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What is "Burning Man" exactly?

Here I'll give you a real answer:

First, Burning Man isn't a music festival (a lot of people think that it is) - it is an experiment in creating a temporary city devoted to art / having a good time for a week in one of the harshest possible places (a dry lake bed that is almost 200 miles north east of Reno, NV...the middle of fucking nowhere).

Again, this temporary city of 80,000 people is built in the middle of a dry lake bed just for the purpose of having fun / seeing cool things. There's no official music lineup, no food courts, no beer-gardens...unless that is a person or camp decided to do any of those things themselves. There's no water out there. There's just as wide a range of things to do there as in any city; you can get fucked up and party at BM versions of clubs, create art for people to see interact with, or create a camp for people to come to for a service or experience, like salon style hair washing.

There's everything...but there's also nothing provided for you with your ticket. The only things you can buy there are ice (so food doesn't go bad in coolers) and coffee/tea at center camp (a long tradition and the money goes to charity). Every camp / person has to bring everything that they need to survive. You can have a really hard time at Burning Man, I've seen people really break down and have a bad time because things just didn't go right, there's a lot of stuff that is out of your control:

  • It’s often oppressively hot during the day
  • Can get to near freezing at night (I don’t mean that figuratively, in 2015 it was 34F on the night of the burn)
  • Frequent dust storms can last for hours and drop visibility to zero
  • You can never really get clean, the dust is everywhere, gets into and onto everything
  • Wind gusts can get up to 70mph and blow camps apart if everything isn’t staked down / in containers
  • If it rains, you can’t do anything because when the playa is wet it is like trying to walk in peanut butter
  • Things break easily because of the extremes and dust
  • You can have bad experiences with crazy people on drugs
  • The line of cars to get in and out often takes hours of sitting to get through (took me 9 hours to leave one year)
  • You constantly need to be drinking water to not get de-hydrated, if you dont hydrate enough you can quickly have a bunch of problems; from just general asshole-ishness to serious medical issues

In spite of all that, it is a really good time as long as you understand those caveats and can roll with the difficulties. The people I’ve seen out there who have a bad time are the ones that can’t accept that things are how they are, and just want everything to be comfortable and easy.

Also you learn real fast out there that hell can definitely be other people - if your camp doesn’t have a way of helping make sure that everyone gets along / fosters a good feeling between people, then tempers can definitely flare when things start getting difficult.

Everyone who goes is a participant.

The Burning Man organization only plans the city and manages infrastructure (and burns the man in a great fireworks show). Everything else is created, built, and given for free by the people who attend. Like the Tree of Tenere art installation, a life-like tree where every leaf had a set of LEDs that could be addressed to make a giant display.

There’s a camp making fried chicken at 2am, camps that build elaborate stages for music, sex camps, camps that sponsor daily games of Scrabble, a camp that sets up a giant tent with a ton hammocks for people to rest in after grabbing a margarita from the bar / singing karaoke, a camp that has a giant plastic box that can let like 60 people have a big naked group shower, yoga camps, a camp that sets up a gym every year...on and on.

Yes, there are camps of rich people who pay like $20k to the camp so that they don’t have to do anything. They show up and have a place to stay with air conditioning, showers, and food (notice I said “to the camp” - rich camps are still organized by 3rd parties...it’s not the BMorg). Some burners hate that the BMorg tolerates these camps, but even the most obnoxious ones still usually give back - they create some of the larger sound camps / sound cars that serve as clubs.

There are also art cars, which are cars or buses that have been transformed into something else and are allowed to drive very slowly around the playa. Some are essential giant motorized sound systems (some like Mayan Warrior are seriously impressive laser / light / sound platforms that cost at least a couple million $) that throw huge dance parties. Some are mobile bars where you can cruise around and have a drink in the chaos riding inside a Jawa Sandcrawler. There was one that got retired that was a giant set of bleachers that people would sit on and it would drive around laughing at stuff with people on a mic making jokes.

So for a week you get to experience a different world. There’s no money changing hands. People cooperate as camps to supply each other with the basics for survival and then they also bring stuff (food, alcohol, activities, art, etc) that they think other people would enjoy and then give it away with only the expectation that if they walk around the city people will do the same for them.

It’s NOT a bartering economy like some people who have never been think. You just bring stuff that you think other people would like, and give it to them.

Then you have the fact that literally no one cares what you decide you want to be out there. Want to dress up in old timey women’s clothes all day? Go for it. Want to just walk around naked? Not a problem. No one cares. It’s an incredibly freeing feeling that you can’t get anywhere else. Free to be who you are, free to do fun stuff and not have to think about cost, and yes free to get fucked up / fuck - if that’s what you want to do.

Also people play up the drugs thing a bit much, alcohol is by far the drug of choice. Every place you go has a bar set up and is mixing some specialty drink / handing out beers. The alcohol flows like water...in fact, easier than water because people will gladly give you alcohol but not water unless you are in need. But you need your own cup as there’s no guarantee that a camp will have any, and disposable cups are in general frowned upon because you have to take out all the trash you created.

BM is a leave no trace event, people are out combing through the desert for a month after cleaning up minuscule bits of trash.

The ticket cost goes to infrastructure that is involved with putting on the event, which is far bigger and more well planed than you’d imagine - Here’s what the city looked like in 2019. It’s big...waaaay bigger than you think. Too big to ever have any hope of seeing everything.

The organizers have to deal with:

  • state, local, and federal agencies year round
  • providing medical facilities / EMTs, they even have a field hospital that can x-ray, to not have to helicopter people with broken bones to Reno
  • organizing camps, placing them, and creating the streets
  • bringing and running generators / a limited electrical grid
  • hiring water trucks to run through the city spraying roads to cut down dust
  • organizing an airport and radio station
  • bringing and cleaning porta-poties for 80,000 people
  • building all the ancillary stuff needed to run things
  • subsidize big public art
  • paying people who are out there cleaning up for a month
  • housing the state, local, and federal police who patrol the event
  • and more that I’m not thinking of

The BM organization is a mini government for a city of 80,000 that has to run all year long just to plan this event that lasts a week, and that isn’t cheap. They publish the expenses of each year on the website so everyone can see what the ticket fees were spent on: http://burningman.org/expenses/

Until you go you can’t quite imagine the scale of the event and the level infrastructure. Then on top of that the 80,000 participants bring and make even more and all that comes out of their own pocket and yet people build and make the most amazing things for other people.

So you want to go now...?

Start talking to people to find a camp to join, ideally one where you know people, friends of friends. I feel it is really important to go with a solid camp, one that does something for the community / really has their shit together, when you go for the first time. The amount of planning needed to go is insane, and for a first trip you really shouldn’t be worried about all the details of how you are going to survive, be comfortable, and have a good time. It helps to have people around who can give you tips and tell you what not to worry about. Don’t try and do too much the first time.

Yes, I said “sex camps” earlier...

If you are gay, sex is a lot easier. Camps like Comfort and Joy make it easy to find a hookup. If you are straight things are harder unless you are already there with a person you are fucking. The big mostly straight sex camp (but everyone is welcome), the Orgy Dome, requires you to be there with a partner, and are proactive about kicking creepers out. It’s fun-ish, but it is not really an orgy and also not a dome...more a place where couple can have sex in semi public.

I hate to harp on the sex topic, but I felt like I had to explain that just because so many comments or articles mention orgies like it’s something happening on every street corner. It’s not like that at all. If you go expecting it’s just going to be free sex everywhere because that was the impression you got from popular culture, you’re gonna have a bad time.

 

Author: /u/twoinvenice via Reddit.com 



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