One of the most entertaining and well written rants I've read in a long, long time was the result of Tim and Patrick's first trip to Burning Man (I've never attended and have no plans to--flying over, maybe someday).

The post, titled simply Burning Man: Our Review is an excellent piece that fits into a nice groove: it's not quite all out whining and their exaggerations aren't so bad that you can believe them (most of them). Though it's long, I urge you to read it yourself. But if you don't, here are a few excerpts that I particularly enjoyed.

You know it's going to be a good rant when it starts out on a strong footing:

The idea of holding a massive event in one of the hottest nastiest driest places on the planet seems stupid on the face of it. Why would almost 40,000 people pay over $200 for a ticket and probably $1000-1500 total to suffer in this godforsaken place for a week or more? For years my common sense kept me away, just as it has safely helped me avoid backpacking in Afghanistan, running an ultra-marathon in Death Valley or eating bacon wrapped hot dogs from the vendor carts in Tijuana. Though my common sense seldom fails me, my friends often do and they conned me into wasting a week of my life and about $1500 to attend Burning Man 2006.

Even though I already know the outcome (it's a bad experience), I feel compelled to read about how bad it was. I mean, shoot. I've heard such good stuff about Burning Man from people I know.

Apparently they had too...

To be fair, my friends had been conned themselves by glowing reports of the “magic” of this overrated hippie love fest at the gates of Hell. “Burning Man changed my life, man” was the word. Hey, we all want to change our lives: stop smoking, lose weight, quit drinking, fall in love. The promoters of Burning Man promised all of this and more in their feel-good web accounts of dull people who now lead exciting lives, thanks to taking the Burning Man cure. These absurd claims had the hollow ring of cult indoctrination, but I was hooked. I wanted to drink the spiked kool-aid and search for magic in the nothingness of the Black Rock Desert.

What Burning Man really is about:

Whatever Burning Man supporters claim, know this, the event is a 24/7 bacchanal of booze, drugs, nudity, S&M, public sex, and bad art, all done in a scorching flat dry oasis of misery that reminded me of the surface of Mars. This drug orgy is translated by event promoters on the BM website as a “radical experiment in self-expression.” Wasn’t that Jeffery Dahmer’s excuse when asked about the body parts in his fridge?

Bonus points for a serial killer reference!

But how bad could it be? Here's the first day:

The first full day at BM felt like the worst jet lag of my life. I was tired from the 900-mile trip, exhausted from the heat, the dust and the 4,000 ft altitude and thin air. The word “nausea” barely covers the full body ache you feel when “acclimating” to the Martian landscape and punishing heat of Burning Man. You can’t move, you can’t escape the dust or heat and you are surrounded by some of the most perverse and deviant people you will ever meet. Everywhere you look a “porno-copia” of sagging balls, flopping peckers, hairy asses, flabby breasts and other uninvited unattractive nakedness will strip away any remnant of goodwill you may feel towards your fellow burners as the caustic alkali dust strips away your exposed skin. What gives these naked perverts the right to expose their ugly fucked-out carcasses? If being forced to view hundreds of hairy ass cracks as you gag down breakfast sounds fun, Burning Man is for you.

Appetizing, isn't it?

On the vehicular art:

Burning Man Wednesday to Friday was a cauldron of dust, heat and shabby monster trucks (some absurdly labeled as “art cars”) crammed dangerously with partiers blasting bad music from blown speakers. Every day the noise and number of yahoos increased as the weekend approached. The post-apocalyptic spirit of Mad Max and Beyond Thunderdome were all around: monster cars, noise, chaos and intimidation.

Who is the Burning Man crowd, really?

Imagine a shabby, somewhat dangerous crew of NASCAR fans, bikers and other bullies looking to inflict their lifestyle on your camp site, then circling for hours and hours all night for another round of megaphone ranting and stupidity. These are the people who tailgated us at 80mph in overloaded RVs hurtling recklessly down the infamous Donner Pass toward Reno. These are the people who complained when firearms were banned from Burning Man a few years ago. If you want to live in a trailer park with 40,000 people where insane drinking, drugging, public nudity and lawlessness are the norm, Burning Man is for you.

