The 10 Best Burning Man Hate Reads
This week, tens of thousands of people will build a temporary city in the unforgiving Nevada desert. Free from capitalism and driven by principles of radical self-reliance, they will create a microcosm of the society they left behind—complete with paid concierge services, flown-in models, and semi-clad class warfare. Welcome to Burning Man, baby.
What began as a bonfire in 1986 is now basically just Davos without clothes, according to no less a source than Google cofounder (and longtime burner) Sergey Brin. Burning Man has more costumes than Liberace, more billionaires per capita than Malibu's Carbon Beach, and is "a little bit like a corporate retreat," per the org's director of communications. The annual "counter culture" festival built on free love and futurist jargon has become the ultimate capital of conspicuous-inconspicuous consumption. And like all people who love to hate on Burning Man, there is nothing I enjoy more than reading about Burning Man.
Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the essentials.
"At Burning Man, the Tech Elite One-Up One Another" (The New York Times)
Nick Bilton's 2014 story on the gentrification of the festival is a veritable classic of Burning Man #hatereads—and arguably responsible for bringing the backlash into the mainstream. It also introduced millions of Times subscribers to the billionaire tech moguls "one-upping one another in a secret game of I-can-spend-more-money-than-you-can and, some say, ruining [the festival] for everyone else," as well as the concept of paid Burning Man "Sherpas" staffing high-end camps.
"A Sherpa's Tale" (Burners.me)
This is the now-infamous anonymous account of a paid Burning Man "Sherpa" working at a multi-million dollar camp "plug-and-play camp" where even the "public dome" had VIP options. So much for radical inclusion! The piece was originally posted on Facebook and later hosted on Burners.Me, an unofficial nonprofit site "made by Burners, for Burners." The account went pretty viral after it was first posted in September 2014 and remains another classic of the genre, for good reason. An excerpt:
The product that these camps, like the one I worked in, sell is an experience to last a life time. If you can afford the $17,000 vacation, you will be provided the best and most comfortable facade of the burning man festival Your purchase will make sure that you not be bothered by all those time consuming tasks like cooking, cleaning, building, and whatever else the lower class citizens do, in order to enjoy the best party EVER. As our customer/client/guest you will fly in to the city, be picked up by a hired driver in one of the shuttles we provide. Our guest will then arrive to a beautifully decorated room filled with everything they need, including a real cow skin rug and lamp with a dimmer switch. The guests will be fed, watered, dressed, cleaned up after, driven around on art cars, and basically be waited on for all possible needs by a team of people that are hired to do so.
Last year, Cosmopolitan provided the world with a great journalist service: his-and-hers accounts from two couples at the orgy dome, "an air-conditioned sex haven where guests can visit in groups of two or more." I now know what Eiffel Towering means as a sex term, which is something I can never, ever unlearn (no matter how hard I try).
Did you hear that clicking noise? It's the sound of dozens of tech moguls collectively changing the "current location" on their Raya profiles to Black Rock City. But for some, like Rahul Sonnad, CEO of Tesloop, plebeian Tinder will have to suffice. This deeply creepy story is a very short account of how Sonnad, whose sustainable travel startup does city-to-city rides exclusively in Teslas, has been looking for a Burning Man date on Tinder. It is a 250-word irony-free zone that reads like a sponsored post (is it actually a sponsored post? we don't know), praising Sonnad's creativity and spontaneous approach. For those wanting to learn more about his efforts, he also has a pitch deck about it available online. Because of course he does.
(Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management via Flickr)
"A week inside Burning Man, the utopian A-List beloved festival deep in the Nevada desert" (The Daily Mail)
God bless the Daily Mail for sending a correspondent to Burning Man. This story is everything you want it to be, and more. Despite "absolutely detesting festivals," the writer finds that she loves Burning Man "beyond compare," and chronicles her experiences in great detail. This is mainly done by giving detailed answers to seemingly obvious questions ("Why do people wear goggles and masks?" "Why does everyone dress like a hedonistic Disney character?" "What do you eat?"), paired primarily with celebrity Instagram posts from the playa.
"Photos of tech workers having the time of their lives at Burning Man" (Business Insider)
This slideshow needs no description, so instead here are two (real) photo captions: "Will O'Brien, an angel investor and chief operating officer of cloud-analytics platform Keen IO, couldn't resist the chance to fly direct to Burning Man's pop-up airport in 2016" and "Asher Blumberg, a senior product designer at mobile app startup Juxta Labs, and cofounder of a cruelty-free cosmetic glitter line, beat the heat at 2016 Burning Man."
"Why the Rich Love Burning Man" (Jacobin)
Over at our favorite Socialist quarterly, Keith A. Spencer delves into what exactly makes Burning Man so attractive to a certain breed of very rich, libertarian-leaning tech bro—and what that adoration means for the real world.
Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz's passionate 2013 defense of billionaires at Burning Man is another seminal entry in the pantheon of Burning Man #hatereads. It is also weirdly endearing, largely because of his unhidden desire to belong (honestly, who doesn't relate?). Spoiler: Burning Man is so magical that a week on the playa once ended with Moskovitz receiving a Facebook friend request from Facebook rival Tyler Winklevoss, despite their "tangled history." We honestly couldn't make this up.
(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
"A Brief History of Who Ruined Burning Man" (Burning Man Journal)
A brief history of who has "ruined" Burning Man over the years, from the strangers who showed up to watch the Man burn with no knowledge of the actual principles at the very first bonfire in 1986, to the halcyon days of 2003 to 2006, when weekend warriors showing up just for the second half of the week were killing the vibe, all the way through the billionaire ruiners of recent years. In summation:
Burning Man has been ruined 27 out of 30 times.
On two occasions, it was ruined twice in the same year. (This is a conservative estimate. Other models suggest Burning Man has been ruined three or four times in a single year.)
In total, 12 different groups (that we know of) have done the ruining.
The only actual physical damage done to Burning Man was committed by people trying to protect it
A short piece on how Black Rock City's private airport functions, because nothing says radical self-reliance like not having to fly commercial, or worse yet, sit in playa traffic like a normal.
"Playa Events 2017" (Burningman.org)
This is not a story about Burning Man, but rather an actual list of activities slated for Burning Man 2017. It is not from McSweeney's. It is not satire. Enjoy.
Also: @BMantraffic, the official Burning Man traffic account from popular micro-blogging platform Twitter.
Aerial view of Black Rock City. (Photo by Kyle Harmon via the Creative Commons on Flickr).