Part II of a Comprehensive Burning Man Exposé
It’s not easy being the only white guy here at Modern Jackass. At times I can get downright self-conscious about it, especially when blogging alongside one of the most malcontent Indian curmudgeons you’re likely to encounter. In spite of my glaring cultural irrelevance, though, I have perhaps garnered a tinge of insight into the world outside of my sheltered upbringing of acting in musical theater and playing center for the St. Francis De Sales Catholic basketball team (my game high record was four points!).
With that in mind, it’s understandable that one of the most conspicuous trends I observed out at Burning Man this year was the paucity of any non-white ethnic group. Out on the Playa, you will inevitably encounter every kind of white person imaginable—from hippies to hipsters, leather-clad bikers to So Cal skaters, nudists to “Buddhists” to drug-addled, rambling middle-aged alcoholics who recount sordid stories of coercing strippers into three ways that culminate in Eiffel Towers thwarted by “dope dick.” But the number of black people I encountered on the Playa was so miniscule that my friends and I eventually started a tally of how many black people we even spotted at an event that boasted over 50,000 attendees. My total after a week: 26. And I think I maybe saw four or five people who could be classified as Asian, and that includes one lone Indian dude, trudging through the desert wearing a CamelBak and a hot pink Speedo.
The music at Burning Man reflects this trend. At one rave after another, and on board virtually every art car and “mutant vehicle” that sailed past us in the desert night, we were subjected to almost exclusively house music—pounding, vapid beats that propelled hordes of white people into mindless, frenetic gyrations. There was an almost unbelievable lack of any music that could be categorized as hip-hop, R&B, soul, funk, or reggae—in other words, anything that might be classified as “black.”
We were fortunate enough to encounter one art car, a locomotive-shaped vessel with an undulating snout on its front that was more than a little phallic, that cut through the sea of synthetic bass thumping with some legitimate, dirty-ass soul jams, and we chased after it, eager to succumb to its relentless grooves. Then it was gone as quickly as it had arrived, a mirage in the desert, and we settled, once again, for the flaccid techno that the Burning Man demographic seemingly just cannot get enough of. Alas.
The lack of musical diversity illustrates a larger pattern of sameness on the Playa. Throughout the course of the week, my friends and I scoured the desert for new and exciting people and experiences and, while we certainly enjoyed ourselves, over time our group excursions became more and more predictable. Yes, we encountered drag queens, and throat singers, and exceptionally talented fire dancers, but behind all the glamorous excess that Burning Man provides in such abundance, everybody just started looking like white people desperately seeking some kind of individuality.
Why is Burning Man such a white man’s playground? Is it a byproduct of the predominantly white, liberal, middle-class group of San Franciscans who started the Burn in the mid ‘80s? Probably. Does it serve as a form of escapism for a generation of white people who have no identity, motivation, or drive, so therefore resolve to nihilistically frolic about in gender ambiguous costumes, take drugs, have random sex and celebrate their own uselessness? Well. While this is certainly not an all-encompassing sentiment, there are certainly factions of the Burning Man community that operate with this sort of mindset. Do other ethnic groups find this kind of decadence alienating, distasteful, and crude, and therefore don’t even want to be associated with it in the first place? I mean, I think so, but what do I know? I’m just a white guy.
Be sure to check out my previous post on Burning Man, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”