[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man's 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]
Someone once said to me that every year San Francisco builds a city in the desert and it’s called Burning Man. Hearing that made me think about why I came to SF in the first place 36 years ago. My mother called it a “push and a pole”. The “push” was getting out of the small town mindset that I had grown up in, and the “pole” was the fantastic “city of permission” that sat at the end of the wagon trail where all the whack-minded odd birds migrated to. I was certain that I, too, was a whack-minded odd bird. I was a starless-bellied Sneetch that had been shunned from the boat parties of the snobs and the too cool cruel schools.
I had a hunch that a more permissive place lay to the west where the radically minded set the stage, not the fad followers. On one of the first nights that I had landed in the city by the Bay in ‘79, I went to the midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show on Market Street, and just like that, I had stepped into an entire nation of whacky birds and they all seemed to be crammed into one maniacal theatre! Still a small town pup, it was the most outrageous thing I had ever seen – right down to the six-foot drag queen sitting next to me handing me a lit joint. It was radical, and I was included!
DPW Parade and Green Man, 2002. Photo by Steve Saroff.
Radical Inclusion sits at the cornerstone of the Ten Principles. It assembles the community in the first place where the other principles direct it. It’s also one of the tougher ones to hold to. Allegiances can be challenged when Techno Surf Camp, for instance, find themselves parked next to Camp Carp’s Black Sabbath Pancakes. Seems that putting up with our radical differences takes work. Wouldn’t it be easier to just surround ourselves with all things familiar so we never have to stray from our well-worn color wheels? But that’s when treasures of life start slipping by unseen – camouflaged by the shroud of unfamiliarity. We become imprisoned by our own opinions – by what we might consider to be in good or poor taste. Pablo Picasso once said that taste was the enemy of creativity. Taste forms a boundary that excludes.
Photo by Mark Peterson, 2011
Black Rock City was challenged with radical inclusion early on. Back when the Department of Public Works (DPW) of BRC was still newly forming, many of our first generation crews were members of the Black Label Bike Club. They were a brazen bunch that had the rough-and-tumble it took to pound those early cities into the summer playa with broken trucks and tools. They also knew the meaning of a good prank and had the brass to pull ‘em off. The Bike Club was pretty specific in its view of the world and every year their irritation would grow along with the swelling presence of rave and techno music at our event. They were fine with radical inclusion, as long as it didn’t include rave and techno music.
I would explain to them that all-inclusive meant just that and that rave camps were here to stay, but their irritation continued to grow nonetheless. That’s when they decided to create “The Barkinator!” They took one of the road warrior junker cars we always seemed to have on hand and loaded it up with this pretty massive sound system. Then they made a tape loop of vicious dogs barking – at ear-bleed volume – and blasted it as they drove around Black Rock City. It was the most obnoxious thing I have ever encountered out there. The complaints started flooding in.
“That’s not art!”
“That’s ugly and annoying and should be kicked off the playa!”
“It’s too loud!” (Actually, it was nowhere near as loud as a rave camp.)
“There’s nothing interactive about that horrid thing!” – and so on.
DPW Rolling in the Gremlin, 2004
But the Bike Club held fast and flipped the pointing finger around back to them. “Your rave camps annoy us as much as our Barkinator annoys you! This just happens to be our form of expression.” Long story short, the court battle went up the food chain until a senior decision was handed down saying that the Barkinator had as much a place in our city as any. You can’t get kicked off the playa simply for being horrid. And so, the Barkinator barked on, wreaking havoc like a three-headed Cerberus in the night – that is until the third night when not even the Bike Club could stand it anymore and dismantled it the next day. But the point had been made!
The more mindsets we welcome, the more facets on our sparkling gem. A city that encourages a radically inclusive philosophy also encourages an environment of discovery. When you shine your one-sided beam through the prism of another’s perspective, who knows what kind of spectrums will be splashed before you.
Black Rock City – the bastard child of San Francisco – the runaway teenager that started their own production company while still grasping to the core values of their parent, which was to be a permissive city– to open their gates to any who have something to offer and to open their minds to the fanatical quirks they may bring. Black Rock City – where the Playa’s vacuum acts as the great equalizer sucking away even the biggest of egos – where dubstep can go on a blind date with gypsy music – where a billionaire’s next door neighbor is a guy in a tent – where failed art can receive just as much encouragement – where a grilled hot dog can taste as good as a filet mignon.