Kids, darkwads, dubstep and jerks – A little feedback to the Borg on Burning Man 2011

There’s a fascinating thread over at the Burning Man Blog inviting feedback on this year’s burn. The Burning Man Organization (variously known as BMORG or the Borg) asked for feedback, and got an earful – on everything from the joys of big art and gifting to the miseries of unwanted noise and the hellacious exodus ordeal.

Here’s my two cents:


– Eight burns since ’96 (covered it for the L.A. Times back in the day, then fell down the rabbit hole and never looked back)
– Five burns since ’05 with our son (now 11) and daughter (now 10)
– Second year with a major art installation (XyloVan)
– First year with a mutant vehicle (Xylovan–>JANUS)
– Residents of Kidsville
– Virgins hosted – numerous
– Art car passengers transported – too many to count
– Darkwads almost run over – too many to count. You can’t legislate common sense.
– Moop collected – too much to weigh.

Forget it, Jake, it’s Burning Man.

This year was, like all the years before it, the Best Ever, thanks to the massive creativity of the artists, the warmth and intelligence of the great number of burners we shared time with, and hell – the weather was pure butter.

From reading the entire thread, BM2011 also seems to have been the source of a huge amount of glowing compliments, anxious complaints and bitter rants – as it always is …

We hit exodus about an hour after the Temple burn, escaped to 447 two hours later, and vowed to repeat the schedule next year. It beats sweating through 7 hours of pulsing.

Pro tip: Turn off your engine if you’re not moving. You’ll save gas, wear and tear on your car, the environment and your patience.

Regarding kids at Burning Man: To all the kid-haters and the would-be nannies who worry about their precious little sensibilities being ravaged by sex, drugs and rock’n’roll – settle the hell down.

Parents are responsible for their kids’ preparation and their experiences. The parents I know have this well in hand.

The vast majority of BRC’s smutty content and activities flew WAY over our kids’ heads the first two years, and anything that didn’t could be gently explained away as “grownups are weird” or “wow, looks like those people are really drunk.”

We gave them each the actual Birds ‘n’ Bees talk at a good age (I filled my son in atop a ziggurat at 4:30 and Esplanade in ’08) and afterward, we remained open to questions and discussions, and occasionally explained that, well, sometimes grownups do weird things in the name of sex. They get it, and they’ve moved on with that very understanding to enjoy the burn every single time.

They remain inquisitive and wise beyond their years, and after seeing them work (nearly) tirelessly alongside us to build, run and strike our camp and our mutant vehicle, they are the Best Burners Ever, and still declare BRC to be their Favorite Place on Earth.

Maid Marian and Larry Harvey have been on record from even before BM reached the playa as saying that kids and families have a place at Burning Man. Kidsville is now the largest village in BRC, with more than 2000 residents. We are raising all of our kids to be strong, self-reliant, creative, generous and resilient – and good Burners to boot.

Got a problem with ‘em? Just think of them as little shirtcockers and look the other way.

Sound: To the haters of dubstep, sound camps and assholes – “radically inclusive” means you take what you might consider to be the bad with the good. Other people see it completely opposite and think everyone complaining about the noise is too old or lame.

BRC is NOT some precious paradise. It’s a chunk of the human race like any other – just one with the financial and technical wherewithal to assault your senses beyond the point of pain – and sometimes sprinkled with selfish jerks.

Example: I called out (rather gently) to two darkwads who strayed into the path of our vehicle one night (and would have been run over if I hadn’t been stone-cold sober with my foot covering the brakes), “Hey, get some lights on, friends. I can’t see you and I almost ran you down.” Their reply, a shouted “FUCK OFF!!!”

I had to shrug. Maybe they had gotten the message one time too many that night. Maybe next time they’ll at least put on a moop-y glow necklace and avoid being flattened by speeding bicyclists. Maybe they’ll be run over.

