The Playadox – Reflections on Burning Man

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playground for west coast ‘cultural creatives’, I was stunned to see how little eco-technology had been implemented. Maybe it’s coming, but unless it does come soon, it would seem that the integrity of the whole venture becomes very questionable, especially when compared to the amazing successes in this direction from European psy-trance festivals such as Boom and Ozora.

Equally bizarre to me, was to be at the world’s most renowned psychedelic convergence, within a state which has legalised recreational marijuana, but find most people too paranoid to smoke any pot, due to being on federal reservation land, where federal laws apply. Adding a further frisson to the mix are the almost ubiquitous Rangers, as well as undercover cops, equipped with infrared and thermal imaging night vision goggles, which can distinguish a roll-up from a reefer from kilometres across the desert. I heard some truly disturbing stories of people being rumbled by undercover police and 

tipped off by informers, saw a number of people marched off to be strip searched, and met one man who had been traumatised for years and was still in therapy after being heavily harassed many years previously by a gang of Rangers while he was miles away, both physically – deep into deep playa – but also metaphorically – floating far out in the parallel universe on a mind-bending acid trip.

Maybe I am just too British, but my one other gripe was about the brazen levels of overtly brash, in-your-face narcissism, with too many people seemingly too concerned with out-cooling each other. The irony being that, despite the nods to non-conformity, most Burners looked like they had all been to the same tailor – or at least outfitters – issued with their standard Burning Man uniforms – from the Mad Max goggles and gas masks, to the platform boots and sequinned military caps. There is of course an abundance of very beautiful people, usually not wearing very

much at all – one camp is composed entirely of models – but it was striking how adherent to a certain look the whole event is, suggesting that despite the anarchic principles and infinite space for individual expression, most of us are still driven like lemmings by group conformity.

Then again, there are no one-ended sticks and perhaps most of any negatives that I might highlight pale into obscurity when offset by the sheer magnitude of the spectacle? Maybe these ambiguities and paradoxical features are more representative of the Land of the Free itself, where any overt expression of rebellion is ultimately forced to run on the rails? Where else but America could you have an overtly psychedelic event, in the middle of a desert, miles from anywhere, in a state which has legalised marijuana, but not be allowed to put it in your pipe and smoke it? The ironies are stark. 

2 thoughts on “The Playadox – Reflections on Burning Man

  1. Another coruscating Spowers’ essay from the imaginarium. Playadox revealed beneath the pyrotechnics. Says a lot about contemporary America too.

  2. Really interesting to read a balanced account. I have a friend who loves this event and lives for and by it every year. The eco aspect is rarely highlighted, nor the conformity element, in accounts I hear. All in all it probably shows that any ‘utopia’ is going to end up with similar problems experienced in our very un-utopian capitalist system – so more ‘research’ (= participant observation) is required to work that out!

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