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This weekend I went to Resonance, Wichita's local version of Burning Man. It was a nice weekend. The event encourages community and self-expression. There were 70 people or so, and we all camped out at this little church-camp type area with nice shade trees. DJs played electronic music all weekend, but there were other people who brought guitars or fiddles or drums. Everyone was encouraged to share and be friendly, so when you got bored you'd walk around and just participate in whatever the various camps were up to. I learned some poi dancing, and got to tie-dye some shirts, and ate a lot of food. By the end of the weekend you know a lot of people a lot better. There's an emphasis on taking care of the environment and also of shunning capitalism... there were no food carts and no t-shirts for sale. The crafts were not sponsored by Hobby Lobby. Bring something to share with the community and bond. That's nice.

There's another bigger event in Missouri called Interfuse that I've never been to. I worry a lot about fitting in with Marc's DJ friends, who are the main enthusiasts I know. I feel like the uncool tagalong wife, and I can't change that because all my interactions with these people are in a loud club with thumping music and we can't talk so they'll never get to know me. But this weekend there was plenty of opportunity to just chat and walk trails with new people, and I realized some of the DJ friends were in fact capable of interacting without all the decibels of mind-demanding music. When they all go to Interfuse together next year I might have to join them.

Besides Interfuse there's the big actual real Burning Man event. It's in the desert with 50,000-80,000 people. I have real issues with it. Tickets are EXPENSIVE. This Wichita thing was $20 a person and that makes sense. Most of the money went to event insurance, so if someone gets hurt and tries to sue the 4-5 volunteers who put this together those hard-working volunteers are protected. Even without that, it's usually at least $20 to camp out for two nights, anywhere with working restrooms and showers and designated fire pits and level grassy spots to pitch a tent.

But what do you get for a $300 (yes) ticket to Burning Man? You still have to bring your own food and supplies. You're camping in uninhabitable desert. The artists and musicians are volunteers, who bring their own equipment to express themselves. Burning Man does publish financial information so at least it's somewhat transparent, and I admit that if they say they need to spend $700,000 million on toilets and $300,000 to the fire department and $500,000 on insurance, that's okay. But there are other weird things on there too... $3 million on payroll? $600,000 for food at the planning meetings? Seems to me like some people are shunning capitalism more than others. And like with everything, the inner circle doesn't have to do as much shunning as the outer circle does shelling.

And to make matters worse you're not really allowed to ask questions or talk to this with people who are enthusiastic about the event. You bring up the money, they say "It's not about that, man. You just don't get it. You have a problem parting with your money, and that's bad. It's just money." It's not "just money" to the guy demanding it. Don't say you're shunning capitalism if you're on the payroll here. If they want to charge money to keep the event small, or limit late-comers, or encourage commitment, they should do it and say it. If the event has gotten so huge and unmanageable that it can't be run with volunteers, I think it's betraying what it was set up for... getting to express yourself and know people and be a part of something. You can't be a part of something if you're an ant in a sea of thousands, you're an ant. Maybe I don't get it, but that's how I feel, and this is the one place I can just come out and say it. I'll support my local keepers of the flame but you won't find me shelling out massive funds to drive into Nevada, it just doesn't make sense.

I think all the events, even ours, should be more honest about the money issue. There was an article in the paper about Resonance. It had a paragraph about how nothing would be bought or sold because Resonance isn't about money, then in the next paragraph it said tickets are $20. Well to a newbie like me, that could seem like a contradiction. It also seems like a contradiction to act like the event is all about discussion and inclusion, but see people's heads shake when you bring up ticket price. You're welcome to express yourself as long as you're not asking about money? We could just do a better job initiating and welcoming people in, that's all I'm saying. Never shame anyone for asking questions. Socially conscious people have an obligation to dig deep and find out what they're supporting. Money can be very powerful, and just because something looks wholesome or spiritual or anti-corporate, doesn't mean it is. Just because you're getting a valuable experience, doesn't mean the money still couldn't go to something else harmful. We have to scratch underneath the surface if we want this to be real.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 28th, 2009 03:55 am (UTC)
I looked up Burning Man after I heard of it to try to figure out what it was, and I have to say that I was hugely disappointed. The $300 is really only the start of it, because not only are there the costs for camping and your own food and everything like you said, there's also the costs of just getting there. Then the time you spend at Burning Man, or getting there, is not time you're working, and not working costs a lot more money. I'd never be able to afford it.

Worse, though, is that they never really said what it was about. All they said on the website was that it was an experience. They didn't say what sort of an experience it was or what all was done there or anything else about how to approach it.

Resonance, though, sounds like fun. I could handle hanging out with some 70 people learning dancing and doing tie-dying and walking trails, and $20 sounds more than reasonable for that. Thanks for explaining about it, and I'm glad that you had fun.
Sep. 28th, 2009 11:39 am (UTC)
And apparently getting there is a double pain, because it's only accessible via this two-lane road that gets backed up for days!

I'd certainly encourage you to check out any local events. I found this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regional_Burning_Man_events

Of course resonance wasn't on it, so I just added it!
Sep. 28th, 2009 08:21 am (UTC)
I twirl fire poi in Richmond, VA with a troupe of twirlers. I don't so much consider myself "part of the troupe" as I do someone who learns from them and twirls with them.