On "costumes" and the dress code:

Burning Man is not for non-conformists. You must wear a Burning Man outfit or risk constant abuse. I did not wear any silly costumes at Burning Man, or dress in drag, or hang my ass in the breeze, nor did my friends. Surviving the heat was plenty: we had no spare energy for playing dress up. For this breech in burner protocol, weirdoes in furry suits chided us that “jeans are not a costume.” These “furries” dress in full fur suits, like comic characters in the Ice Capades or that big rat at Chucky Cheese, and like to do drugs and have sex in their suits while in character. If there is anything worse than a pervert, it’s a self-righteous druggie pervert, dressed as a chipmunk, offering unsolicited fashion tips. If you want catty advice on how to dress from a crowd of Rocky Horror Picture Show rejects, Burning Man is for you.

On diversity:

Despite pretensions of forming an “experimental community” the Burning Man demographic is whiter than the crowds at the Republican National Convention: Dick Cheney white and twice as mean. I saw less than a half-dozen black people all week and only a few Asians. This proves my theory that blacks and Asians have way more sense than whites. The lack of diversity and total indifference to this lack seem odd considering the pretensions of many Bay Area residents and other burners to racial and ethnic inclusion. There is nothing new or experimental about an all-white community.

And a Nazi reference, just for good measure:

As the Burning Man burns, both his arms eventually fall to his side. Curiously, his left arm dropped first, leaving his right arm raised in a straight-armed Nazi salute. At that moment, a spontaneous cheer went up a thousand right arms were raised as one over the smoky playa. Heil hippie! No shit, I have it on film.

On why this was all so surprising:

If you read my review of Burning Man and assume I’m some hung-up religious prude, I can assure you this is not the case. My factual description of the event is accurate. I wrote this review because I could find nothing truly critical of Burning Man online. This is incredibly suspicious. Mother Teresa was considered a living saint yet there are many critical essays about her, but none on Burning Man? Many supporters of Burning Man defend the event as fervently as Tom Cruise defends Scientology. Anyone that is critical simply does not “get it.” My friend Tim responded in kind to a BM supporter when he replied “Is it possible I got it, but ‘it’ actually sucks ass?”

Ah, yes. Those Burning Man folks are pretty protective of their image. I believe that jwz covered this quite well in burning hypocrisy a few years back...

Burning Man is no different. Disney protects their brand because if someone else exploited their park in a way they didn't like, it would no longer be projecting the image that they want, and the park would no longer be profitable (or, "full of happy little kids" if you prefer to look at it that way.)
I don't have any problem with that.
What I have a problem with is the hypocrisy: Disney is at least honest about what they are doing and why. The Burning Man people went through such amazing verbal and mental gymnastics to avoid using the word "brand" in their press kit that it was comical.

Heh. Gotta love it.

Posted by jzawodn at September 13, 2006 05:03 PM

Reader Comments
# Dan Isaacs said:

Funniest part of this article, as any parent will attest, is the event being called "BM". Fitting.

on September 13, 2006 06:21 PM
# pmp said:

I have been 3 times. Last time was in 1997. I have never paid, but the last time was the most difficult to circumvent the near fortress wall put around the desert.

I vowed never to go again after seeing "silver man's" balls hanging down somewhere in the general vacinity of his knees.

99.99% of people should not be naked.
The remaining 0.01% don't go to Burning Man.

on September 13, 2006 09:28 PM
# Joshua Allen said:

Give 'em a break. This is the way that boomers get to experience what they've been missing for the past 20 years while they slaved for the man. Boomers don't do house parties; they move en masse. Boomer identity is defined by a fascination with "rebel vs. suit", so it's not surprising that the archetypes from their youth (hell's angels, big trucks) show up at their version of a rave.

on September 14, 2006 06:35 AM
# Avdi said:

Oops, missed the "no HTML" warning. The URL I intended to reference was this:

on September 14, 2006 07:19 AM
# Joseph Hunkins said:

