Did the sideways attempt by an astringent horse-meat peddler to associate its tacos with Burning Man on a television commercial get your ears burning?
It did mine.
And then there was a New York Times article suggesting that Burning Man is “running on fumes” because Paris Hilton tweeted about it.
Really, New York Times? You’re a newspaper quoting Paris Hilton’s tweets, and *we’re* the ones who are running on fumes? I’d humbly suggest that the Principles of Burning Man are a lot more stable than the pillars of journalism just at the moment, thanks.
Then there was P. Diddy. Then there was Stacy Kiebler (full disclosure: I don’t know who that is) talking about Burning Man on “Live with Kelly and Michael.” (I’m assuming that’s actually a real show, and not a clever prank. It sounds fake).
Then there was the photo spread on The Atlantic’s site. And the photo spread in Business Insider. And the animated GIFFs on Buzzfeed. And what I’m just going to assume were dozens of photo spreads on the Huffington Post, because honest-to-God do I not have time to actually check.
And then there was what’s-his-name … the internet billionaire … and then the other internet billionaire (I have a hard time telling them apart). And the twins from the movie about the website.
And then there was the sorta-outrage that Mark Zuckerberg would helicopter in and help give away grilled cheese sandwiches. Which is baffling, because: is there actually a better use of his time? Anything that keeps him from working on Facebook is a win.
And then John Stewart made a crack about Burning Man on the Daily Show …
Yep: our ears are burning. When titans of industry come looking for something that a guy with a tutu and a tent has been rocking for years, you know you’ve got the world’s attention.
We are in the eye of a media storm, and it’s not going away. If we grow – it’s a story. If we shrink – it’s a story. If more celebrities come to Burning Man – it’s a story. If celebrities skip Burning Man – it’s trend piece. Like the celebrities whose presence now annoys us, Burning Man is hounded by paparazzi. At this point there is nothing we can do to avoid being news, even if it’s filler. Even if it’s celebrity driven jackassery written by fashion reporters trying to be cultural critics.
We have gone from being something that nobody reports on because nobody’s heard of us, to something that every major news site needs to have 700 words and a photo spread of, even if they’re terrible.
It kind of makes you long for the days when the only people paying attention to Burning Man were the 700 Club, and they thought we were Satanists. Don’t you miss that?
But … get used to it. This is what success looks like.
Burning Man has become a cultural touchstone. Which – unless we intend to hoard it in the Caves Beyond Time for the Chosen Few to participate in and then never tell anyone about – is what we want.
If we want Burning Man to have an impact on the rest of the world, then the rest of the world gets to look at us. And talk about us. And even misunderstand us. Such misunderstandings, though regrettable as individual instances, are how the process of communication moves forward. It’s how engagement happens. We get to make Burning Man (largely) on our terms. We don’t get to tell the rest of the world what its first impression should be.
We can’t fix the world while holding it at arm’s length. Nor can we be radically inclusive while demanding creative control over the imagination of strangers.
Yes, terrible articles about Burning Man are going to happen … as are the stupid daytime talk show interviews … as are the sideways attempts by astringent horse-meat purveyors to link Burning Man with their tacos on network television … as is the inevitable feature film in a “Burning Man like” setting … and celebrities are going to swarm over us like flies on bacon …
… and it’ll be okay. Really. This is what winning looks like. We have hundreds of Regionals all over the world. We are looked to for solutions by important sectors of society. (Sometimes in ways that disturb me.) We are a relevant cultural movement. And relevant cultural movements get talked about, and misrepresented. It’s the cost of playing.
The only thing that matters is that when people come to Burning Man or go to a regional event, that they find a community that lives the 10 Principles and has incredible fun doing it.
That’s it. All the rest is bullshit.
- Burners have more fun;
- Burning is good for the people who do it;
- and anyone can play,
… we win.
That’s all we need to do to keep on track.
And if you don’t like the way thousands of new people are doing it when they get here, have more fun than they do. Be so much more interesting that they want a piece of what you have … and then give it to them. Be good to them. Just the way they were to me when I showed up, and someone probably was to you.
If that’s what people find when they come, we win. And that’s all about us, and how we Burn. We should do our best to help media portrayals be accurate, but our best tool with which to engage the world has always been our creative spirit, rather than a sense of outrage.
Outrage is cheap. Art and Whimsy are precious. Burning Man is a generator for Art and Whimsy, making it a pearl beyond price. We can afford to be misunderstood, so long as we have that.
Neither the media nor the tech billionaires nor the celebrities can dilute us if we’re having more fun than they are. No outrage needed.
is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man is an art project on the run from Burning Man’s secretive “Area 12.” His opinions are in no way statements of the Burning Man organization. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com