Burning Man is so very wrong

September 3, 2014 Originally published on SFGate

Here’s what you need to know about Burning Man in this fine year of our unchecked chaos, 2014: Nothing.

I mean, just forget everything, all right? Whatever you’re heard, read, seen, rumored, teased, whispered, Facebooked, Instagrammed, linked to, thought about or had muttered in your general direction in an Uber fever dream anytime in the past month. Year. Decade.

Because it’s almost certainly wrong. Delightfully, hatefully, stupidly, shamelessly, deliberately, resentfully, innocently or even inadvertently, it doesn’t matter – there’s almost nothing the slightest bit accurate in what the modern media has said recently about the famed art/camping/dance/survival festival – now in its 28th year – happening right now out in the Nevada desert.

I’d say this is shocking, if it weren’t so common. And predictable. And boring.

It's not what you think. And it never is.

Trust me here. At the moment, there’s only one piece, Chris Taylor’s excellent, epically mounted defense over at Mashable (which, I humbly submit, contains many shades of what I’ve written about BM in the past) that’s the slightest bit true, and that’s only because he wrote it with the same impetus as I’m writing this – as a giant eye-roll to the naysayers, whiners, critics, grumpy old-timers and jaded hipsters who think they have a clue as to what the event is all about.

I’m looking at you, SF ChronicleNew York Times. The Bay Guardian and your shameless “Burning Man jumps the shark” clickbait. I’m also talking about your BFF and your snide co-worker too, or that one guy you overheard at that party drunkenly proclaiming that he totally hated Burning Man when he went six years ago and it’s so “over.” (I’d argue that the twee, pissy hipsters over at Gawker are probably most wrong of all, if they weren’t so adorable, like mangy puppies barking at a fire truck).

Me? This is my 12th burn in 14 years. I’ll tell you one thing: it has never, not even once, been the same experience twice. Name your metric: size, logistics, attitude, cost, art, adventure, music, friendships, hangovers, attendees, dust, food money sex drugs techno dubstep orgy art car oh just shut up and dance. It’s a hilarious, infuriating kaleidoscope of wayward, first-world creative energy and excess; nothing else like it exists anywhere on the planet (for better and worse) and nothing you can ever do can prepare you for the onslaught. As it should be. As is the whole point, really.

It’s like trying to describe sex to your cousin, the sullen teenaged Mormon virgin. Sex with God, that is. Sex with God, if God was a flame-throwing octopus dancing around a stripper pole on the moons of Venus, eating fistfuls of stars and pissing unicorns and smelling like bourbon and MDMA and organic beef jerky and sweat.

I get it, though. I get how easy it is to bash Burning Man, how ripe is the target, how irresistible to succumb to all the wild rumors, the tales of absurd debauchery, the obnoxious tech billionaires “ruining” everything, the pseudo-anarchy, the celebrity sightings and the drugs and ravers and filthy sex and whatever the hell else. Burning Man verily begs to be satirized, ridiculed, taunted from afar by the (generally terrified) huddled masses who’ve never been. It’s easy. Also, pointless. Telling.

Because there’s a terrific irony about denouncing Burning Man with anything resembling declarative authority: the more you mock it, the dumber you look. And the better the Godsex gets.

See, there is only one overarching, indisputable truth about Burning Man: You have to see it for yourself. You just have to go.

Then maybe you can say a few things, declare your opinion, try to capture it in stunned, dizzy blurts of annoying adjectives (see above). But you must be very careful. Because in so doing, you run right up against the other inviolable truth about Burning Man: It is different – wildly, astonishingly different – for every single participant. Every single time. Every single year. I promise you.

As for me, I’ll be posting my annual, brazenly amateur Burning Man photo gallery here on SFGate early next week. As usual and just like last year’s gallery (included above, as a teaser) it won’t come close to doing the event any sort of justice.

Which is OK. Which is exactly as it should be. How do you photograph a living, pulsing, screaming, dusty mass of barely controlled chaos that’s changing by the second and day and year? How do you depict of 68,000 beings in various stages of exhaustion and bliss, misery and wonder, sunburn and hallucination, orgasm and wail, dusty confusion and everything in between?

Everything you read, hear and see falls quite famously short. All anyone can ever do is point you, however futilely, toward that slippery flaming octopus sex god on the moon, and wink.

Mark Morford

About Mark Morford