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.
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.
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?