Burning Man Redux

NOTE: This is not the review. The Burning Man Review is here.


Burning Man Redux

By Patrick Mulroy

(note: we wrote this about a week after writing the Burning Man Review. This is a collection of our thoughts regarding the feedback we have received from writing the review.)

I’ve enjoyed the huge response we’ve had from my Burning Man essay: over 10,000 readers in four days. Yow! My friend Tim has enjoyed his role as queen bee and mother hen in arranging your responses. To the humorless few FnFers who picked on him, I suggest less ecstasy in your future. Your serotonin deficiencies have left you GRUMPY. In truth, if not for our awesome history of fun at FnF camp outs, we would have had nothing to compare our dismal time at Burning Man to. We expected Burning Man could be like the FnF Summer Camp Out times 100. In truth, it was all the fun we had at FnF divided by a hundred. In any case, many of your responses were hateful, angry and not in the spirit of FnF. Note: The alleged “bitter” and angry narrator of my piece was a character in a meta-fiction, not a real person, certainly not me. As for me, I don’t believe cannibalism or full-blown fascism will come to Burning Man until at least 2009.

The majority of readers seem to understand that my piece was meant to be creative and humorous -not investigative journalism. Though my facts were all accurate, my interpretation of these facts was personal and exaggerated. Some loved it, others hated it-few were indifferent. Most long-time burners agreed that the event has gone downhill over the years as the crowds have increased, along with the price of admission. In any case, the essay led to much lively discussion on the past, present and future of the event.

I was touched and proud to be invited back by many long-time burners and others with a sense of humor about my review. Many of you know that Burning Man is in trouble as an event, but you keep the faith and keep contributing to its potential for success. The event has morphed over the years from a gentle child with a wild streak to a wild gigantic insane child with a gentle streak. I applaud your courage for babysitting this deranged and ape-strong unpredictable child.

If you love Burning Man, it was not my intent to crap on your Christmas. I know that for many the annual trek to Black Rock City is Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Halloween all rolled up into one week. You spend a lot of money and time preparing and always have a great time. My rant was never aimed at you. If I had met fewer thugs and more cool burners, I know my trip would have been more enjoyable.

I was especially not aiming my rant at those burners who mainly serve others at Burning Man. Your goodwill and service is likely the only thing keeping Burning Man afloat, despite the growing influence of the bullies and yahoos. Burning Man will end one day, Larry Harvey will retire a very rich man, but your kindness will be remembered by the people you served with love on the playa. Of that I have no doubt.

Some of you were offended by my paragraph about the greeter. She was greeting us in a full on dust storm wearing the flimsiest of dust masks. Her enthusiasm and good cheer were amazing considering the shit conditions she was laboring under. I don’t really think she was on acid. That was a joke. It’s just that I could not imagine someone being so positive and perky under the miserable conditions she worked under that night. Her charm and enthusiasm, and that of her fellow greeters and underpaid workers and unpaid volunteers was wonderful and was not meant to be mocked. I’d French kiss you all, but I won’t since I know where your tongues have been.

I am not opposed to nudies, wild drug use and promiscuity in principal. However, when I’m shivering from exhaustion and altitude sickness, my tolerance for other people’s weirdness diminishes. Add some bullies and yahoos lecturing me on my missing “costume” and you can see how BM starts to look like a bunch of jerks and bullies telling me how to behave and dress. I was over that sort of bullying in high school. “Fuck your day” yahoos. I paid Larry and his cronies $300 to walk around in the worst time-share on Earth: I’ll dress any way I goddamn please.

If there is one redeeming quality of Burning Man it is the idea of letting people be their true selves for one week. For some, this is achieved by walking around with their cocks or coochies in full view or perhaps by dressing as a furry dog with no pants. In my mind, this is the most dull and superficial kind of weirdness and is about as creative as trick dog poo. However, everyone has to start somewhere on their journey to true perversion and weirdness. I fully support these weirdo kindergarteners as they try to be interesting. All I ask is that I not be attacked for being weird in my own way. My weirdness does not involve costumes, glow sticks, pacifiers or gratuitous nudity, but is no less profound. My friends and I could all teach postgraduate courses in weirdness, despite our pedestrian dress.

Some objected to the odd political turn at the end of the essay when I linked the playa bullies to the current failed regime in Washington. This moment surprised me too when I wrote it. It was clearly out of step with the rest of the piece but it seemed true so we left it in. I’ll gladly surrender all my Christmas gifts from here on for impeachment hearings next year. Please God, as we Irish say.

