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Burning Man

annual experimental festival based in Nevada, United States
The giant wooden man goes into a weird spastic dance, pointy arms upraised and shedding massive showers of fire. A 40-foot-high wooden doll dancing in flames is a sight that really hits the 9-year-old demographic. My kid is in ecstasy, she's loudly swearing that she'll remember this for the rest of her life. I'm sure this is true. ~ Bruce Sterling

Burning Man is a week-long festival with international draw, held annually on the week prior to and including Labor Day weekend (in early September) in the United States. Its current location is on the playa of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, 90 miles north-northeast of Reno. The culmination of the event is the burning of a large wooden sculpture of a man on Saturday night, the sixth night of the event.


  • You have just constructed a straw man so large you could burn it in the desert and hold an annoying festival around it.

Greetings from Burning Man!Edit

Greetings from Burning Man! by Bruce Sterling, WIRED magazine Issue 4.11 (November 1996)
  • Burning Man is an art gig by tradition. Over the longer term it's evolved into something else; maybe something like a physical version of the Internet. The art here is like fan art. It's very throwaway, very appropriative, very cut-and-paste. The camp is like a giant swap meet where no one sells stuff, but people trade postures, clip art, and attitude. People come here in clumps: performance people, drumming enthusiasts, site-specific sculptors, sailplane people, ravers, journalists, cops. I'm a journalist and a newbie, but even I can tell the pros from my fellow newbies. The veterans have brought their own pennants, bicycles, flashlights, and tiki torches, plus enough water for anything.
  • Had a few words with the justly legendary Larry Harvey today. Ten years ago, Larry went out and set fire to a big wooden statue on a beach. Kind of a private act of purgation and cleansing, by all accounts, but his idea caught on big time. Larry is a heavy hipster dude. He's beyond mere trendiness. Guys of his ilk can create social trends at will, out of straw, hot air, and attitude.
  • They all have this certain look, these tribal elder hippie-guru characters. Time has given them the faces they deserve. They all end up with this spacey Crowleyan smirk … not seamy exactly, but some kind of terrible wisdom, like a cross between Gandalf and Nietzsche. It's truly a very interesting way to live, but you get to where you can smell it after a while.
  • Burning Man is a standard hippie tribal thing, except for the highly nonstandard fact that it is not kitschy '60s nostalgia. This event is very '90s, very big, and very much alive. It's a Tim Leary, Wavy Gravy, Deadhead caravan, grab-the-mike-at-Woodstock kind of event. Feels lovely and enormously persuasive. Nonbureaucratic, participative, solidarity-driven, noncommercial, arty. With all those manifest virtues, you have to wonder why a setup like this can't seem to last any longer than a Labor Day weekend.
  • There's another thing really different and novel about Burning Man. It's a hippie gig, but it's swarming with cops. The Nevada cops have been in from the get-go. There are plenty of concert-security type Danger Rangers, too. Security people are all over the place, and they could give two pins that people are running around naked, setting fires, and blowing things up. I think this proves that Temporary Autonomous Zones really can work in real life — as long as the cops help create them.
  • Fiends in human guise greeted the dawn by wailing for half an hour on didgeridoos. This should be a capital offense.
  • People think it's good that Burning Man is difficult and rather dangerous to reach. This keeps the gawking frat boys and the sodden alcoholics at bay. To get this far Out Here you've got to pay some dues and take some risks. Gotta live on the edge, at least a little. "Survival is a matter of personal choice," as the Burning Man official tabloid puts it. But when there are 10,000 people making risky choices, cold statistics dictate that some will surely croak.
  • Pagan hierophants in tall headdresses and silver lamé march in slow step, toting flaming standards of arcane device. Swarms of nude dancers, male and female, caper up in bizarre sword-and-sorcery bondage gear. The soundtrack switches to repeated, insane, bestial screaming. An awe-inspiring insect goddess — a hunchbacked bug on red stilts — comes towering and tipping and tottering into the firelight, like a mad Kafkaesque advent. It's like a cross between Vatican ceremony, Cirque du Soleil, and a necro-erotic cannibal mantis mating ritual. The performers seem ready to burst into a flagellant orgy at any instant, in front of a solid milling crowd of at least 3,000.
    This sure isn't the sort of thing one sees every day. It's something that a desperately horny sci-fi fan might see on acid and cough syrup. Then the performers set fire to the set. The tall rebar towers, turned to instant chimneys, glow white-hot and vent livid five-story flames. I'm really enjoying this.
  • When the man's about to collapse from sheer conflagration, some brave and hefty folks grab a pair of dangling steel cables from the Burning Man's shoulders. They tug and yank. The giant wooden man goes into a weird spastic dance, pointy arms upraised and shedding massive showers of fire. A 40-foot-high wooden doll dancing in flames is a sight that really hits the 9-year-old demographic. My kid is in ecstasy, she's loudly swearing that she'll remember this for the rest of her life. I'm sure this is true.
  • There are lessons here. Las Vegas is a major family destination. Nevada casinos have become American family values now. It's considered just fine to go into one of these windowless scary gambling-malls, drink yourself silly, lose your ass at roulette, and then go ogle showgirls with breast implants. Republicans do this now. Working-class folks do it in polyester stretch pants. It's normal.
    Meanwhile, if you want to get high and be a naked hippie, you're under suspicion of engaging in the moral equivalent of terrorism. You've got to haul out into the middle of some godforsaken desert and hope that not too many people find out about it.
  • I wonder how our culture got into this oxymoronic situation. It can't be good for us.
    I went to Burning Man. I took my kids. It's not scary, it's not pagan, it's not devilish or satanic. There's no public orgies, nobody gets branded or hit with whips. Hell, it's less pagan than the Shriners. It's just big happy crowds of harmless arty people expressing themselves and breaking a few pointless shibboleths that only serve to ulcerate young people anyway. There ought to be Burning Man festivals held downtown once a year in every major city in America. It would be good for us. We need it. In fact, until we can just relax every once in a while and learn how to do this properly, we're probably never gonna get well.

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