Burning Man 2018 🔥

Monday, September 10, 2018 :: Tagged under: essay pablolife. ⏰ 8 minutes.

Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄

🎵The song for this post is Dancing On My Own, by Robyn. 🎵

I just got back from Burning Man. This was my second Burn, I didn't write extensively about the first. Here are some thoughts and reactions! 🔥🤷🏼‍♂️🔥

On the whole…

I had a great time! The Burn can be a harsh place for couples,1 and I think this bit Karen and I in my first Burn last year: we had plenty of great adventures, but we ran into a few differences in planning and executing, and I think we both felt a lot of pressure to ensure the other had a good time.

This year a few things changed:

I met some amazing people, saw a ton of fantastic art (bunch of photos below), connected more strongly with a few friends, and had space to reflect on my life, and this year specifically.

The whole thing is bonkers

I wrote last year

It's not easy to get a ticket, it's not easy to go, but if you think there's a path for you to go I think you should consider it.

and I still believe this. There's really nothing quite like it: it's one of the most creatively-packed, playful, loving environments I've ever been in. If you can get past the core criticisms around it (which are real, see next section) you can face literally any direction and see something inviting and inspiring. There's no "wrong" place to go, and if you have art you'd like to make, you'll find a home for it there.

If you're interested at all, get in contact with me and I'll give you all the resources I have 😄

It's worth criticism

Here's a linkdump if you want to hear from people who aren't me:

This [...] the reason that high-powered capitalists — and especially capitalist libertarians — love Burning Man so much. It heralds their ideal world: one where vague notions of participation replace real democracy, and the only form of taxation is self-imposed charity. Recall Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s op-ed, in the wake of the Obamacare announcement, in which he proposed a healthcare system reliant on “voluntary, tax-deductible donations.”


Burning Man foreshadows a future social model that is particularly appealing to the wealthy: a libertarian oligarchy, where people of all classes and identities coexist, yet social welfare and the commons exist solely on a charitable basis.

Of course, the wealthy can afford more, both in lodging and in what they “bring” to the table: so at Burning Man, those with more money, who can bring more in terms of participation, labor and charity, are celebrated more.

Jamie Zawinski, someone I appreciate very much, used to go in the early aughts and has written about and linked a lot of great pieces. He had gripes with their branding and photo policy in 2003, and linked an article about a Quiznos ad that had some fun with Burning Man culture. in 2015. He also mockingly linked a NYTimes article about someone building a luxury camping vehicle specifically for Burning Man.

For my part

Much of it feels a bit too much like a party for privileged people for me to believe too strongly in the ideals it espouses. To be clear: when it comes to the organizers or DPW, I don't at all doubt their intentions or their efforts, and think they do an extraordinary job. I'll also say: parties are great! And if you and/or your community has resources, you can do great things! I'll finally say that obviously, a lot of people from different backgrounds (many less privileged ones) come to Burning Man and make it happen. Even with all that in mind, to me it still feels a bit too much like a cake that gets labelled nutritionally as a vegetable.

I loved this article on how challenging it is to get obscenely wealthy people to critically examine their role in the systems they hope to offset with their philanthropy. They clam up and get defensive if you ask them about harm reduction instead of "good" maximization. They're happy to be celebrated philanthropists after they've made their money and built some rockets for fun, but they're not so happy to look in the mirror if they or their activities might be implicated in it. I'm just one person, but I would have liked to see more internal reflection and self-awareness from the folks at Burning Man on where and how it practices inclusion and exclusion, and how make its impacts more wholly positive, and lasting outside of playa.

In fairness, I feel this way about almost every community, and I don't have much hope it'll meaningfully change. The Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's house. People love their party too much. From the Jacobin article:

It doesn’t seem like Burning Man can ever be salvaged, or taken back from the rich power-brokers who’ve come to adore it and now populate its board of directors. It became a festival that rich libertarians love because it never had a radical critique at its core; and, without any semblance of democracy, it could easily be controlled by those with influence, power, and wealth.

My thinking is I'll look for smaller festivals and communities that sound more like what Burning Man advertises itself as: this comic on the Wasteland Weekend describes a much smaller community of people doing a lot of what's advertised at Burning Man: living out characters and assuming an alternative identity, providing experiences for others, coping with harsh circumstances. It's probably easier to get closer to authenticity with 4,000 people instead of 70,000 and when your brand (and its claims of greatness) is smaller and not invaded by tech bros. I'll keep my eyes peeled.

Photos, art

Burning Man ticket. Click for full size.

The ticket, moments before arriving.

Sign saying Honestly The Robots Have Already Fucking Won. Click for full size.

Good, thematic, true caption.

Shish car bob. Click for full size.

One of the more fun art pieces, "A Night at the Climb-In." Colloquially known as the "shish car-bob", it was closed early because it was way, way too dangerous.

me in a throne. Click for full size.

This little throne was cute; especially since it faced The Man, so someone got a great view of the man burning when it happened.

Baas art car. Click for full size.

This is Baas, an art car of a giant sheep. He's wearing a tutu today.

Sheep Thrills sign. Click for full size.

A sign hanging on the inside lol

Creepy marionettes. Click for full size.

Both years I've been there have been these really creepy marionettes.

Luff me some ice cream. Click for full size.

Found people giving out ice cream on my birthday

Da bears. Click for full size.

Da bears

Cute graffiti. Click for full size.

I thought this was cute



Karen in a tub. Click for full size.

Karen, fresh from our puzzle-solving

some art is subtle. Click for full size.

how subtle

Shark. Click for full size.

Live every week like it's shark week

Karen and I smiling. Click for full size. And now we pose. Click for full size.

We found a fluffy blue spot to hang in

Flag saying Consider Keeping an Aquarium. Click for full size.

I decorated my bike to have this flag

Sweet jellyfish. Click for full size.

The jellyfish was pretty gorgeous

Mousetraps, from a distance. Click for full size. Mousetraps, closer. Click for full size.

This one was pretty great: deep inside there were patches you could reach for, but you had to reach past mousetraps to get them. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Samurai. Click for full size. Milliways. Click for full size.

Boom box. Click for full size.

This was one of my favorites, though not much to look at: called the boom box, you plugged in your own audio and lay flat in it. Then you heard it in your ribs.

1. ^ Examples are here, here, and here.

Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to join my mailing list, drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