You do what you can to help those who need it, try not to infringe on anyone else’s right to have a good time, and pray that the universe will watch over the idiots – or at least that they’ll get a good spanking from Dr. Darwin, rather than a coffin.

Regarding noise camps – If you want to sleep, camp somewhere quiet (Kidsville rules in this regard, as does Hushville). Earplugs are cheap.

Regarding loud mutant vehicles – Welcome to Burning Man, kiddies. Our mutant vehicle had a very soft sound system since the mikes for our xylophones pick up and amplify all the noise around them, we keep it tuned low. A couple of times people ran up and said “Thank you for not playing fucking techno!”

On the other hand I had to give props to two mutant vehicles I saw built on monster-truck chassis – each had massive turbocharged engines, 1000+watt sound systems, roaring propane jets and a bevy of sparkle ponies aboard – and everyone looked like they were enjoying themselves. Just had to plug my ears, turn down our mikes a bit – and smile until they passed.

On Sunday night, we were seated atop our vehicle far back from the Temple burn perimeter, so missed the offending dubstep assault, but it sounds like those involved handled it as best they could.

There’s little to nothing BMORG can do to legislate assholism, any more than they can legislate common sense and respect. We can only work as a community to change behavior that offends all of us, in the best ways we know how.

But I have a few bits of useful feedback for BMORG that I offer humbly here:

– Tickets: Next year’s sales promise to be a chaotic and potentially unfair mosh pit of opportunistic scalping. I think we all hope that we’ll have the same even chance of buying a ticket at face value as every other legitimate Burner – but I think we all realize that unless the BMORG and the community band together to discourage scalping, huge blocks of tickets will be scarfed up very early and resold at a premium, greedy assholes will prosper, and good Burners will be shut out from BM2012.

Any suggestions?

– Exodus: Not everyone can enter or leave in the wee/off hours, and obviously thousands leave at the same time, so multi-hour passage is guaranteed. BMORG – please heed the suggestions above for better staffing on the gates/greeter stations (and everyone else – do volunteer to gate-check and greet – it’s fun and needed) and next time, entrance and exodus may be easier.

– Driving on 447: Everyone, please, for the love of God – SLOW THE FUCK DOWN AND DON’T PASS. You’ll get there. Better to arrive 15 minutes later than hoped than to cause anyone (including yourself) to have a heart attack, roll their vehicle, catch fire, die or all of the above.

Please consider 447 to be part of the playa – with its own rules designed to ensure everyone has a safe/sane burn. BMORG – is there anything you can coordinate with LEOs in Washoe/Pershing/NHP to enforce this?

– Paper waste: Greeters – Please don’t give out booklets to every single burner in a car. Ask how many are needed. We were two adults and a kid at the gate (my wife and son came up later) and I had to gently push back or we would have had two extra and completely useless fistfuls of paper on our hands. One per family is good, one or two per small camp is good, one per virgin is good. Everything else – overkill.

– Cellphone reception: This year’s setup was pretty nice – you can only get good reception later at night towards the edge of camp – enough to let people pass critical messages out to latecomers, but not so much that people are texting each other on the open playa.

– Educating the community – particularly newcomers: Every year, the same gripes about “non-mutated” vehicles from people who don’t realize there are dozens of DPW service vehicles or transports for the disabled that weren’t decorated because DMV realizes their owners have better things to do.

Every year, the same slew of moop, cigarette butts, bottles left in the potties and feathers and sequins in the wind.

And every year, people learn, and BMORG does a great job of educating them via the Survival Guide and JRS. The clueless usually get a clue or two by week’s end, and return to the playa wiser and cooler than before.

Will the population bump to 70,000 wreak some changes and unwanted pressures? Sure.

But in the 15 years I’ve been a citizen, I’ve seen BRC grow in beautiful, sustainable and healthy ways, and I’m not the least bit worried.

Everyone, have faith:- the community will continue to grow, enrich itself with the contributions of new burners and old, and evolve, as it must.

Next year will be the Best Burn Ever.

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