Friday, August 26, 2016

Burning Man's Glitzy BS? (i.e., all that glitters in the desert is not the fabled 'sharing economy')

(The following is a response to Burning Man Turns 30: the Joys, Pitfalls (and Drugs) of Hollywood's "Vacation for the Soul" , published in The Hollywood Reporter, 26 August 2016)

If Burners (Burning Man event participants) and Burning Man organizers overlook the high price of an entry ticket ($390 to $1200), the mad desert blowout might then possibly be considered a ‘non-commercial’ arena. 

Does it take a special kind of depleted soul to not see right through the astronomical entry fees? In other words, the event grounds can be legitimately non-commercial if the event is free of cost (after expenses) -- yet, participants and organizers willingly overlook blatant profiteering from the get-go, and thereafter, pretend to engage in a 'sharing economy' while frolicking with the fruits of the market economy for a week.

Festival ravers cannot possibly imagine that it marvelously appears out of non-commercial thin air including 'a half-million dollar sound-system' on a Playa (nickname of the dusty event grounds) shuttle bus, lavish costumes with nifty sequins and niftier body paint and glitter, camping/desert survival gear, decorated bicycles and requisite stylish sunglasses, ice-chests filled with processed ‘health foods’ and en vogue drinks like imported coconut water from halfway around an ailing globe (paradoxically, desert-stormers overlook ‘carbon footprints’ in the parched sands for a week of indulgence while holding everyone accountable the other 51 weeks). From waffles to building materials for temples and other structures erected magnificently where there were none…apparently, the loins of the gods opened up and shed extreme, albeit transient, favor on the sand-bitten spectacle…about as free of cost as it is free of environmental concerns.

Is overlooking ecology and finances a hidden charade that keeps Burners from the despair of cognitive dissonance? Hypocrisy is desperately avoided by chic flower children of the new millennium and faddish predecessors from the sixties onward, even when that means sticking their heads in the sands of time. Nevertheless, the artifice that there is no cost because, well, you know, those fluffy waffles taste ‘super amazing!’ and the ‘super awesome!’ Elvis lookalike chefs gave them out liberally to all who showed up in (quasi-mandatory) hipster garb after passing through high-dollar entry gates (yep, gates and barriers are otherwise a no-no...except when they serve those who reckon them necessary for their bottom line), shepherded through by a smiling "Welcome Home!" posse processing the exclusive ticket holders. 

The expenses of carousing the Playa are presumed to be counterbalanced by one’s own 'giveaways'…except perish that thought, any thought of cost analysis and payback reciprocity -- ledgers do not exist here (organizers and ticket-takers exempted). Moreover, those who do not have anything to give are shunned. Yes, at this ephemeral utopia of 'peace and love', those who have nothing to give are ostracized and judged as not worthy of the peacocky affair in the desert (haughty hippies espousing a limited brand of peace and love?).

Meanwhile, an extravagant lifestyle with posh campgrounds cum community playground is funded and supplied pre-arrival with pre-purchased, processed goods (yes, including goods picked up at so-called 'health food stores'), elite gear and toys, etcetera — and because the expenses are incurred in distant markets before arrival, they are conveniently forgotten as a fever for the so-called 'sharing economy' ignites.

If lusty BM colonialists truly want to believe in smarmy non-commercial ideals then dump nearly everything procured beforehand (and hauled in overloaded vehicles from sports utility vehicles to motor homes and even private aircraft). Enjoy nature without the rewards of commercialism, e.g., pricey foods and party enhancements stockpiled before the ‘non-commercial’ jubilee kicks off. 

Despite wishes to make it so, simply calling the event ‘commercial-free’ will not marvelously render Burning Man a 'sharing economy'. To begin to do so, for starters, attendees also might make a pilgrimage to Black Rock City (name of the conurbation that crops up at the event site otherwise known as Black Rock Desert) by self-propulsion (saving pilgrims the despair of using decried petrochemicals in petrol-guzzling vehicles with a massive carbon footprint tread-print or even contrail).

How long could this trendy mob of pretentious mother-huggers then live off the land before starving to death or dying of thirst? Could they gather under a billion stars at night and enjoy music created naturally without electricity, without posh sound systems and without instruments fashioned from the industrialization that they cannot escape no matter how they portray it as an iconoclastic setting…farcically labeled commercial-free? 

Is it asking too much for the wild-eyed participants to look beyond the molding-board thin fa├žade of a faux social paradise relying on free-market underpinnings? Dare the verboten word capitalism even be uttered-- capitalist underpinnings from transportation to and from airport hubs and on to the venue to keeping well-dined and wined (and fuzzy brained), costumed, comfortable and entertained while there, all with a robust entry-ticket price tag?

If not, then call it an exercise in inconvenient duplicity. Meanwhile, the gala is growing in size and cost while paradoxically its downfall is decried by condescending, ageing Burners (who remarkably resemble current, cookie-cutter Burners -- the article's photo of Katy Perry reveals a swank outfit that could be that of every other female participant at this ironically nonconformist event). The downfall is partly blamed on Photoshop’d Instagram propaganda (and yes, the Amazon Studio exec's photo in the article is obviously enhanced to make it more dreamy despite a herd of sheeple milling in the background -- difficult to recognize chichi Katy Perry in a madding artistic crowd of similarly outfitted renegade nonconformists and professional wannabe hipsters. (Inconvenient irony, too?)

If only Trader Joes', Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Fresh & Easy et al participated in the merrymaking bonanza by supplying factory-processed munchies out of the goodness of their non-commercial hearts…then every hipster could reduce costs significantly and live happily trendy ever after…at least for that week of revelry while supplies held out at this fiery New Age potlatch.

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