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Sunday, Sept. 28, 2003 | link
I've never been to Burning Man, but I do not like it. I do not! How can I judge something I haven't experienced firsthand? First of all, if you have to ask, I suspect you're already a Burning Man crazy and this probably isn't going to go well. But trust me on this, I JUST KNOW. I live in San Francisco! I've seen the books, the websites, the endless photographs. I've been waylaid at BBQs and Bar Mitzvahs by people eager to share all the "amazing stories." But nothing I've seen or heard sounds remotely appetizing. No way!
There are some talented people whom I love and respect that happen to go to Burning Man. They tell me they've seen great things there -- motorized couches and margarita blenders powered by bicycles and ... pure love. But those are the exceptions to what I feel is the general rule of Burning Man, i.e., the whole "there are no spectators" thing.
I've been to drum circles, participated in trust exercises, hugged entire groups of people at once, played parachute, rode an earth ball, eaten homemade flat bread -- I had to, I grew up in Marin County. And I know, from experience, that while "no spectators" sounds great in theory, in practice it is almost always unpleasant or compromised or embarrassing.
I don't want to go to a restaurant chefed by someone who doesn't really know how to cook, or wear a pair of knickers stitched together by someone who can't follow a pattern, or walk down a flight of stairs built by someone who can't swing a hammer. And for the same reason, I don't want to see art or listen to music or jam to some poetry created by someone who has no aptitude for it. I WANT there to be a distinction between artists and spectators. Having a safe space for any and all to create is nice ... in kindergarten. But now that we're older and we've spent some years honing our interests and skills, we can divide up the labor. It's okay!
Maybe as an editor I'm biased, but I believe there is a reason we separate the wheat from the chaff, that there is value to using earned skill and experience being to select the best there is and then rework it, carving away the weak elements until it's even better. I'm happy that there's space for the masses to share their raw, unfiltered content -- the whole wide web, for instance -- but the bulk of what I actually read is edited content, or at least the product of tidy, talented, self-editing writers.
And I believe that just as good writing tends to come from good editing, good art comes from good curating. I may not agree with every curator's decisions, but locating a curator (or gallery or friend or BLOGGER) whose tastes I agree with is a lot easier than sorting through all the shit by hand. I used to have time for all that when I was little, but now I don't have the patience for it. I'm busy! I have THINGS TO DO! (Like write in my unedited online web diary!)
Because wading through unfiltered, unedited content is overwhelming and time consuming, it just is. Sometimes you'll luck into something good, but most of the time, what you'll find is just ... the worst, boring or pointless or self-indulgent or degraded or lazy. You can trick yourself into thinking the experience of "opening yourself up" to anything described as art is intrinsically worthwhile, but mostly it's a waste of time, like weight training with no weight: you're just flapping your arms around.
Which isn't to say that I think people don't have the right to express themselves in whichever way they want or need to. I celebrate creative individuality! I do! But I don't have to pay hundreds of dollars and drive a whole day for the privilege -- I can experience it any time I want on Muni.
Day-to-day individuality -- the kind of bag you carry, the color of your hair, the books you read, the events you attend, the things you climb, the stuff you say -- that's the kind of expression of self that interests me. The "vacation individuality" thing that Burning Man represents to me, the sort of binge approach to personal expression, just kind of freaks me out. It comes off feeling too forced, too self-conscious, and even a little frantic, like, We have to jam a whole year's work of naked bike riding and polyamory into just one week? Fuck! Where's the hell is my silver makeup??? My nippleless vegan-leather bra? My car lovingly modified into a gigantic COCK? Because we need to MOTOR! Stat! The clock is TICKING!
Plus for an event that is all about celebrating individuality, people sure do look a lot alike, and it's a look that doesn't seem to change much. A photo of someone at BM 1995 is indistinguishable from one snapped at BM 2003. It's all oversized cowboy hats and crayzee pink fur islands floating on vast, tanned flesh -- over and over and again. Is that modified rave stuff still considered "different" or even "crazy"? Or is this a nostalgia thing? I don't get it.
Plus-plus I hate the heat. And that particular kind of griminess that comes from dust, coating your hands and muddying the backs of your knees, it just wears at me. And I'm completely over, over and over, the drug thing. And while I think public nudity is a-okay, I'm not in to the tee-hee, self-congratulatory, still-have-to-wear-shoes strain found at Burning Man, where everyone, EVERYone has a camera. So many cameras!
So clearly, clearly I am not Burning Man material. But I'm in no way suggesting the world needs to be rid of it. No! BM serves a real, valuable purpose: It keeps the crazies busy. They spend entire months plotting and scheming, raising funds and building their structures. And the actual week itself is one of my very favorite times to be in this city. While Burning Man rages, the bars, cafes, and grocery stores of San Francisco are quiet and gentle and uncrowded, as though all the venom has been sucked out of the city to burn itself out in the desert.
So, thank you Burning Man! I never, ever want to meet you, but I thank you.