The Coastal Post - October, 1996

Media and Media-ocracy

BY MARK VAN PROYEN

Not that anybody noticed, but the fact is that the Media and Media-ocracy team sat out the September issue of the Coastal Post. This was due to a pressing engagement that took place on Labor Day weekend far away from our secret computer bunker, and the readying of our mobile unit required some serious preparation. The event that we speak of is the annual Burning Man that is held in the Black Rock desert in western Nevada, and we have reluctantly returned to file this report: It was great! It was the best time that any of us have had in ten years! And because of this, we are already having bi-monthly meetings to make plans for next year's event.

At this point, the concerned reader is bound to ask: "What was so great about driving six hours to a barren moonscape a hundred miles from the nearest versateller?" Our answer? "It was an opportunity for all of us to not only discover our inner child, but to find out that that child likes to play with matches in a very big way!" Forty-feet big to be exact, which is the height of the androgynous effigy figure that the event is named after, a lantern headed, fluorescent-limbed towermench that looms over the weekend's revelry, only to be torched on Sunday night as the crowning moment of what surely was the best party-cum-ritual to have taken place anywhere since the second time that the Goths sacked Rome (in 455).

It was also a great opportunity to make many new friends from around the world, the bonds of big-league pyromania running deep as they do in a world made excruciatingly boring by too much cuddling and not enough penetration. And, thanks to the Internet, we are able to keep up with these far flung friendships, which are sustained by scores of dedicated websites, newsgroups and an e-mail list that registers a hundred posts a day, many of which are invites to follow-up parties that take place every weekend around the world, but mostly in San Francisco and the East Bay, where most of the Burnpeople tend to make their winter camp while they participate in a most interesting Virtual Community that knows of or cares for no geography save the dozen or so miles of flat desert that extends from the town of Gerlach, Nevada to the empty place where "our beloved man" resides at the end of the joyful summer.

Solid information about the historic roots of the Burning Man Project is hard to come by, since it is so easily laced with apocryphal amendment and outright hearsay, often times with alleged facts put forth by moldy sexetignarians who have never even attended the event. What we do know is this: the event was founded in 1986 by Larry Harvey (who remains Project Director), and it moved from a beach in San Francisco to the desert in 1991 when the burgeoning population of pyro- enthusiasts made it awkward to continue in populated surroundings. Estimates have it that the event has doubled in size every year, with 10,000 showing up for the 1996 burn. Concerns over continued population growth are rife in cyberville, given that one this year's participant's died in a vehicle mishap while several others were injured and/or airlifted out due to a wee bit too much substance abuse. Nonetheless, the guiding ethic that makes the event a success has remained intact—it is the one that makes every party a success: everybody participates, nobody merely observes. Thus, the weekend is made up of a huge host of tributary efforts that run from the creation of bizarre "theme camps" (i.e. Disgruntled Postal Worker's camp, Couch Potato Camp [with mobile couch that patrolled the area in comic nonchalance] and Watersports Camp, devoted to some odd forms of mud wrestling on the desert floor) to hot bands such as Amazon Queen and the Merman sharing an outdoor stage with transvestite cabarets, performance artists and a hilarious fashion show devoted to the seven deadly sins.

Saturday night was the night big explosive events, which included a fully costumed four-act opera with a chorus of "Devil's Delight, A Fire Tonight!" (Pepe Ozan's gothic stage set burned great!) , a Satanic burning of HELLCO Towers while mechanical demon machines careened about, and the scorching of an elaborate effigy devoted to the golden years of Hollywood, ending with a fifty-foot mushroom cloud of fire. Of course, all of this was just foreplay for the Sunday night festivities, and all we can say about that was that an hour after the man burned, Black Rock desert looked like a giant panorama conceived by Hieronymous Bosch, with everything remotely combustible being pitched into the scores of bonfires that lit up the night.

On labor day, the clean-up commenced, and the desert was ceremonially returned to its normal state, the participants returning to their normal lives with an inner glow that emanated from having taken a step into the realm of pre-Biblical paganism all-the-while taking another step into the technological frontier of gaining membership in a Virtual Community that takes care of its own. Yes, the media was there (NY TIMES, CNN, MICROSOFT Network News, WIRED Magazine etc.) but they were just passengers on a ride managed by what will become the bigger media in the next century, the Internet itself, which is no longer waiting around for corporate information management systems (i.e. the media monopolies) to tell them what is and is not "fit to print." We have been there, and we are now ready to burn that.