Photo: REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
Next time you spy drug-blasted people bicycling through Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, wearing tutus and little else, don’t be envious. They’re invariably at Burning Man, the annual pop-up festival which runs from Aug. 28 through Sept. 5 — and are probably miserable with themselves.
Sure, it looks fun to spend a few days enjoying a gift economy, listening to techno, cooling off in refrigeration trucks and gawking at surreal sculptures or taking in offbeat performance art But, according to Daniel Yudkin, a social psychology Ph.D. candidate at New York University, as reported by Quartz, the eight days of decadent hedonism provide once-a-year opportunities for attendees to experience bona fide connections with others. All the other non-Burning days of their lives? Not so much.
Rather than reflecting how much fun Burning Man is, the reality of people spending thousands of dollars — on travel, accommodations, tickets and drugs — serves as proof that their non-Burner days are pathetically empty. “I think the fact that people invest so much of their own resources and time and energy to going to Burning Man suggests that there’s something missing, that there’s something Burning Man fulfills for them that they don’t get in day-to-day life,” Yudkin says.
Sadly, then, if Burning Man sets the stage for them to be the way that they really want to be, every other day is just the opposite.
“For many people, in day-to-day life our freedoms are quite restricted, sometimes very restricted, and our ability for self-expression is limited,” said Stephen Joseph, author of “Authentic: How To Be Yourself & Why It Matters.” “People spend the day in workplaces where quite often we have to hold our tongues, not say what we really think, keep going, do what we need to do. It can be very tiring and exhausting living a life day to day that feels quite inauthentic and [lacks the] capacity for freedom and self-expression.”
While it’s easy to write all this off as the byproduct of being overly coddled and having unrealistic expectations, Joseph makes a case for Burning Man operating as a bubbling caldron of the legitimately discontented and disenfranchised.
“For many people, it’s more than a niggling sense of discomfort” that they experience say to day, Joseph told Quartz. “It’s a real tension that they carry. Those people need something more.”