December 10th, 2010  |  Filed under Spirituality

Power Rangers

December 10th, 2010  |  Filed under Spirituality

Photo: Rygg Larsen

Who are the Millennial Burners, those who came of age alongside Burning Man itself? Is their experience different in any fundamental way from that of the X-ers and Boomers who joined the party at the same time? Is there a distinction at all?

In some ways, Burning Man is such a radical thing that it doesn’t matter who you are while you’re there. Your story starts at chapter 1 when you ring that bell and roll in the dust for the first time.

I don’t care what year it is or how old you are; your first arrival at Burning Man was, is, or will be weird. If you have been to Burning Man, or if your buddy has, chances are you’ve heard the playa compared to the moon or Mars. The playa has been that way for about 10,000 years, since Lake Lahontan dried up, and it has been the site of Burning Man for the 20-odd years since it earned its capital B and M. The place itself is so breathtaking, you won’t recognize the planet on which you live.

But the Floating World of Black Rock City has changed a lot. Burning Man has been around long enough for it to have distinct generations. They overlap, of course, and they’re riddled with exceptions, as is any lump definition of large groups of people, but Burning Man is its participants, and it’s pretty clear that Burning Man has gone through several phases. It was a family affair on a beach, and then it was an anarchical circle of wagons in the desert, and now it’s the 10th largest city in Nevada.

Photo: Kya Williams

Anybody at any age who first came to Burning Man in the last ten years has a radically different relationship to the festival than does someone whose first burn was twenty years ago. That’s one way of looking at it. Burning Man, as an organization and as a people, has been deeply engaged with those differences all along.

But your age, or your “life experience,” or your location in history, those are immutable traits, lenses through which you interpret everything, and there’s a new generational perspective coming to the playa. The Millennials are growing up, and we’re flocking to Burning Man for all kinds of reasons.

I’d love to know what those reasons are. Mine seem to change every day.

I’m interested in everyone’s reasons for coming to Burning Man, though. I think the most salient thing about going to Burning Man has been successfully boiled down to the question “Why Do You Do What You Do?” Burning Man asks you this question constantly the whole time you are there. The Center Camp WDYDWYD gallery is my favorite destination on the playa, and I always try to grasp some generational trends in the answers, just for the sake of trying.

Photo: Mischa Steiner

There may be no such trends. I’m ready to accept that. But I yearn to understand what has driven my peers to come to this festival. For virtually our whole lives, Burning Man has always happened. We’ll never get to say that we were a part of the beginning of it, because we weren’t even an ingredient in the boiling cultural mix out of which it bubbled in the first place. Even so, Burning Man is still relevant. It is bigger than ever. Why is that? Do Burning Man’s youngest participants find the same things in it that the founders planted there, or have we given it a new meaning?

I’m not just asking Millennials. I’m asking anyone who sees the epic reach of Burning Man across generations. What do you think?


20 Responses to “Power Rangers”

  1. Jon Mitchell Says:

    Thanks for reading! If my posts make you happy, follow me on Twitter @JonMwords. You can contact me or find my virtual self at http://about.me/jonmitchell.

    So? What do you think?

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  2. Elizabeth Says:

    Thank you very much for this-
    I am a first time burner going for 2011 “rite of passage” (as it only seemed appropriate I go this year, the theme practically mandated it),
    And I was having worried feelings as to how I could possibly fit into this thing that has been going long before I was even a dream.
    Its a worrying thing, but I feel better to see that even so, Burning Man is still open to the younger generation :)

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  3. Mitchell Says:

    Burning Man is honestly the only place I feel at home. People in the default world by and large keep themselves locked up inside their own minds, afraid to take chances, afraid to take risks. Although I would do anything for a time machine to go visit the Playa in 96, anyone who says the burn has lost its magic has lost their mind.

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  4. Kat Says:

    Personally, Im unsure where I fit in the generational timelines. My birth year of 1982 dictates Im part of Generation Y but I find that I dont seem to embrace alot of the things my generation has (the entitlement, the “everyone wins, no one loses” teachings that apparently came through the school system here in the US around that time).

    Either way, I think that I found Burning Man in the most fitting way possible — through artwork and helping another person out. In 2006, I would help a soon-to-be-friend get through one leg of his journey to the playa, with him transporting my art to the playa for me in exchange. Met an awesome person it seems and we became friends after this.

    Come 2007, I was on the way on this crazy journey with my friend and the rest probably is history.

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  5. Mayor GKOTU Says:

    Burning Man is the one place I don’t stand out as ‘the weirdest person in the room’.

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  6. Anna Moore Says:

    First as an identifier, I was born in 1975, which puts me at the tail end of Gen X. But the Gen X stereotypes never seemed to fit me and my brethren, and neither to the Gen Y ones. So there you have it.

