Self-Reliance and Rugged Individualism

Going to Burning Man is like returning to the days when America was known for individualism, self-reliance and an antithesis to rules and regulations.  You prepare yourself as the pioneers did, packing all of your own food, water and supplies.  There are no landline services to the Playa, so power is supplied by portable generators.  Forget about cell phones, and while Burning Man runs a Wi-Fi network, it is rarely accessible and often isn’t even working.

Several radio stations operate within the confines of the festival.  Only one is “official” and functions with the support of the Burning Man organization.  The others are pirate set-ups by individual attendees who bring everything from transmitters to structures with them.  Content varies by the minute and is based on the whims of volunteer DJs.  But I can’t imagine too many people spending their time listening to the radio – there’s way too much to do at Burning Man.

The Festival is a 24-hour stream of activity – most of it laid out in the program you receive when you enter the gates.  There are lectures, demonstrations, workshops, training sessions and services galore, ranging from hair washing to photography.  You could be busy day and night.

There’s an erotic charge to the atmosphere of Burning Man, with sex as the subject of many of the activities.  That focus on human pleasure may well be one of the reasons the week has such a strong life force to it, and why you leave feeling younger and more alive.

Amazing Grace, Amazing Art

Burning Man is equal parts fun, pleasure and spiritualism.  Attendees often feel a strong sense of connection with spiritual matters, albeit not always the traditional church-related religiosity.  I remember watching druid-like chanters celebrating the sun and the earth; I also spent time meditating at the Temple, which is constructed annually at the Festival (and burned on the final night).  A massive, wooden skeleton of a cathedral was one of the art projects, and many who visited it came there to worship in their own way, or even to be married there.

But it always came back to the art for me.  Uniquely designed for Burning Man, and often funded by the Black Rock Arts Foundation, art on the desert ranges from whimsical (a circle of little wooden wagons, each with its own teddy bear) to moving (a memorial in combat boots to Iraq war dead) to powerful (a 300 yard line of gas jets that fired off in a variety of mesmerizing patterns).

A pick-up sticks style building named Uchronia (re-named The Waffle by Playa-goers) was constructed by a band of volunteers from Belgium who paid their own way to the Playa and collected the thousands of pounds of lumber required to build what became a disco for the festival.  It created a fearsome fire when it was burned on the last night of Burning Man.

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Alan Markow, president of AM Communications, has worked in marketing, public relations and corporate communications for more than 30 years. His experience includes senior management positions in communications and Investor Relations at companies as diverse as National Semiconductor, GTE (now Verizon), Praxair, VLSI Technology, C-Cube Microsystems and JPMorgan Chase. He is now a free-lance writer for newspapers and magazines, and a blog writer on politics and other issues. Prior to starting his corporate career, he had been a broadcaster, journalist, advertising and PR copywriter and speechwriter. He served as a Navy journalist and broadcaster during the Vietnam era, where he was television and radio news director for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service station in Keflavik, Iceland.