Note that despite my rant vs. Burning Man, I don’t call for it to be abolished or banned. If Burning Man continues to go downhill, it will disintegrate on its own. If the bullies are not reigned in someone is going to get killed, an “Altamont moment” which will end this twenty year adventure in a horrible way.

I hope that Burning Man improves, becomes less fascist and less all-white, and lives up to its potential for fun and creativity. I don’t expect life-altering “magic” but a cool party where all were welcome and none were bullied would be nice. Also, sexier nudies and free ice would be sweet. See what you can do Larry.

That’s all for now. Peace on the playa.


19 thoughts on “Burning Man Redux”

  1. So just how easy is it to get laid? are we talking if i had enough herb i could get a threesome going?

  2. I loved your review. I love Burning Man, too.

    I’m sorry you had a lousy time, but I like the way you write about it. I think your essay should be required reading for anyone planning to attend.

    And despite having a vastly different overall experience, I recognize a lot of what you’re saying as true. Every time I’m there, I have several hours, sometimes a couple days, of hellish agony. You don’t hear about that as much, and I’m glad to see it written about.

    I’m really of the theory that it’s like the 3 blind men with an elephant, if you know that old parable.

    I’d like to invite you and your crew to a somewhat smaller campout, but I don’t want to advertise it to all the haanyakkers reading this. You got my e-mail address there.

  3. Thank you for the hilarious read.

    I have never been to Burning Man and really have no intention to. I have friends, however, who have attended religiously and are probably some of the entitled thugs demanding beer. It’s their only real form of pay, bring an extra case for them, folks, if you plan to attend, it keeps them sane(r).

    Rage on, safe.


  4. I have several friends that go every year. I have no interest. It real sounds like total privledged masturbation to me. Burning man isn’t changing the world. The nonsense commenters wrote about the hard work of people that created sculptures and what not…give me a break! Its a party! I’m sure its really fun for a lot of people and I don’t object to it. But don’t act like its changing the world. Any work volunteers put in is no different than building a mardi gras float. Its great for the party but it isn’t the peace corps. I wish people could have big parties and be content to accept that’s what they are. If you get together with a bunch of people to get wasted you are not, by definition, part of an important social movement. You are part of a big party. I am definetly concerned as well about the future of this thing. Its just too big and the word is out to the frat boys of the world. That many people, that many drugs…its a recipe for disaster, no matter how well intentioned.

  5. Bm is what you put into it. The facts you’ve laid are accurate for the most part, and it’s a shame that you got abused for what you wore. Your interpretation of what goes on is up for debate, but they are your opinions and of course you are entitled.

    The future of Burning Man is not the giant event on the playa with > 50,000 people. The future is the smaller regional events, or more simply people getting off of their asses and doing things. Whether it is art or open source software or volunteering at a soup kitchen, it’s about doing and participating.

    That happens as well at the event, but you have to look past the spectacle to see it.

  6. BM did inspire change in me, but that’s because of the work I put in. And it’s just me, after all.

    From what I’ve seen, the people who have been and didn’t enjoy their time there were already thoroughly engrossed in chasing their muse. If you are as weird as you say you are, know it and enjoy it, then BM may not be for you.

    If you suspect that you are weird and would appreciate a little nudge to start exploring that, then BM may be for you.

    I laughed at your essay, I thought it was accurate. Your redux was a nice attempt to take some of the sting out of it, but unnecessary, in my opinion.

    I’m curious. Why could you not stop crying on the way home? That would be nice if you could explain that.

  7. Stephen, you said, “Any work volunteers put in is no different than building a mardi gras float.”

    Uhm, Stephen, I was wondering if you could send me a link to the Mardi Gras float that costs a quarter million dollars and a hundred people a month to build like Uchronia did this year. My e-mail is domitron@yahoo.com. I never been to Mardi Gras, but I just wanted to see that float you were talking about. Thanks, man.

  8. He probably cried because he was dehydrated. Happens all the time out there. Grupmy, bitchy, crying people can often be helped by a salty snack and few glasses of water to get them re-hydrated.

  9. “Uhm, Stephen, I was wondering if you could send me a link to the Mardi Gras float that costs a quarter million dollars and a hundred people a month to build like Uchronia did this year. My e-mail is domitron@yahoo.com. I never been to Mardi Gras, but I just wanted to see that float you were talking about. Thanks, man.”

    Mardi Gras floats often take several months to build. I dunno the budget, but I’d guess a quarter mil isn’t too far off for some of them.


  10. Congratulations on discovering that rich white neo-hippies from San Francisco (aka 75% of Burning Man attendees) don’t like it pointed out that Burning Man by definition is a monument to unsustainable consumption, affordable only to the richest of the rich.