    My first burn was in 2001 when, at 25,000 citizens, it was already well beyond the anarchic circle of wagons. I went again the following year, and then not again until this past year when the city was twice the size as when I left it. It was an interesting juxtaposition. Initially, the playa felt not quite the same. Like dreaming of your lover but he looks a little different. Visually, it was simply more vast and more dense. But that which filled the dense vastness was the same beautiful cacophony I remembered. It was a little unsettling in that there seemed to be more people who were all about display — about putting themselves out there in an almost confrontational or aggressive manner for visual/aural consumption by others. This was a very different vibe than when I was first there, and the prominent intention of self-display seemed to be out self-expression and a desire to connect with others. So this pastyear, while on the one hand feeling like I’d come home again, I also felt a little off initially. But the unease didn’t last. By the end of the week, after exploring my home again and connecting with others, it felt as though I lifted up the edges of that confrontational impression and found again the genuine, authentic spirit of the playa underneath.

    As for why I go to Burning Man? Like you, the reasons change. But one big reason is for inspiration to take with me into the default world. For the knowledge that that which I think is impossible, is not. I wrote about it in my own blog (a theater blog) this year. You should check it out: http://yearofplays.blogspot.com/2010/09/burning-man-2010-metropolis.html

    Thanks for writing, Jon. I’m liking what you’re exploring.

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  7. jean andre vallery Says:

    I’ve been hitch hiking off and on since 1968 my last trip was last october from El Centro California to Richmond Va in 2009.I’m off road in many louisanna working to save for my next trip to burning man, wounded knee then missoula montana. Then back down to brownsville texas for a tequila break. anyone on the road as long as
    have looks for family, family of the road.
    It would be great to blend in as another invisable spirit that I have always been at this years burning man 2011.

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  8. scarabin Says:

    i’m seeing a ton of ravers growing up and moving to BRC.

    it’s a natural segue– party lifestyle, similar values… whether stuck up burners like to admit it or not, burning man is the most PLUR place on the planet

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  9. Blitz Says:

    Burning Man is another world. Next year will mark my 2nd decade coming home to the Playa.

    Change is the only constant and there has been much. The art and people are among the most amazing I’ve ever experienced and the reason I keep returning home each year. I hope that will continue.

    There has been over the last several years an exponentially growing population of spectators and partiers. Of course the parties on the Playa are epic. I love them. However, it appears the more the main stream gets wind of BM, the more spectators flock to the Playa to get laid and party. Yes BM is about fabulous parties, raves, dj’s, sex and drugs, it always has been.

    BM is built by it’s citizens. It is about creativity and gifting among many other selfless ideals. There has been an overwhelming influx of spectators coming to the Playa wanting, expecting and taking. The concern is, if this continues, there will be a sea of people behind their cameras looking on. At nothing. Because there will be nothing to see, everyone is spectating and no one is participating.

    Change is inevitable.

    See you on the Playa!

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  10. Natallie Says:

    I hoop! 2011 will be my first :D I learned of the Burn on my own through youtube & instantly felt like I had fam that Id never met. Not long after that I met my newest best friend who had burned twice & hasnever felt o at home. Shes like myself in so many ways, we have so much in common & we’re ‘different’ in our small town…I guess,I just cant wait to feel like maybe I do belong somewhere…In a world where my thoughts & actions, interests & hunger for creativity can thrive without bondaries…

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  11. Natallie Says:

    …another thing……Any time I hear Burningman, it makes me feel like Im missing something…Makes me wonderwhere the phrase “You dont miss what you dont know” evercame from…See you next year!!

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  12. Luscious Passionberry Says:

    Cool little article, thank you. It’s great to give BM some headspace in the offseason.

    For me (born ’86, like TTitD), it is obviously many things; each year the mix is something slightly different (Rites will be my 4th consecutive).

    Firstly, it is the best and longest party I attend all year, every year. As a friend and campmate articulated, it is a wonderful place and space to spend time with friends when no one has anything to do but make camp function and hang out. There are no default world stresses or responsibilities to weigh you down or hold you back. Because of this, it is the Funnest Place on Earth.

    However, that is not the reason I intend to go back for the foreseeable future. Each year on playa I feel like I learn more about myself and feel more clear about who I am and what I want out of this life. Another friend and campmate said that she feels healed by being on playa, and I feel that, too. I think it has to do with being in such an extreme environment where most of your identifications and compensations are taken away. You must confront yourself, and good things happen when you do.

    My guess is that this quality is more common among my generation. I would imagine that Xers and Boomers more often have a better sense of who they are and what they want, although BM probably selects for seekers vs. the general population. I’m not sure this is a generational trait as much as a life experience trait, so maybe I’ve missed the point of the article. All I can say is I don’t really have the perspective to say either way.

    In any case, Burning Man rules. A big Mahalo with Aloha to each and every Burner that makes it what it is, and that means You! =D

    -LPB

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  13. KushMeister Says:

    I’ll be 53 years old tomorrow, and as a birthday present to myself, I will be attending my first Burn next summer!
    I lost my 15 year old business about 18 months ago, due to the economic crash, and have been a bit disillusioned, and a little burnt out since.