Anyhow, roughly half of them went to Burning Man this month. They love it. There are police patrolling the area, of course, because it's so big that they have to keep it safe.

From what I've heard from them, there's all sorts of art and classes. One of my friends took a lyra class, which is akin to the flying trapeze, but with a hoop instead. She really enjoyed the whole experience of burning man.

I think one of the things that the event brings out is the ability to not feel judged for what you're doing out there. Everyone goes out for different reasons, but inherently it's to experience the beauty of not being bound by normal social inhibitions. You're free to say and do as you please (so long as you're not bringing anyone to harm) and there are no "corporate boundaries" like workplace-appropriate behaviour.

It's not something that I would go to every year, I wouldn't imagine, but I would definitely consider going once. As long as they're saying where their money is going and being honest about it, I don't see the harm in at least trying it once.

Just my two cents, though.

Sep. 30th, 2009 09:01 am (UTC)
I had several people telling me I should go to Resonance this year. I brought my boyfriend along. Unfortunately we could only go for the last night, but it was still better than going out to the clubs (and cheaper).

Well, the important part of all this is the next day we were discussing Resonance and I was explaining that a few of founders draw their inspiration from Burning Man. He didn't know what it was, so I showed him the "5 Things Cities Can Learn From Burning Man" on YouTube. Now, I've been cynical about Burning Man for years but I didn't say anything, I just showed him the video.
He's been doing mountain man rendezvous and Pow Wows for a long time. After the video was over he looked at me and said "How much does that party cost?" I told him. He frowned a little and said "So, are they completely full of shit or is it just me?" And I thought, he learned from one video what it's taken me years to realize.

I have my own reservations about basing anything on the "Ideals" of a festival that is pretty much a disingenuously glorified art project/vacation. Every time I hear people talk about Burning Man's "deeper eco-spiritual meaning" I always think 'Yeah, big words for someone who drove a gas guzzling camper out to the middle of nowhere to set fire to 12 tons of tree and 500 gallons of kerosene'.
But I think Resonance could be something interesting. It's definitely in it's natal stage, progressing to infancy. Maybe if the press coverage was massaged lightly to say things like "Tickets are $20 *to cover expenses*" and then have the books available to everyone so as to prevent the misinterpretations you see being a possibility. Setting up that sort of base from the beginning will mean that those sorts of questions never come up and everyone gets in the habit of keeping good records from the start.
Personally I've never had a problem blending openmindedness with money. "Why do I have to buy a ticket?"
"Well, we gotta pay for the wood somehow." It's pretty easy to deal with money if everyone's somewhat dismissively honest. It's avoiding the question that gets people into trouble, makes it look like there's something to hide. Pretending like money is dirty and should not be spoken of is always a bad idea. As you mention. So I agree with you.
But you do raise an interesting question for me, what do you mean by "do a better job of initiation?" Initiation into what group and to what end?
Sep. 30th, 2009 11:38 am (UTC)
Excellent response.

By "initiation" I just meant that we should answer questions and engage in positive conversation with people who haven't been to the event. Worst case, you know conversations can go like this:

"So what's a burning man event?"

"It's an experience. You just have to go."

"Why do I have to buy a ticket?"

"For the experience."

"Can't I burn stuff and camp out for free?"

"Not like this. You just don't understand."

People who are new to an event don't want to feel like there's a learning curve to it, or like they're already coming in as someone who just doesn't understand. It's true that you can't just come in like a spectator and expect entertainment to be spoon-fed to you like disneyland. But if people are making an effort to learn what we're doing, we should help where we can.
Sep. 30th, 2009 10:49 pm (UTC)
Ahh, initiate them into the mind-set. Gotcha. I would only say that, for right now, getting people that "believe" in the message might not be as important as getting asses in the seats. I don't mean lie, I just mean it's a little easier to play up "Let's go in the woods with good techno and no Last Call", will probably get more people's attention than saying "We're going to celebrate the majesty of an anarchic-syndicalists commune with bonfires and argon lasers".
A lot of the trouble is that things like Burning Man can say "Look at all the people who believe in our 'Vision'." When you know two thirds of the population they're pointing to are there to look at naked people, dress up like Klingons, and get good quality weed at cut-rate prices with no concern what so ever for the 'Values' of the show.
I think Resonance will be having the same problem very soon, if it doesn't already. People who don't care so much about the meaning, but care a lot about watching shit get set on fire several times a night. That's not a bad thing though. It's still money coming in. And it sometimes takes the people who try to start things like this a while to realize that by pulling in numbers you *eventually* gain converts, not right away. It's a festival not a religion. And even churches are made to look welcoming. "Come in and sit a spell, we'll talk a while. Maybe you'll move on, maybe we'll stop talkin' to ya. But come in and sit a spell for now."
I would say that selling the *experience* is the worst language to use. Sell it for exactly what it is in the most literal sense, techno in the woods, the rest will come later.

Do you have a different model, as in do you want the values to be what they have to have from the get go, or do you think it's alright that they just show up for the fire and *slowly* start to take on the other stuff?
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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