Vox Populi

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Doug Anderson: Burning Man

I don’t know if BURNING MAN will happen this year. I’ve never been but have always wanted to. I think Burning Man comes from an instinct and need for carnival, a masking of the respectable self in order to release the animal/imaginative self, but with ritualized decorum and boundaries. It is related to other, older festivals across cultures. It can go over the edge, certainly, and now that BM has become a yearly community of sometimes seventy thousand people it has its problems, deaths, arrests, etc. Journalists seldom talk about the art but are seduced by the more purulent aspects.

The videos I’ve seen of BM are not BM, but someone’s vision of it, so I know I’m not seeing the real thing, experiencing with senses other than vision. 

Burning Man seems sometimes to be an extension of Fellini’s imagination, but Fellini retained something of the small town carnival in his films (except perhaps the ecclesiastical fashion show in Roma). There was no post-modern ironic distancing; everyone seemed to be inside their bodies and acting from their senses. Anita Ekberg was as real as she was a goddess. You know she shaved her armpits. You could “smell” a Fellini film, the olfactory extending into imagination. 

A couple of the BM videos I’ve seen seem to be disco light shows, although the moving sculptures, of course, are more imaginative.

I loved the old small town carnivals. I’m nostalgic for the individuality of the carnies, the equipment, ferris wheels and thrill rides before everything became corporate boiler plate. Now all carnivals look exactly alike. All the equipment and graphics are made by the same companies. Their dream life is gone. The food is terrible and the lemonade is not lemonade but sugared chemicals. The cotton candy doesn’t taste like cotton candy.

I’m thinking the unexpressed carnival in all of us right now is causing us grief. I think of the ways the old bubonic plague, even during its terror, began to resemble carnival. The doctors with their robes and bird beaks. The dead themselves, unhidden, and lying in the roads awaiting the cart, the theatrical gestures of priests and the incense covering the stink of death. B.A. Van Sise’s New York of costumed people on the streets reflect this.

We put on a mask in order to reveal the repressed self. But the mask is gone from the corporate carnival and replaced by plastic beads and pretending-to-be-funny hats turned out in sweat shops. So many things now hollow were once full.

Copyright 2020 Doug Anderson

6 comments on “Doug Anderson: Burning Man

  1. Diane Martin
    May 30, 2020

    Writing an essay about Burning Man without ever having been there is not the best exercise. I don’t think this essay really gets at the essence of Burning Man.


    • Vox Populi
      May 30, 2020

      Thanks, Diane. You may be right. What I liked about the essay was not what it said about Burning Man, but what it said about the need to celebrate strangeness in a ritualized way. I had never thought of Burning Man as being like a medieval carnival, but it’
      s an interesting comparison.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reese E. Forbes
    May 30, 2020

    Not happening this year – I am a 7 yr Burner. It is going to be online (I an skipping that), but nothing will actually burn. All the art is done by individuals or groups, it is done by the Burning Man organization except for the Man who is a different design structure each year. What also is not happening is my ability to comment on Vox Populi (and several other sites) in the last few months. It does not seem to be my computer. Reese E. Forbes

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      May 30, 2020

      Reese, sorry to hear that you are having trouble posting on Vox Populi. I’m not sure what to do about the problem, but I’m glad to be aware of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara Huntington
    May 30, 2020


    Liked by 1 person

  4. loranneke
    May 30, 2020

    ” So many things now hollow were once full”!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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