    I dunno, it may be mid-life crisis or something, but I truly hope to find the inspiration, that’s been lacking in my life recently, and I can’t think of a better place to find that, than on the Playa!

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  14. Jon Mitchell Says:

    Hell yeah, KushMeister. I’m sure you will.

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  15. Frisco Says:

    I was born in 87, and this upcoming Rites of Passage, will be my 3rd burn.

    Why do I come back? There’s a couple of reasons:

    I have an AMAZING family at Burning Man. I literally stumbled into them my first burn, and we’ve been a unit ever since. Most of them live pretty far away from me, but I keep in touch with all of them throughout the year, and Burning Man is when we are all able to come together.

    Burning Man, the whole experience, just ruins you. You come in, knowing a little bit what to expect, but are consistently blown away but what you see and how everyone acts around you. Every single day of the Burn I am just completely blown away. Every single day. The feeling never fades, this deep wonder and childish excitement that I get every morning I wake up, get dressed, and go out in search of adventure. I always find something new, and more often than not it jumps out at me, completely unexpected.

    Burning Man is like going to a refresher course on life. In the “real” world there is also a lot of bullshit we have to wade through. Money, food, rent, fake people, everyday politics. We know we can take it, but it wears us down. It deadens us. When I’m at BM is get this feeling, “Oh, I see, THIS is what life is supposed to be about.” I try to bring that feeling back and spread it as much as I can, keep it alive.

    And yes, the partying. It’s what drives many people to come in the first place. Many people are growing concerned that BM is becoming just some big rave. It worries me little.

    There are two types of people I have known who have been to Burning Man. The first are the partiers, the hooligans. They come for the fun, they have their fun, and they leave. Most don’t return. Then there are the people who really were touched at BM, who got what it was about and come back year after year. They are the Burners. With every new flock of virgins come a certain amount of hooligans and a certain amount of Burners. I don’t worry much about the hooligans, because I know they won’t be coming back. Burning Man has a method of its own for deciding who returns and who does not.

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  16. Sharron Clemons Says:

    Hell yeah, KushMeister. I’m sure you will.

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  17. LemurLad Says:

    My girlfriend and I both made our first trip out to the playa for Metropolis. Me at 19 and her at 16, we were on the younger end of the Burner-stick. I heard about Burning Man from a friend of mine back in January; I sat mesmerized for hours as he told me of all the fantastic adventures he had and how wonderful the people were. Everyday life is filled with fake people who forgo themselves in effort to appear normal, I have always fought against being normal. Finally, a whole city of people that fight the norm.

    I had to go.

    I can’t think of a way to articulate my experience… It was absolutely incredible, completely overwhelming, and jaw-droppingly wondrous. I didn’t come for the parties, I didn’t come to rave, I didn’t come for any sort of substance. I came for the art, the people, and the experience.

    Frisco really summed it up well: Get up, get dressed, go hunting for adventure!

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  18. Nona Mills Says:

    Hell yeah, KushMeister. I’m sure you will.

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  19. Mae Whitaker Says:

    My girlfriend and I both made our first trip out to the playa for Metropolis. Me at 19 and her at 16, we were on the younger end of the Burner-stick. I heard about Burning Man from a friend of mine back in January; I sat mesmerized for hours as he told me of all the fantastic adventures he had and how wonderful the people were. Everyday life is filled with fake people who forgo themselves in effort to appear normal, I have always fought against being normal. Finally, a whole city of people that fight the norm. I had to go. I can’t think of a way to articulate my experience… It was absolutely incredible, completely overwhelming, and jaw-droppingly wondrous. I didn’t come for the parties, I didn’t come to rave, I didn’t come for any sort of substance. I came for the art, the people, and the experience. Frisco really summed it up well: Get up, get dressed, go hunting for adventure!

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  20. CampMom Says:

    My first year with Otter oasis in 2000, we camped in tents around a central shade structure. We were one of the first groups to arrive, on Saturday. Everyone worked hard and we tried to put the city up as early as possible, which usually turned out to be Thursday! Now early arrival is the way to experience the city coming up. There were many more alternative structures, we were connected as a group, and with less people, the nature of the playa was more pronounced. The night was saturated with psi trance style electronica and theme camp bars. As Otter grew, more rv’s came. This fractured our group, as campers were no longer dependant on our central shade area, retreating to the dust free rv’s. Our camp grew so much, but we had the same interaction, more tourists and less participants. In 2004 Skinny Kitty Teahouse formed as a response to the bar scene and as a place for live music, dance, conversation, performance. The teahouse served as our camp’s central area, where we could come together as a community. When this camp started to swell, we encouraged our younger campers to create a camp within our camp. At the first meeting Lani and Heather presented ideas for Phat Cat camp to us. At Burning Man 2007, they accomplished most of thier goals! I was so proud of them. This is one of my favorite memories.
    CampMom
    Skinny Kitty Teahouse 2004 2008

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