    Many of the people who fled the rest of America for this hip little bubble are just as regressive if you do not match their approved criteria. In many cases they are as “fascistic” as the people from whom they’ve fled. You’d think the mindboggling chutzpah would inspire a little actual self reflection but.. you’d be wrong. They moved here and go to Burning Man in order to AVOID the self reflection required of someone who doesn’t have an identity to slot into.

    I’m not at all surprised that FnFers reacted poorly.. they also don’t appreciate it if you harsh their mellow re: the palpable staleness of FnF parties. This is because many of them have their identities bound up in being a part of FnF and I’m quite sure that many of them have their identity similarly bound up in Burning Man. It’s not that either FnF or Burning Man are bad, it’s just that critique of the status quo is frowned on as insufficiently groovy.

    Thanks for providing the realists critique of Burning Man. While there are certainly things to recommend Black Rock City, in general it’s an expensive and not particularly pleasant place to visit.

    (yes.. that darwin.. who was randomly linked to your piece by the CEO of his company.. the internet is a small place..)

  11. Patrick, thanks for your original article *and* this follow-up. So many responses to the original echo my own thoughts on the matter, that I skipped commenting there since it would just be buried in all that “self-expression”. But I had to chime in on this page.

    I agree with regard to the general trailerpark tackyness of the creative expression to be found there. It is sad, but for most burners being naked/furlined/painted some color is all they can come up with. And you’re right about the nonacceptance by the cultists who insist you wear the Approved BM Styles®. They are as unimaginative and failed individuals as nazis in a rally.

    I’ve gone once, because I was involved in a theatrical project that chose to go there collectively (surprise surprise). As a person of color (brown) I was instantly aware of the relative homogenity of the event, something that white folx of course never have to think about (unless they find themselves in a social situation in which *they* are the color minority). If I ever go again, one of my costumed radical self-expressions will be to honor my ancestry and my culture… I will wear a maintenance jumpsuit, drag a garbage can, and sweep & mop the playa like my Latin family does all over California. Perhaps this might make some take notice.

    But I have to offer a defense for the apparent blancheness of the event. It isn’t that it is a self-segregating party. As has been mentioned, tickets are available to all. But there is a social dynamic at work which keeps it mostly white. Namely, Latinos are traditionally a thrift-minded and conservative culture -in order to gain acceptance in Angloamerica we have to be straight, upstanding, and on average wouldn’t be interested. Blacks (I theorize) also come from an oppressed culture which is kept separate, and so even with money they might not generally want to be part of that form of extreme dorkiness.

    After all, it really is only whitefolx (generally) who have the resources, leisure, and self-permission to do this kind of festival.

    It *is* America concentrated.

    I went once. The social and environmental crap was too overwhelming for me as well. I’d never go again, unless to chaperone a lover or family friend in their first BM trip. But in defense I must state that the event opens up your eyes -if they’re ready to open- to the limitless artistic potential, lack of education, warmth & generosity, and depravity & filth that America has to offer. In the end, like America it is what you make of it, but only withn the boundaries of what already exists there. And I’m not particularly interested.

    Happy travels!

  12. Comment from Patrick: 

    I never cried at Burning Man, only my narrator did. I think he was having a breakdown.

    As I said above in Redux:
    The alleged “bitter” and angry narrator of my piece was a character in a meta-fiction, not a real person, certainly not me.

    This is not an attempt to distance myself from the narrator’s comments or observations. I put the words in his mouth as they seemed true. I’m not trying to “cut and run.” I dislike lies and hypocrisy, not on principal but because they waste my time.

    Writing “redux” was not an attempt to backpedal or pull my punches. I just wanted to suggest a more relaxed reading to those who took the essay (and Burning Man itself) way too seriously.

    Of course, I knew my over-the-top commentary would enrage all the right people too. As many of you noted, the angry responses and commentary from some seemed to prove my point that a lot of burners are bullies and do not tolerate criticism at all-quite at odds with their alleged openness.

    In any case, this was my first blog essay and the range of responses was great.

    There is a great scene in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” in the presidential portrait room. Nixon is half-crazy at the height of Watergate. The end is near and he knows it. Looking at a portrait of JFK he talks bitterly about how much Kennedy was loved and says ” They look at you and dream of what they could be-but when they look at me they see what they are.”

    Though my parents were Kennedy Democrats, I find the dark and paranoid Nixon side of humanity far more real and interesting. This guided my focus in the essay.

