Its origins started in Pagan times when the Celts would burn a wooden effigy of a man to convey repentence to their gods in the idea of giving a false sacrifice.
Thankfully, we've disgraced it to the point of where it's just like a 72-hour shroom trip.
"Yes, a bunch of naked, tripping, and rolling weirdos who just want to rub up next to you and say 'Will you be my Buffy-Bear?'. What are we, twelve?"
(Quoted from American Dad (not exactly as said, though))
It is a party in the desert. That's basically it.
It is fun and it is harsh. The environment in itself is beautiful and amazing. The culture of Burning Man is divided into two categories - 1) them 2) us. 'Us' consists of about 20% of the population of the City who mostly volunteer to work for the primary benefit of counting themselves part of the 'us' clique (they even get T-shirts to prove it). Needless to say, 'us' is a really annoying group (mostly). 'Them' is everyone else - mostly clueless spectators who have little or no interest in participating in activities or creating events or making art. When 'they' finally poke their heads out of their massive RVs, it's with the general purpose of taking pictures of freaks & geeks so they can prove to their friends back home that they 'did' Burning Man.
Freaks & geeks are another class separate from 'them' and separate from 'us' (but more them than us - thankfully). They consist of long-time participants called 'burners' who have attended the festival roughly more than 4 or 5 years. The also consist of newbies who are trying desperately to fit-in to appear as burners. They wear Utilikilts and repeat sayings like, 'safety 3rd' as if that signals to others they're 'in' on something cool. When they're not dropping names like telling you how they just had sex with LadyBee or had a beer with Larry Harvey, they're 'joking' about bacon or other sanctioned Burning Man topics with the design of impressing you. And who are you? You're just trying to get to the portapotties in hopes of escaping this moron who won't stop talking to you. No one cares that you 'know' Danger Ranger!!
Participation has come to mean volunteerism, and vise versa. This volunteerism created a social system based on two classes, 1) the volunteers, 2) everyone else. The volunteers exist to build the infrastructure for everyone else, and everyone else exists to be dependent on the infrastructure.
The notion that everyone could be a participant (or volunteer) as it once was, no longer exists. And the Burning Man Project is in place to secure this separation, because without it there would be no need for the Burning Man Project.
This antisocial divide was not created accidentally or as a byproduct of necessity. In the absence of a dragon to slay, this overladen quasi government can only exist by protecting the individuals from themselves. Thus the need to attract more and more clueless spectators who will hail their providers' sacrifices in laboring to build the infrastructure that they are so willfully dependent upon.
Blame it all on the various types of antisocial personality disorders in which people will do anything for attention, and for the feeling that they are better than other people.
Jake: Sorry, I don't date psycho bitches from hell.
Existing peacefully and chaotically in the Black Rock Desert from 1990 - 1996, in 1997 Burning Man was hijacked by antisocial rouge elements. These rogue elements incorporated the event and formed an LLC. Each year since, Burning Man has lost more and more of its spontaneity and inspirational elements to the tightening grip of the corporation (the Borg), and has now become (in 2010) the antithesis of its origins.
The Cacophony Society (lacking organization by definition) could do little more than scratch their heads or comically protest at the take-over of the event by the Borg. The Borg, being an annoyingly strong hierarchical structure with quasi military overtones, undertones and middletones, cut off the lantern-shaped head of the Man and ripped out his heart. But in primitive societies this destruction called, progress - which the Borg uses as a rationale for their continued reign.
Burning Man, for all intents and purposes, covenants and conditions, restrictions and notifications - DIED in 2008 when Paul Addis was sentenced to prison for burning down the Man several days earlier than planned. This Cacaphony-style prank had the option of either breathing new life into the event, or killing it off forever. And as the Borg chose to press for strict sentencing against Mr. Addis; BMRIP.
To face what Burning Man is, is to face the harsh & stark demand for the what it is supplying: Freedom to the slaves, in a neat week-long holiday package.
This would be fine if the product was honestly packaged by the supplier; the company that produces the event. Rather than admitting that what they're selling is a packaged version of a lifestyle owned by freed slaves, the company sells it as the lifestyle itself... This is the offense this is Burning Man.
Sadly enough, Alice was long ago murdered and replaced by a not-so-sweet smelling character named, Crimson Rose. In fact, the entire character list of the original Wonderland was gagged, beaten then tossed into San Francisco Bay by a faceless, soulless corporate entity known as the LLC, or BMorg, or more accurately; The Borg.
In typical Borg fashion, the once thriving counterculture of Burning Man was assimilated into the Borg's vision of the ways things should be: A particularly foul tasting shit-sandwich filled of rules and restrictions over individual expression, among other distasteful side dishes covered in special Borg shit-sauce.
And the citizens of Black Rock City cried out: "We'll take second helpings of all your shit, oh Borg!". And the Borg was pleased.
Mother: Yes, Dear. Some people did, but they were silenced.
Daughter: I don't like this place, Mommy.
Mother: Shut up or Daddy won't get a DPW T-shirt this year, Dear.