Burning Man 1990. Image credit: Stewart Harvey

What Happened to Safety Third? Cancelling Two Years in a Row is Taking “Leave No Trace” Far Too Literally.

A guest post from Burning Man’s original DJ Terbo Ted

What Happened to Safety Third?

As expected, on April 27th the org canceled 2021 Burning Man, the second year in a row. At this point, the organization behind the Man have forfeited or absconded their role and they should step out of the way, or face competition from other groups for the BLM land rights for Labor Day Weekend on the Black Rock Desert.

Back before Burning Man was profitable, they would come up with some clever new LLC name for the man each year. And the artists making theme camps would change themes each year. Whatever intellectual property the org is clinging to is flimsy at best. Burner culture is bigger than the org. I think people would gladly attend ‘Torch the Sucker 23” if it involved camping in a temporary city on the playa and actively expressing our lifestyle there.

I am far too busy to write a scathing retort to the org, but I must. Here in Las Vegas- the same Battle Born State of Nevada as the Black Rock Desert- things are rapidly ramping up back to normal. This coming Saturday, May 1st, Nevada Counties are taking control over their own Covid mitigation measures, with most opening 100% this week, or sometime around June 1 at the latest. Already I’m furiously busy with public art and music projects- that’s what us Burners do- and we haven’t even made it to May 1.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak is as proud and overt a bleeding heart liberal as possible, issuing dozens of Covid mitigation Emergency Directives over the past year, even recently. He’s enacted every sort of micro-management of public interaction as possible, keeping pace with Governors Whitmer, Newsom and Cuomo. And even Sisolak is ready for Nevada to be 100% open, weeks before this Summer. Keep in mind that in rural Nevada Counties- like where The Burn happens- these folks openly loathe Sisolak and have been refusing to comply with his directives since last year.

A year ago, global elites were warning us that based on computer modeling and simulations, that something like three and a half percent of all Covid patients would die, and that between sixty and seventy percent of the world would catch it. In simple terms, imagine if two percent of the world died off: if you have one thousand facebook friends, it would have meant that twenty of them would be dead by now. This scale of death never happened anywhere on earth, mitigation methods in place or not.

We were told by the news media that superspreader events like the Sturgis motorcycle rally, or the Super Bowl, would lead to mass casualties. We never saw thousands of deaths or hospitalizations afterward due to those gatherings. Remember the godawful non-stop Trump airport campaign rallies last year? Those events full of fat old people with hand lettered signs with spelling errors, the folks who refused to wear masks and didn’t socially distance? Those people didn’t die off in a mass extinction event either.

We have enough telemetry and data by now to know that approximately forty percent of all Covid deaths are from nursing homes, and that a huge percentage of the deaths are from the elderly, especially obese or diabetes patients. In all my years on the playa I can’t ever recall a theme camp full of geriatrics in medical gurneys with attendant staff, or any sort of dialysis station on the Burner Map. Burners are not the at risk people.

The Burning Man event itself has always been full of mask wearing attendees. Even at HUGE playa events like Robot Heart or Mayan Warrior- even the Burn or Temple Burn- there’s so much space Out There that social distancing is already kind of part of the culture.

In my opinion, Larry Harvey, if he were alive, would not have canceled last year or this year’s event. I worked closely with Larry during the early and mid 1990s, I’d walk over to his apartment on Alamo Square in The City all year long to discuss our plans for the desert. When the disastrous HellCo year in 1996 happened, about a third of us organizing the event- including myself- quit going. It was no fun to promote a festival (Larry himself proudly called it a Festival back then) where someone had died, multiple people were seriously injured and even more were arrested. I remember running across Larry near the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco near City Hall after we got back to SF from the playa that year; he was solemnly and forlornly staring into space, ruminating on the horrors we had experienced. But Larry made 1997 happen at all costs, and the event continued, even with so many of us distancing ourselves from it.

The early Burners were pranksters and anarchists. The early events were about creating an experience that was as disconnected as possible from the default world. Today it seems the Burner culture is very deep into the red and blue state culture war, siding with whatever comes out of MSNBC or the New York Times. This evolution is infuriating. It does seem to match what has happened to Rolling Stone magazine. Rolling Stone arose out of 1967 San Francisco, and it was originally about LSD and opposing the Viet Nam War. Today Rolling Stone can be outright hawkish, or spewing out hagiography extolling the virtues of the visibly corrupt and privileged Kamala Harris.

Right now, here in Nevada, we are seeing lots of proudly vaccinated people- including local Burners- out and about socializing.

Reading through the org’s distancing themselves from doing any actual work this year, it’s clear that they have let their torch go out. I’m pretty sure that the vendors leasing the porta potties could figure it out between now and September. I’m pretty sure the org could come up with A-Z street names over a couple of pizzas delivered to their office. I’m pretty sure the org could continue to exploit free volunteer labor to do much of the staffing, as usual. Heck, I’ve got all my playa gear packed up and ready to go- for years now- all I need is fresh water and batteries and a few other things and I’m out there.

Really, we need to figure out how to disassociate the current org from the Burner culture and have full scale, organized and permitted events on the playa without their involvement. And that seems like that’s what the org’s vibe is right now too.

About the storyteller:
Terbo Ted first visited the Black Rock Desert in 1992 when there was no gate, no perimeter, no road, no trash fence and you could drive your car as fast as you wanted in any direction. Terbo was the first DJ to play in Black Rock City, with no one there to hear his set on a dusty Friday afternoon. Later, in the early years he was the only one ever to be called “Mayor of the Techno Ghetto.” His playa self and default world self can be remarkably similar these days.

[Featured image: Burning Man 1990, Stewart Harvey via Trippingly.Net]

4 comments on “What Happened to Safety Third? Cancelling Two Years in a Row is Taking “Leave No Trace” Far Too Literally.

  1. Oh for crying out loud, yet another post by a grizzled veteran playing the part of a grizzled veteran. Almost as long as the Burn has existed, there have been people whining that it isn’t what it used to be. We get it, you’re upset about that. But no one is going to gather around you asking for tales of how Burning Man used to be and offering oral for the privilege. You’re no expert on Burning Man. Neither am I. And, the org aren’t experts either. No one is or was…ok maybe Larry, but no one cares that you knew him either. You don’t know how to do it any better than anyone else.

    And “safety third” doesn’t apply here. You’re really gonna just shrug and say that if someone you care about succumbs to covid? You can look in the mirror and tell yourself you’re a badass all you want, but look around and realize no one cares. Go out to the desert and tell everyone you’re there. It doesn’t matter. Obviously if the org didn’t cancel the burn you’d just be whining that it isn’t how it was back in the day, but you’d still attend. If you were truly the rebel you’re trying to be, you wouldn’t go anymore and you wouldn’t care to tell the world that you aren’t going. Get over yourself.

      • It’s theTriggers, man, they’re everywhere. What triggers me is downplaying the severity of covid. Nearly 600k people in this country lost…and the suggestion that it’s not such a big deal? I’ve only heard things like that from people who are lucky enough to not know anyone who was affected by it. And whiny vet attitudes on the playa really grind my gears. So all of that combined makes for an unhappy comment, whether or not you meant it that way is definitely unclear.

        I do realize I missed the part where you said you already stopped going. And I can’t say I’m happy with how the org does things too. We both are making false assumptions about some things here, but, jeez, it’s ok to be cautious. It doesn’t make you less of a burner.

        • Since there will still be a massive event on the Playa this year, with zero vaccination requirement, I guess we will find out how dangerous it really is. I predict the Not Burning Man COVID Death Toll = 0.

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