Kim Jung Ilo from DPW, the crew that spend months constructing and removing Black Rock City for us every year, reaches out to bridge the cultural divide.
This was my response to a thread asking, if I dare paraphrase, “why are DPW such assholes and are they ever been nice or any real use to you?”, which seems to have been deleted. Various ignorant and sage comments followed, mostly thoughtless; none quite hit the mark, in my opinion, and as a member of DPW, I felt the need to put some sense into the conversation. I still feel it…
DPW sets the table and cleans up afterwards for the biggest cultural potluck there is. It’s a lot of very hard work. (The DPW work season is where ADHD workaholics go to hang out with each other, I’ve heard it said. From the inside, it’s remarkably apt.) That some of us resent the eventual guests for interrupting what some feel is our real occupation – the DPW season – with the actual party, at which some of us don’t feel comfortable or wanted, is both silly and understandable. So they/we hang/hide out in the servants’ quarters with friends.
Some of us ARE assholes, to be sure, and I’m sure there are some who would say that about me, and even though you, original poster, were talking only of your own experiences, it’s best not to generalize too much. DPW members are all too often people who already have difficult, fringe-y lives and it is an amazing comfort to come out and be and do with like-minded souls. Our often apparently brutal affection for one another isn’t universally translatable to the psychological vocabulary of outsiders and the respect it both implies and demands isn’t automatically conferred on just anyone who shows up in our midst. The type of people who can do what we do are frequently habituated to being wary of strangers due to default world dynamics and the subsequent need to be self-reliant – not an automatic recipe for openness nor a casually sunny demeanor.
In contrast, the raver culture that many burners come from is characterized by a genuine, but necessarily superficial openness to new faces. This is likewise a cultural language that is understandable to those who are acculturated, but seems weirdly phony to those who are not or don’t recognize it for what it is. “Why is this beautiful girl hugging me? Is it because she wants to have sex with me?” Probably not, sadly. “Why is that ragged DPW member shouting insults at me. Does she hate me?” It might be an inappropriately placed attempt at familiarity offering you the chance to play. Similarly, say “how’s it going?” to a stranger and you expect them to say “good” (or “well” if they’re avid grammar mavens). However, should you start answering that question with an account of your day, said stranger will likely be put out or at least confused. The cultures simply don’t line up, though both are lovely in their own context.
DPW Parade, 2013. photo: Carnivillain, Flickr
Everyone wants to be cool and feel part of the group, but if you haven’t been out there in the DPW manner, you’re just not, in all likelihood, going to have the markers of someone who merits automatic respect and acceptance. We’re wary and standoffish with each other at first, as well.
What makes for a negative interpersonal experience, anyway? Is it that the person you’re interacting with is possessed of some negative trait? That’s generally how we react. Is it that we ourselves have some negative trait? That’s seldom how we react, though, in truth equally likely, right? “I didn’t have a good time interacting with him” is generally voiced as “what a jerk” not as “he’s probably really nice, but we didn’t get along”. It’s pretty simple self-protective ego tactics, right?
We’re not evolved to deal well with strangers, though many of us have learned to do it fairly well, but none of us deal well with anyone outside of wherever that boundary of “stranger” is set. Your behavior is no doubt the same even if your threshold is broader and your tolerance for perturbation greater.
Still feel like judging? If the answer is yes, then you’re either very dull-witted or a complete dick. You decide.
…I come at DPW from something of a weird perspective – over-edumacated, pretty square dude, living a pretty square life – I found myself hired by the bmorg to build a major project, thrust in amongst the heathens at the beginning of May. I was green as a ’70’s avocado fridge, had my share of freakout, meltdown, etc., but found something I didn’t know I was missing, or wanted. I felt “I’m not one of these people, but I have an unreasonable affection for them”, and found that I couldn’t not come back. It’s been ten years and counting, now, and I still feel like an outsider sometimes, but I recognize that as my own neurotic bullshit. I find that I am in an environment that suits me very well with people whom I can respect and admire and feel honored to be part of. The rough love was a godsend; being with dozens of other alphas and getting along more or less was a huge relief. It broke something loose inside my soul and that has made me a better, much better person.
I, for one, love “the participants”, whose simple enjoyment of the event can elude me, being a jaded, behind-the-scenes-motherfucker, and envy their, your, uncomplicated joy at it all. The last three years have each been my best yet, so I’m learning. I tease my fellows for hating on the participants when they do, pointing out that it’s unworthy to revile the very guests we’re throwing a party for; after all, we wouldn’t have anything to do if they weren’t coming.
Buck Down shared Gate’s perspective:
so i was nudged to add a little perspective on behalf of the Gate Crew which suffers from similar PR vis a vis our perceived (and occasional very real) antipathy towards participants. in our case – we actually have to interact WITH EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU as we get you into (and to a lesser extent – out of) the event. sadly – the ones of you who are super cool, and completely have your shit together (which is by far really the majority) – we barely get to interact with – as the transaction takes next to no time at all (and thank you! for making our, and your lives easier on that!) however – its all the “special snowflakes” who have wandered off and lost their cars, can’t follow simple instructions are trying to sneak themselves or others in, and/or put their own and our lives at risk out there are the ones that can fill up a lot of our day – or at least the more memorable parts. after 6-8 hours a day, day after day, of dealing with the least prepared, most annoying people black rock city has to offer -it gets progressively easier to start building up a resentment that unfortunately can spill over to a lot of less deserving people – add to that a dynamic that Kim Jong Ilo mentioned of having spent a long time working out in an empty desert that suddenly became full of noise and people which is more than jarring and it becomes easy to see how we start retracting in to an “us” and “them” dynamic. it’s not something we are especially proud of – but it’s real. you all have seen how just how much even a week in that desert can completely run you through an emotional roller coaster – now imagine that for a month – or two months – how about 4???? this shit aint easy kids. and when all is said and done – a lot of us aren’t doing it for you, or burning man – we’re doing it for each other, and our bonds are not dissimilar to the ones felt by soldiers at war. at a certain point, many of us stop caring about the event, or what it means, or art – we just know that our best friends are out there doing a tough job in the heat and dust and will be damned if we are going to let them do it alone. so when you do stumble on one of us when our manners aren’t what they probably should be – just know that what may come across as disdain for participants is actually rooted in a jealous and protective love for one another in our crews. we promise we’ll try to be better about it – but just know it comes from someplace real.