Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Harveytown

Is Burning Man Really a Cult?

Is this really a peaceful celebration of freedom and art? Some at Burning Man still cling to this innocent, though naive, idea.

Little do the hardcore participants realize that in the past few years, Burning Man has morphed into much more than just an orgasmic week of sex, drugs, and music. Some would even go so far as to call this gathering a cult.

The dictionary describes a cult as a "devoted attachment to, or extravagant admiration for a person, principle, etc." An auxiliary to many cults is to create a utopian society, where the chosen have the riches of others bestowed upon them. In many cases, those utopian visions shatter into totalitarian societies.

Let's start with the riches. In order to attend, one must first pay anywhere from $100 to $250. And what do you get for your money? Nothing! Oh yeah, you get to pay for the privilege of camping out on a dusty desert floor, keeping your vehicle parked for about a week, on it's way to becoming permanently ruined with acidic playa dust. You have to spend even more money on food, water, camping gear, gas, costumes, trinkets, and other items to prove that you're a "participant." You get to subject yourself to the sometimes brutal and always unpredictable conditions of the weather and terrain that is the Black Rock Desert. On top of all this, there is an implied requirement to participate in the events planned by the Burning Man organization, or risk being labeled a "yahoo."

Often, you're asked to be a "volunteer." And, as in a cult, you are given a position within a carefully-structured hierarchy. Training sessions on how to be a good volunteer are required in a thinly-veiled attempt to make you into yet another drone, void of any free thought. If you are a "good" volunteer you may be rewarded with a promotion where you are then allowed to look down upon even more people than you did previously. One of the first volunteer jobs for many is becoming a "Greeter" at the main gate. A seemingly innocent job, but in reality, you are putting up a front for the thousands of others simply following in your footsteps.

Next thing you know you're a "Lamplighter," or perhaps you're training to move up in the ranks to become a "Ranger." Of course there is little compensation or thanks for volunteers, and they're constantly kept busy, so as not to notice the other experiences participants are having.

Lies are told to volunteers, participants, and the media alike. The Burning Man organization writes their own copy for the media, which allows them to selectively disseminate the "facts" as they see fit. For example, this year, it was widely-reported that Black Rock City would be back at the "12 mile" mark. Only after most everyone had already purchased their tickets did they inform us that we would be relatively at the same place as last year. Here comes another train.

In fact, many aspects of The Burning Man organization are troubling and dangerous. Inner members have their own set of terms and slang that set them apart from others, just as in some cults. The organization as a whole always seems to be in a state of confusion, which is to the benefit of their leading force. If they are always kept busy, even though confused, they don't have time to rise and revolt. In addition, many members of the organization have practically committed their lives (and their livelihood) to Burning Man. They live each day in anticipation and preparation for the next year's event.

And finally, there is the ritual. The central focus each year is the burning of a larger-than-life idol of a man, which is filled with explosives, insuring a dramatic spectacle to behold. On the night of the burn, everyone is summoned to the "idol" to observe and pay homage, as it is ritualistically set on fire. Many participants become so overcome with emotion and, dare I say, devotion, that they run in and through the fire, risking serious injury. Many "participants" appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol — or perhaps some other subtle form of mind control.

So what's to be done here in "Harveytown"? Are forced labor and spiked Kool-Aid just around the corner, as well as a new fleet of Rolls-Royces for Larry? The only solution to this grave situation is to start within. Our humble suggestion is to install cameras everywhere, to capture our "community" for the whole world to see. We also feel very strongly that the entire city needs to be fully informed of each and every decision wagered by the Burning Man organization, and that everything should be taken to a citizen vote. We built this city with our sweat, imagination, strength, money, an — let's not forget — art. That's what it's all supposed to be about. So, volunteer, and help organize, but resist the temptation to follow. This cult can be prevented.

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