As of 2009, Burning Man is society's officially sanctioned counter-cultural movement. And as this movement, it has no forward momentum.
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!!
If you say 'F yer day!' one more time in hopes of impressing me - I'm going to kill you. Which is why I no longer attend Burning Man.
"And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made."
The brand Burning Man is testimony to how corruption lies waiting at the end of any half-way successful attempt at something good.
The Burning Man Project is an experiment in social transformation. Once a population of self-sufficient and socially minded participants, it has been systematically turned upside down. The ridiculously massive infrastructure is set in place to 1) make real self-sufficiency unnecessary, 2) give purpose to the volunteers within the infrastructure itself.
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.
Susie: I volunteer at Burning Man. I'm sooo important there.
Jake: Sorry, I don't date psycho bitches from hell.
Where, for the simple price of admission, anyone can purchase 7 days of a product called 'freedom'. It is not like the film West Word - it IS the film West World.
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.
Q: What is Burning Man? A: John Law was right.
An event born from the society of pranksters and lighthearted industrial magicians known as the Cacophony Society (you may already be a member).
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.
It is important to distinguish between 'counterculture', 'subculture' and 'fringe culture'. Burning Man is neither one; it is part of the 'mainstream culture'. It is not a 'movement'.
The community experience so fondly trumpeted as the living skin of the Burning Man is pocked, scarred, and so lacerated that it is no longer the durable integument needed to sustain the Burning Man's viscera. Last year's community was such a stark and realistic representation of modern civilization that it reminded me of my own downtown Oakland.
Burning Man, the man who murdered both his parents... pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.
The place to go to experience the end of a once budding counterculture. Burning Man is now (2010) a mere looking-glass reflection: a kind of mirror image of a once great Wonderland of creativity, inspiration, construction, destruction, and random acts of silliness among other wild things.
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.
Daughter: Mommy, did anyone say 'stop' to the Borg while it was killing Burning Man?
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.