    The other commentary that I fully agree with above is that Burning Man is a big freaky party. This is the truth. BM is not about art, or love or hippies or experimental communities. It’s a BIG, FREAKY PARTY.

    Let’s say it together: BIG. FREAKY. PARTY. There is no point in making it out to be anything else. Leave utopia to weeping saints and Burning Man to the rest of us pagans, pirates and sodomites.

    As an experiment in “radical self-expression” and utopian sharing, BM is a dismal failure. Most people don’t share much, and the self-expression is conformist and uninspired on the whole. However, as a raging BIG FREAKY PARTY, Burning Man has no serious rivals.

    I’ll remember Burning Man 2006 as the biggest and freakiest party I ever went to-an atomic Mardi Gras exploded in a mushrooming airburst over 40,000 fellow freaks. I just wish it had been weirder.

  13. Loved the review,you hit more than one nail on the head…I am a recovering burner if you will,cofounded Radio Free Burning Man in 94,and by my 6th year(the event having grown from 2,000 participants to nearly 35,000 during this stretch)I had grown so bored of the onslaught of ravetechnoelectronicdancebeatthumpthumpthump aesthetic and as you described bullies and yahoos(fashionazis?)

    My last two years at the event(99-00)I witnessed the station I had helped create go from a freeform anything goes broadcasting joy into an exclusive programmed formatted facsimile of just another radio station.I even had one kid as I walked in in 99 tell me I could not get an airshift unless I had “done” something for the station,and that he had worked on the floors of the building.I guess organizing the station 5 years earlier,then managing to keep it up and running 24/7 so he could have those eventual floors to work on wasn’t enough.Ah well.

    I worked DPW the last two years also, and soon found the time before and after the event was much more to my liking than the week of the actual thing,and I felt a sense of doom and dread during the week.

    At one time this event was (although still a party underneath it all) much more in line with an arts festival, it is a shame that it has degenerated into what it has become now,and I feel you described a lot of those aspects quite well,the cookie cutter “indivivuality” (how many megaphones do you really need spouting inanities) etc. etc.

    The one saving grace I have,is that in six years of attending, I only had to pay once for a ticket,got paid my last two years (which wasn’t a bad deal considering you got fed and such) and never spent more than a couple hundred dollars in any given year, so I might have actually come out the other side ahead ….

    Anyhow,there are other negative reviews out there,you just have to search em out…

    and one of my favorites;

    Anyhow, thanks for the good read.

  14. heh, well I thought this was going to be the year I finally went to burning man. I even bought a ticket, then a few days beforehand somehow I started to realize I was not going to like it. I was already thinking up strategies to avoid unpleasantnesses before it had even started (like defecting to the AA camp if all the partying got too much, bringing my own car so I could split early)… always a bad sign for a supposedly fun activity I think. Plus there was no way I was wearing a costume and in recent years my tolerance for stoned hippies who try to force me to act just like them has gone way, way, way down.
    thanks for validating my decision to not go. I sold my ticket on craigslist, went to the “Fuck Burning Man” punk show, and had an awesome weekend with no alkali dust anywhere.

  15. I recently wandered in to the den of some people who referred to themselves as “burners” but I didn’t really realize what the term meant. These people do a thing called “fire poi” in which they swing around chains and batons lit on fire, and breath and eat fire — I figured that’s what they meant by “burner.” But one of them did ask me if I knew of the Burning Man festival– I had vaguely heard of it but I didn’t have any solid first hand information on it, until now–thank you! This is what I suspected it might be. Sounds kind of horrifying, yet intriguing but… Something tells me there is no room for an older woman at one of these events anyway.

  16. Has anybody pointed you toward this site yet?


    No relation to our list. Yet. That might change. Ever been to ePlaya, Burning Man’s official board? I think you’ll find it an eye opener when you read posts like this one.


    You get to watch the author advocate killing 900 million people because he saw some muslim kids protesting on the news. None of the in-kids seemed to have a problem with that. This came in response to somebody’s attempt to set up a gathering for muslims on the Playa.

    An attempt to create a Jewish themed camp was greeted about as tolerantly


    Keep in mind that this is the same board where somebody was threatened with censorship by the mods because he questioned the 100% effectiveness of condoms in preventing AIDS


    The Burning Man LLC is not shy about silencing those saying things it doesn’t want to hear. It just doesn’t mind hearing a little antisemitism. That may be why the event is as lily white as it is. Somebody like me will take part, fool himself into thinking that he’s among friends and then get an earful of this dreck or something like it.


    Your title for that post was better than you knew. I can’t imagine going back.

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