The unburnt

Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.

I’m not going to Burning Man this year. I have mixed feelings about that fact. I first went to Burning Man way back in 1996. I was a teenager who sneaked my way into the event in somebody’s trunk. I’ve gone sporadically since then, although the most recent time I attended was 2009. A whole generation of Burners have bloomed and blossomed into silly desert flowers since then.

I have mixed feelings about the event. I have friends who love it, and friends who hate it. Every time I’ve gone, I’ve had at least one experience that I’ll always remember, some of them experiences that are fundamental to how I understand myself. And, yeah, some of those experiences involve drugs and sex, sure, but some of them involve sweet and innocent concepts, like community and friendship, and still other experiences involve connecting with the harsher, more forbidding aspects of the desert itself.

I love the Black Rock Desert, and often fret about the environmental impact of having more than 50,000 people on the playa, or the effect of having all those people drive gas-guzzling recreational vehicles up there on a two-lane road.

My all-time biggest “hit,” as a writer, is a 2007 piece for this paper called “10 things I hate about Burning Man.” I wrote that nearly a decade ago, but still get mail about it every year. In it, I complained about everything from bike thieves to participation snobs.

Despite all that, if someone were to walk up to me tomorrow and hand me a no-strings free ticket, I would go in a heartbeat.

But since the event started literally selling out, in 2011, it has lost some of its appeal for me. It’s always been an event for privileged people—those who can afford to take off work, go camping, bring their own food and pretend that “gifting” is a viable economic model. But now getting a ticket takes either serious cash, serious finagling, or serious social connections delicately milked.

Burning Man 2016 is just a rich person’s reenactment of Burning Man 1996.

Brad Bynum