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Has Burning Man Changed? | Decommodification

Has Burning Man Changed?

(a.k.a. "The Man Is Shorter This Year")

An (un)scientific measurement of the Black Rock experience

My first year on the playa was 2001. My eyes were wide open and amazed with what I was seeing. And I also remember that in 2001 there were two main groups of attendees, those who thought Burning Man was the most amazing thing they had seen (including myself), and those who were complaining about how Burning Man wasn't as cool as it used to be.

The people in the first group had generally only gone for a few years, and the people in the second group had been at Burning Man for multiple years.

I came back in 2002 and saw the same occurrence. And again in 2003, 2004...

As the years went by, I noticed that the people who were complaining about how Burning Man wasn't cool anymore were just the people who had been in the "Most Amazing Thing" group a few years before.

This leads us to one of two conclusions. One possibility is that Burning Man was super fucking amazing 6000, and has generally decreased in amazement over the years to be now only pretty amazing.

Figure 1.3a: Superfucking exploding amazeballs

The other possibilty is that it's not Burning Man that's changing, it's you that's changing.

And this makes sense, considering that this is what's supposed to happen. If Burning Man wasn't transformative, why would we put so much energy into it? For example, consider the burn of the Man itself. Each year it gets bigger in terms of fuel and explosions and fireworks. And yet consider how many people don't bother going to the Man burn after a few years of coming to Burning Man. The Man burn is not getting less amazing, but you've seen it already, eh? Let's also realize it's great to be too cool for something that other people are excited about, no?

So perhaps Burning Man isn't really changing, except in the sense that it's obviously getting bigger each year.

This is certainly difficult to "prove", since it's so subjective. But I like a challenge, so let's take a stab at it anyways.

Let's consider art. One complaint I regularly hear is about how there are less people who are contributing and more "yahoos" at the event.

So what if we look at art per capita? It's difficult to quantitatively "count" art, especially since not all art is even registered with BRC, and it's interesting to ponder what qualifies as "art" - but as a very broad stroke let's compare theme and playa art versus population [1]:

Theme/Playa Art Population Theme Art/1k people
2001 45 25659 1.754
2002 50 (4+46) 28979 1.725
2003 60 (7+53) 30586 1.962
2004 113 (83+50) 35664 3.168
2005 163 (27+47+89) 35567 4.583
2006 192 (29+56+107) 38989 4.924
2007 183 (29+56+98) 47366 3.864
2008 171 (37+47+87) 49599 3.448
2009 202 (25+177) 43435 4.651
2010 199 (35+164) 51454 3.868
2011 257 (44+22+191) 53963 4.763
2012 279 (44+34+201) 56149 4.969 -- with 35% virgins! (average 20-25%) [2]
2013 240 (152+24+64) 69613 3.448
2014 247 (163+25+59) 65992 3.743
2015 257 (138+1+90+28) ?? ??

The reason for the "(A+B..)" in later years is because the web site starts to break up funded art, theme art and playa art depending on the year.

Note that the 45 art pieces in 2001 also included the man itself as well as an art vehicle.

Also note that 2012, after the great "ticket fiasco" [3] [4] when there was a huge surge of first-timers (at a loss of approximately 5-6k "non-virgin" attendees) and it was the best year of art-per-capita on this list. Makes me wonder if the "yahoo non-participants" that everyone is worried about are perhaps the jaded burners instead of the fresh-eyed and excited virgins?

Figure 3.7a: Your jadedness plotted over time

I don't count "cafe art" installations in the later years because they aren't listed in 2001 and I wanted what was measured to stay constant. (Though I do believe the cafe had art, and one could count this as "1" (large) group installation in some sense anyways.

2004, for example, had a massive increase in art and art per capita. The BM website:

"In 2004, we witnessed an evolutionary jump in the development of the grand experiment that is the Burning Man project.

Interestingly, I personally experienced 2004 as a huge *decrease* in art, possibly because of many changes that I was dealing with at the time, I even mentioned on my website photo album:

"There was less art this year"

That's just one example of how subjective our experience of Burning Man is - I was sure art had decreased when clearly, but many measures, it had exploded. I will always remember 2001 (my virgin year) as an epic year, but in many ways it was actually relatively somewhat small.

2004 was also my fourth year, which is usually when I notice that Burners start talking about how Burning Man has changed.


Probably not. So, my dear jaded Burners. Now what? To me it seems the choice is to either decide you have "graduated" from the transformative experience that is Burning Man and move on to something new (and we will miss you, have no doubt); or else you have to figure out a way to alter your relationship with Black Rock City - because the honeymoon is over and it's time to figure out a way to deal with the relationship longer term. For me personally I come back to Black Rock because it's home. The big art and amazing things are lovely, but for me it's because I want to be a part of this society. I want to watch it grow. I want to nurture it in my own way. I want to watch new people experience it. Because while my transformation from Burning Man may have tempered, my love for the city has not.

See you at the Man,

     - David Ljung Madison Stellar
(a.k.a. "Captain Mango" of "Firetown / Lumerian Tribe / Big Red Bus Camp / U.S.D.A. / Tangoed up in Blues / The Bijou / PDA Camp")

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Ultra Stunt Danger Academy, 2010

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