Phew, glad they and you (Jeremy) broke the Burning Man censorship ice. For several years I've been secretly thinking "wow, that sounds like a HORRIBLE experience!" but I was disinclined to talk about it since so many people from CA and here in So Oregon are HUGE fans of Burning Man and all I've read are glowing reports of the event, which I now wonder may be glowing only because they are alcohol and drug-induced reports? If it's even half as bad as this makes it sound I'll consider myself very fortunate to keep missing it.

on September 14, 2006 09:38 AM
# hack said:

I've always rolled my eyes up when I heard Bay Area tech weenies talk about attending Burning Man. Glad you're not one of them.

on September 14, 2006 03:24 PM
# blorf said:

i've never been to burning man either, but this guy came in to it with a really negative attitude. why even go if you know it will be crappy?

on September 18, 2006 02:46 PM
# Sasquatch said:

Oh my, it's five times as bad as that blogger fellow said. A veritable death march with tents. He doesn't even mention the sand fleas. My bites are only now healing. You're better off sparing yourselves this experience truly. Besides, I hear Italy's beautiful this year.

on September 18, 2006 03:39 PM
# kfw said:

I went this year for the third time and did the whole week sober. It was just as awesome as my previous two times (which I did not do sober...) though mellower and more low-key.

Much of what this guy wrote is a bit exaggerated (though the harshness of the environment out there is not) and it sounds like he went in with a negative attitude. His experience was exactly what he made it.

yeah, there's a lot of bad art. There's also a lot of really amazing art that you'd never see in a museum (a lot of that has to do with scale and fire, not quality.) And yes, there's a lot of ugly naked people but not in anywhere near the abundant quantities this guy describes. In my experience there is a higher percentage of hotties of both genders at Burning Man than in the general population. I mean really, everywhere you look there's some hot shirtless dude or some hot babe prancing around in panties and go-go boots. Seriously, the overall hotness of the population at Burning Man is pretty impressive and the beautiful sexy and attractive far outnumber the not so beautiful, unsexy and unattractive.

Yes, the event is largely white but the numbers of people of various ethnicities are increasing. (I'm asian in case that's relevant to anyone). Last year in my camp I was the only non-white person in a group of 18. This year, we were a group of 30 and had two asians, two african americans and a latina. Though if you check out the dance music/rave/festival/jam band/hippie scenes (which Burning Man largely draws from): white white white. So the whiteness isn't inherent to Burning Man so much as it's inherent to "alternative" culture in the U.S. (hip-hop being a big exception, though how "alternative" is it really?)

Overall I think it's good for there to be criticisms of the event...but this guy clearly has a chip on his shoulder. He comes across as extremely negative and judgmental and like he showed up and expected to be entertained in the passive consumer way U.S. mediated culture trains us to expect. It doesn't sound like he put much energy into actively shaping his own experience or like he participated in any meaningful way. It doesn't sound like he even acknowledges his own responsibility for his own experience. In fact, he comes across as a spoiled whiny kid who didn't get just what he wanted for Christmas. Boo hoo.

on September 18, 2006 03:54 PM
# 10-E said:

You know what, you are exactly right. Please don't go to Burning Man.

on September 18, 2006 03:59 PM
# Tony said:

Don't give Jeremy a bad time-so he hated it.....I think he was very clever in his description-even if he was negative, it was in a clever, funny way. Even though I do like Burningman-it certainly isn't for everyone. I never try to talk anyone into going that doesn't think they would like to find what you're looking for out there, and if you go out there convinced you are going to hate every minute of it-well, you find that too!

I love Burningman (have been 3 times-always drug-free and not too overdone on the alcohol) and I always describe it to friends who are thinking of going as "Heaven and Hell". No matter how great a time you may be having, there is always the heat and constant dust and little irritants (like some guy with a loudspeaker shouting out his "Spoken Word Poetry" at 3:30 in the morning, just as you finally thought you were going to get a decent night's sleep). I have heard of people hating it all the way, but I feel there is also a lot of Heaven when you are facing your most trying circumstances-maybe you are exausted after the cocaphany from the night before, and that allows you to just sit and listen (without interrupting for a change)to a truly beautiful soul give you some insights or philosophy to light up you life and enhance it for many years into the future.

