Burning Man: the Good, the Bad, the Mystery

In 1986, a San Francisco native, Larry Harvey, created a 9-foot tall wooden sculpture of a man and burned it at a nearby beach with his friends. Now, over 30 years later, the tradition has continued on in the deserted “Black Rock City” in Nevada where close to 70,000 attendees congregate for the 9 day event. Every year, the festival creates a giant semi-circle form as people from all over the world come in to celebrate the art and culture that surrounds this re-newly built city. When you think of Burning Man, however, what stance do you take: it’s a celebration of art and expression or it’s a lawless land that people use as an excuse to party without limits?

The intention of Burning Man is to celebrate self-expression, civic responsibility, art, and culture. There are 10 core principles that the “burners” live by during the festival. These rules vary from non-exclusion to banning of any type of advertising on festival grounds. While tickets go for just above $400, money is not a factor while in attendance as the only means of bargaining is through trading with other burners. When packing for the festivals, people bring everything they could possibly need for survival for the duration they are there. The list of items to bring should include protection from the frequent sand storms.

Burning Man is a whole new way of life during the festival as people are encouraged to freely to express themselves in any way, shape, or form including nudity, costumes, changing of names, and any artistic factor you choose to bring to the table. Attendees form small themed communities with the shelters they build or bring where they throw parties from every hour of the day and large creative structures are built and scattered throughout the grounds. (link with example pictures included below)

While this may seem like all fun and games, there is a darkside to the madness much like the inescapable reality of life. When we picture Burning Man, we see the amazing art and expression, however, the crime of Burning Man is hardly ever mentioned. In fact, one girl fell victim to a brutal rape and assault as she was drugged, strangled and raped back in 2012. When news broke about this incident, word got out that Burning Man does not provide rape kits for potential victims. Furthermore, the statistics of the 2017 Burning Man concluded that there were 179 arrests all related to rape, larceny, arson, and the possession or sale of drugs. Keep in mind that these are only the crimes that were caught or reported and there may be a significant amount more than the statistics prove.

These conflicting views of the festival came into play for me personally as it became known that the Dean of women at my high school attended the festival every year. When this rumor was confirmed, the Dean lost the respect of many students as she came to be seen as hypocritical. In everyday life, we are expected to conform to society’s standards and laws. While Burning Man is supposed to be a place of freedom and an escape from reality, there is no escaping those people who use this freedom as an excuse to fuel their inhumane behaviors. So, this begs the question: is there really an escape from the harsh reality?

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Anna Grzybowski

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