A lively account of her first visit to the ‘Burning Man’ by Hannah Murphy this year, a year when Ray Dalio, the iconic hedge fund manager at Bridgewater Associates, proudly endorsed the event on social media as a place with great vibe and amazing creativity. Yet Hannah draws us to the ‘palpable tension that the festival aspires to be and its reality’ akin to the growing inequalities in society today.
“…the annual bacchanal — where artists and hedonists push the boundaries of their creativity with a brief return to the Sixties ideals of free love and drugs, against a backdrop of thumping electronic music — has become a choice destination for moneyed Silicon Valley executives (alumni include Elon Musk and Larry Page)……(I) text close family and friends to explain that they will not be able to contact me — at all — for the next five days. There will be no internet or phone signal in this 70,000-strong makeshift tent city. It lends new meaning to the term escapism.
…Commerce is prohibited on the site, in favour of a “gifting economy” in which each camp must “give back” to the desert “playa”, in the form of food, drink or entertainment. Some, such as the “ShamanDome”, offer spiritual fixes; others, intellectual rigour (talks on data privacy). You can guess the selling point of the infamous Orgy Dome…..
But it is a radical expense — close to $500 per ticket including taxes, plus travel (about $150), camp fees ($300), and hiring a bike to get around the sprawling site ($175).The camp system itself also allows for jarring hierarchy ….
…the past few years have seen the emergence of so-called “plug-and-play” camps that promise luxury bed and board without the need to lift a finger; the all-inclusive fees often run into the thousands of dollars. At night-time dance parties, I watch as these blow-ins wiggle atop the “art cars” — mutant vehicles that the richest camps revamp with lights, lasers and mega sound systems — with an entourage in tow snapping pictures.
The clash of cultures is apparent everywhere. In my first few weeks in San Francisco, I met a start-up founder at the Battery, the city’s Soho House for VCs, who proudly told me that he had helped to crowdfund $5m to turn a Boeing 747 aircraft hangar into “the biggest party bus ever”. His vision came to pass. But during the week, I learn of a plan to storm the plane, which has apparently been rather exclusive in its door policy. “Let’s show everyone the true meaning of ‘Radical Inclusion’,” the organisers threatened in a post on Facebook.“They burn the man today; but they become the man again tomorrow,” one festivalgoer complains. Coming by way of San Francisco, where the tech boom has led to widening income inequality, such resentment is sadly familiar….
… Despite our shared distaste for the influencers’ incursions into the festival, we are now busily uploading our snaps of the week to social media. And we are not alone. The hashtag #burningman has more than a million posts on Instagram, with #burnerbabes and #burnerettes not far behind. “Most of the people at Burning Man want to give rather than take, and live rather than ‘gram,” one idealistic campmate says when I ask him to sum up the week.”
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