I have a friend that is on the organizing committee and the first year before I went I asked her "Why is it out in an inhospitable desert, during the hottest part of the year, miles from anywhere!?"

She replied "Oh, we weed out the complainers that way. Having it out there in the heat of summer makes it so miserable that the whiners don't last and talk it down to their fellow whiney, negative friends. That way only the most easy-going, versitile, creative, positive people show up, and we get the best people to create this city and participate to make it all work!"

I certainly have met some of the most amazing people I will ever know in my lifetime out there!!

on September 18, 2006 07:13 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I think you've misread. I've never been to Burning Man.

on September 18, 2006 07:15 PM
# out-there-man said:

I think KFW said it best. "His experience was exactly what he made it."
I myself have never been to the Burn. I've heard about it since 1995 but was never inclined to go. I'm all for magic and transcendance, but not much for rave music and harsh environs.
Anyway a close friend of mine went with exactly the attitude KFW brought up. He had deep intention. If he went looking for sex, drugs, and debauchery he surely would have found it. But he went with deep spiritual intention and had deep awakening and a profound experience. And made a bunch of beautiful, new, switched-on friends.
Burning man is just another micro-cosm. And there, as in life, one creates their own experience. Though on the playa, that experience is magnified and very in-your-face.
This guy went in w/ a bad attitude and a had a negative experience. Period. To crucify the entire event based on his own abused headspace is...let's kindly say...short-sighted.
I'm sure his insights about hypocrisy have some validity but hypocrisy is something our world is rife with. We can all strive for purity, but we don't always make it all the time.
So be it. Let's just keep trying.
To close I do have to say that this guy's account is HYSTERICAL and props to Jeremy for reprinting it!

on September 18, 2006 11:48 PM
# David Kaye said:

Who didn't know that Burning Man takes place in the Nevada desert on the hottest week of the year? Who didn't know that there were going to be over 35,000 people there, many of them yahoos? Who didn't know that many people walk around naked? Who didn't know that people drink and do some drugs there?

The poster acts as if this is some big surprise, some unexpected situation.

Burning Man is an endurance test, art show, and party. Why is this some kind of surprise?

I happen to like Burning Man, though I don't go very often. About once every 3 or 4 years is enough for me, but for some (many) people, Burning Man is a cathartic and enlightening experience. So be it.

on September 19, 2006 02:41 AM
# diana said:

Wow. What a bunch of negative BS. If you don't like it, fine. But you could have read about the event and discovered it wasn't for you ahead of time. If you can't handle extreme camping, don't go and then whine about it (this is not more challenging than an intense camping trip). If you're a conformist who only wears jeans and can't handle people looking like 'weirdos', don't go to an event about being open-minded. The people I've met there are some of the most friendly, loving, fun, accepting people I've ever met, and most people seem to think so. Has it occurred to you that there aren't bad review on the internet, not because it's a Nazi conspiracy (brilliant and original argument)but because people enjoy friendly people and amazing art in a beautiful place?

on September 19, 2006 11:52 AM
# andy said:

Oh my god. This guy is a dork. Hopefully he will stay home forever. We don't need any dorks at burning man.

Everything he says sounds like a noob idiot. Wrong wrong wrong. That's fine. Looks like all you brought to the playa was attitude. Next time try some art. Whatta loser.

on September 19, 2006 01:32 PM
# krissy said:

Before you go blasting how crappy Burning Man was- why don't you consider what's in your head about how you judge people. As a good friend of mine wrote and is posted on

Burning Man is a continual week-long process of letting go. There are so many things to get snagged on - the heat, the dust, the wind, the cold, the naked guy if you're modest, the clothed people if you're the naked guy, and on and on. Getting snagged and never untangling yourself can be the bandit that steals from you the true experience of Burning Man.

The immediate beauty of Burning Man does not lie in the art or the people or the landscape. The immediate beauty of Burning Man, for each individual, lies in that magical and beautiful moment when you let go of whatever has snagged you and then become present to the apparent and abundant beauty that is the art, the people, and the landscape. It is in this split second of letting go that we set ourselves free.

