Dan rants: Burning Man Recompression

Written in response to some dissatisfaction on the Burning Man BBS with the vibe this year.

I was ready to chalk up my dissatisfaction with this year's burn to the loss of that new relationship energy, but both my old-timer and newbie friends felt strange vibes too.

And I could go on with my dissatisfactions, but at some point as individuals we've got to stand up and take back the space. Yes, Black Rock City isn't perfect, and maybe it is in decline, but we can't just abandon it or say "it's getting too big". If we ever aspire to take the lessons from Burning Man back into the rest of our lives we've got to use this as a stepping stone and find ways to build it into the space we want to experience, because what we've got is too cool to just leave to the yahoos.

Don't like the number of rave camps? Let's do more to bring art and to help artists. Even those of us who are pretty geeky can help, we spent some time and resources helping artists who hadn't engineered for the wind brace their structures, if us engineery folk can connect with these artists before they go to the playa we can get it right beforehand, rather than having to scrape together extra rope and rebar on the playa where screws and wood would be more appropriate.

Don't like the increased police presence? Those guys with the million candlepower spotlight drove the helicopter fairly effectively away from the south end of camp on Friday night (and what are the legalities of the subsequent flying without nav lights in the dark over such a populated area?). Make more private spaces, find ways to architect shade spaces that still allow the front-porch effect and communicating with the street but also let those who desire a bit more privacy to find it. I hate to advocate carrying a camera, but perhaps documenting the sherrif and BLM/ranger vehicles cutting 'S's in the playa at moderately high speeds and kicking up dust on film would be evidence useful for getting them to behave more responsibly.

I don't know how to deal with the cameras, I wore a big-ass zoom lens in a strap-on harness on Saturday, but eventually ditched it because while the people who'd been there for a week got it, the photographers kept taking my picture, unaware that they were being parodied, and I felt like just having it visible was contributing to some of the spectator energy. I'm wondering what the ethics of "interfering with the experience of others" a backpack with a big-ass pulsed electromagnet for degaussing video tapes at short ranges would be. There are technological solutions for a lot of things.

Yes, Bianca's sucked this year. Yes, there were some really cool sculptors last year who didn't make an appearance this year. Yes, the undecorated golf cart and dust-kicking motorcycle to cool vehicle ratio was pretty high. But all of the neat parts of those things were done by people who put the energy into doing something cool, Bianca's may not have had an erotic vibe (at least it didn't when I stepped in for a moment, then quickly left), but the Kissbah made up for it in many ways (ie: none of the yahoos had discovered it, so there weren't any cameras despite all the sex), and other new and unpublicized spaces will spring up.

There is, of course, the trash issue. Scraping watermelon rinds and crushed beer bottles (and stuff that I don't even want to know what it was) off the playa Sunday morning was damned depressing, but if we're going to create this awesome space and not make it exclusionary we've got to make allowances for the assholes who won't take responsibility for themselves. Help with the clean-up, even if you can't get back up there yourself you can give extra resources to someone going up.

Burning Man isn't something put-on. The vibe happens because we participate in it. Yes, I felt something weird this year, and the general consensus in our camp was that leaving Friday would have been a more positive experience. But if we simply abandon it we're giving up hope that it is possible to build a better culture without cutting it off from the world at large. And I'm not ready to do that.

Okay, so I sound like a stereotypical 2nd year zealot.

One thing that maybe "the organizers" (or at least the people who run this message system) could do is add an area for resource sharing. A place that artists could say "Can anyone help me do...?" and engineers could say "I've built this cool device that does ..., can anyone help me make this compelling?"

And I'll be there next year. Possibly with extra transport space, definitely with more art. There are a couple of things I didn't quite have time to finish this year that'll be working for the next.

Wednesday, September 8th, 1999 danlyke@flutterby.com