Friday, August 31, 2007

Still-burning Man: Arson is easy, burning is hard

Burning Man is a lot of things to a lot of people, but at its core, it's a celebration of "radical self-expression." That basically means you can do anything you want as long as it doesn't hurt somebody else ... and we'll call it self-expression to the max, dude.

Well, now somebody has burned The Man down four days before he was officially set to go up in smoke, and somebody else has committed suicide (which onlookers believed was performance art ... and maybe it was.)

In a festival famous for its lack of rules, how can anybody get mad at a guy (pictured at right) for expressing himself by setting a fire that they themselves were going to set a few days later? How ironic is it that somebody is charged with arson at a gathering of people who come to see ... a fire?

I attended Burning Man 2001, crawling out of Nevada's Black Rock Desert just a few days before Sept. 11, when Osama expressed himself to the world three great burning images. My view of "radical self-expression" slipped a loop, like a broken filmstrip that melts and burns on the screen.

As I described it then, Burning Man is Salvador Dali meets Mad Max, as told to Dante. It allows participants to live the lives they think they'd should live but can't in the "real" world. It makes only one rule: "No observers" -- meaning, everyone must participate in this radical experiment in community.

Well, at least two people participated, and I'll be interested to see how the Burning Man community reacts to their particular forms of self-expression.


Erik said...

Burning Man is grappling with success and the curse that comes with it.

I wish I could have gone to BM a few years ago, before it has been completely co-opted by the hype and the money involved.

But the cat is, officially, out of the bag and BM is wavering between selling out and trying to stay true to its roots. An interesting dymanic, to be sure.

Erik said...

First posts from post-Burning Man are starting to go up and the attempted arson registered but was more gossip than a point of outrage. And, so far as I can tell, many people don't know about the suicide at all.