Outside of Burning Man, we have many options to manipulate, control and rule over our mini-universes. We tweak the volume control, air-conditioning dial, snooze button, or broil knob all to be comfortable. However, if we stopped tweaking the knobs, just for one second, something magical might happen. Leave the heater alone... in a little while you're cold. However, listen quietly and realize "YOU'RE FEELING SOMETHING!!!" We go about our lives trying to eradicate any possible discomfort and we end up feeling nothing at all.

At Burning Man, this abrupt inability to control one's environment can come as a shock. Some are never quite able to revive themselves. They return home and think "Well that was interesting, but way too _________." (Fill in the blank - but it's usually something no one can control, like dirty or noisy).

On the playa, you pretty much have access to only one knob and there are two settings: ON or OFF. You choose.

Choose OFF and you're snagged. Complaint mode. No fun. No freedom. No play. Just general irritation and a gravity-like urge to hide in your tent.

Choose ON and you choose to let go - to be free. You untangle yourself from whatever it is that's out of your control. You realize that the dust storm, or the strange guy, or the blazing sun is actually your golden ticket. They're your access to feeling something, to experience something, to be set totally free and be completely present to the beauty surrounding you.

Me. I choose ON.... and on and on and on.

on September 19, 2006 01:32 PM
# JudyG said:

Some people like vanilla, some people like chocolate.

We had a blast at ouur first burn this year. Was already planning next year's trip before we left BRC.


on September 19, 2006 01:35 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Uh, someone needs a clue here. *I* am NOT blasting burning man. As I've said three times now, I've never been there. I'm simply relaying an amusing rant.

Get it?


on September 19, 2006 04:58 PM
# rndmtim said:

Jeremy I don't know why you're blasting Burning Man without ever having gone there. That seems so unfair. Some people just won't listen.

But it's all true, Burning Man sucks now. It was so much better 3 years ago. No one should go.

on September 19, 2006 07:36 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


on September 19, 2006 08:00 PM
# Greg said:

"the event is a 24/7 bacchanal of booze, drugs, nudity, S&M, public sex, and bad art"

So... where's the downside?


on September 20, 2006 01:52 AM
# dd said:

hey all, jeremy DIDN'T go to bm. he's just posting snippets from another posting. pahleeeeze....don't make the rest of us burners look so damn stupid.

btw, nothing not funny about this banter....from the guy who had a terrible time to the BM igmotards who think you went....quite enjoyable.

on September 20, 2006 09:45 AM
# Karen Anderson Smith said:

I think you sissies should really stay at home . You should've never left your momma's nipple. Stay at home and watch Network TV or alternatively drill a hole in your skull and have a monkey bang it .


on September 20, 2006 03:48 PM
# matrilda said:

I'd pay much more attention to your piece if you had at least made it interesting. Alas, I fell asleep right in the middle of it!

on September 21, 2006 01:34 PM
# Sean said:

Well, what do they expect from an over-commercialized, played-out, and just plain LAME media event.

Desert Raves were much fun in the early/mid-90's when hardly anyone knew about them, but that was over a decade ago.

It's as bad as DJ's who spin trance and think they're 'cool' or 'innovating a scene'.


on September 21, 2006 04:02 PM
# Amit Patel said:

Jeremy, lots of people don't understand the concept of "quoting". Just look at what the Pope's going through.

on September 21, 2006 09:56 PM
# Eric Vigo said:

OK, on topic.

Jeremy, I found your referenced rant illuminating. I always want to see 2 sides of a story (when I am in the mood), especially when I attend an event that presented me with a lot of challenges, and strong rebuff to them.

All in all, I have come out very excited about my personal experiences at BM (yes I will abbreviate...) and am not too fond of the management stories I have heard, but hey, I will volunteer next time and see how a bunch of humans balance things. Expecting them to be saints or sinners, well, no I wont. And if there are changes needed, then I will note them.

BTW I have hung around anarchists and business people who have the same trends within themselves. Some dictatorial, some defensive, some creative. Like myself.

