY long time.

        • Hey T,

          You’re starting to come off as shrill, petty and boring with your replies. Did I forget to mention trite?

          Just because you feel the need to reply to every point you find counter to your own world view doesn’t mean you should.

  13. So BM is really, REALLY dead this time, unlike 10 years ago when it was just dead.

    I agree something new will pop up and we won’t know when and where and what until it’s already happening. It will be created by people with zero involvement in Burning Man. Might not even occur in physical space. Hell, it might already be occurring and us old folks are unawares. Or it might not happen again at all for the next few centuries. I do agree totally with the passages you highlighted.

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