I would imagine that the difference between my experience and your experience, is that I go there to face some challenges, and accept.

I walked around "normal" (only clean clothes I had), and got no shit. If I did, I would have had a great time heckling back. I love that sort of stuff. Oh, and there is a lot of groping, and drugs, and sex. Well...............I am happy for that to happen. But you arent. So, .... eh .... there you go

You have the absolute right to have a problem with people being nude. Hey, I wont stop you, and I guess, neither will many of those around you or in the future. I imagine that you will still have this issue when you are much older, however diminished in importance it may be. Its not scientific to be "ewww"ing to nude people, neither is my view. I also imagine that you may have had 0% partakingship in nudity - I mean, to just to counter the supposed perverts who are nude............with you being the only one, well, you NEEDED to drop your pants just to balance things out.

So, in the end, this rant, and my reply, hopefully allows people to read where each are at, and help define their position on it. Which is why I will wholeheartedly support your right to air someone elses experience. For I guess mine will be allowed on, and in the minds of those who will read, they will be attracted to you or me. To which we will never know the stats, but my guess is that you will not get many brownie points from those who are more interesting to talk to at a party.

To me, your cred will increase if you actually go. For you have as much effect as a 1970 Republican congressperson 73 years of age complaining about the dirty lowlife hippies who went to Woodstock.....

PS I do commend you for the footage of the man burning and the crowd reaction. I knew nothing of it, and if I was there for it, I would have made a stand! (I went to the Templeburn the next night, and that was almost meditative. Go figure!)

on September 23, 2006 12:06 AM
# Tan said:

Hah! I've toyed with the idea of going to the place - just once for the sake of the experience, but now I'm not so hot into it any more. Not that because of the hilarious blog that Jeremy quoted, but the vehemently defending comments from three Burning Man advocates in spite of Jeremy's clarification show how much drugs and booze have damaged their brains. Yuck! The idea of spending a week among them makes me cringe. How are the waves in Hawaii?

on September 24, 2006 01:52 AM
# Andrew S said:


Apparently trolling on "burning man" comes only second to baiting Mac fanatics for getting page views from random non-regular readers.

Well done.

on September 24, 2006 03:12 AM
# Tom Brewer said:

Everyone is welcome at Burning Man, even pissy little whiners.

on September 24, 2006 05:05 PM
# Rick Kim said:

It's fucking free country. Go naked in the desert in your bare ass for a week if you want. I won't stop you if it helps you all FIND yourselves, but I won't stop calling you a bunch of morons either.
But let's not pretend that BM participants are all a bunch of transcendentalists who want to become enlightened by partying their asses off naked in the desert for a week. I can find better outlets for similar results. Vive la Tijuana!

on October 1, 2006 09:30 PM
# said:

It's nice to see you willing to complain about your morning's Starbucks experience.

Throw a Bitch as far as you can catch it...

Too bad you couldn't keep from staring at hairy assholes.

I'm glad you're lowering the expectations.

Perhaps we should all start being "dishonest" about "how great it is".

Maybe we should say, "It's just a bunch of hairy assholes", just to keep the riff raff out .... damn they're already there ... now whaddy wee do ...

on October 2, 2006 12:37 AM
# Owen said:

Well, Burning Man isn't for everyone. Sounds like you prepared yourself for a bad experience and got one. The thing about Burning Man that causes most people to go and keep returning year after year is that it is what you make it. If you sit around only focusing on how hot and dry it is and how ugly some naked bodies are, and how offensive and absurd the partying and sexuality is there, of course you aren't going to have a good time. You have to actively participate and find the things there that you think are fun, and don't let some guy tell you you can't do that in jeans and assume that's what everybody there thinks. Burning Man allows many people to express themselves in ways they can't normally. For some people, it is the only place they feel normal and completely comfortable. Shame on you for belittling that personal freedom and even comparing it to Nazism and serial killers. It's quite obvious you had a horrible time because you failed to see the greater picture. The saddest part, though, is that you purposefully spent all that time, money, and agony going to an event you knew you'd hate. Now who's the bigger hypocrite, honestly?

on September 12, 2009 09:13 PM
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