Sherpas and techies: this is Burning Man

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

They burned The Man out on the Black Rock Desert playa last weekend. Did we notice? Do we care? No, not much, but as the Burners’ favorite critic — or so they tell me — I have a solemn duty to tell the other side of their story.

Actually, Burning Man has become so boring and so predictable that it’s hardly worth writing about any more. Nevertheless, I’m compelled to reiterate my two primary objections to the annual naked drug festival: (1) illegal drugs and (2) the presence of young children at an X-rated bacchanal. Yes, I know Burning Man generates millions of dollars in revenue for our struggling Northern Nevada economy, but we pay a high price for hosting such an event. As for the kids, they don’t belong there. Period. The good news is that some of the more enlightened Burners agree with me.

Some of my Burner friends tell me they’ve never seen any drugs out there on the playa, but I don’t believe them. While I understand their “see no evil” attitude, I think they suffer from SVD (selective vision disorder). Anyone who doubts my illegal drugs allegation should read recent articles by Nick Bilton of the New York Times and Kevin Roose of New York magazine. “While drugs are technically illegal, they are easier to obtain than candy at Halloween,” Bilton wrote, and Roose commented on the festival’s “drug-fueled debauchery,” which may help to explain why some 65,000 “free spirits” pay an average of $360 each to bake in the desert sun during the week leading up to Labor Day.

While some Burners may be attracted by the “art,” I think many of them sign up for a steady diet of sex, drugs, and electronic music. John Law, a Burning Man co-founder who had a falling out with founder Larry Harvey, now describes the event as “a Disneyland for attorneys and accountants on Ecstasy.”

Bilton went on to describe another problem that afflicts Burning Man and its “no money” mantra. According to the Burners, no money changes hands — they always “gift” each other — and yet, according to Fortune magazine, the festival’s Bay Area organizers gross nearly $25 million in gate receipts while sharing more than $4 million with their co-conspirators from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

A steady stream of rich Silicon Valley and Seattle techies have invaded Burning Man. “In recent years the competition for who in the tech world could outdo who evolved from a need for more luxurious sleeping quarters,” Bilton wrote. “People went from spending the night in tents ... to building actual structures,” including air-conditioned “yurts.” One clever entrepreneur is even offering air-conditioned, inflatable “spider houses” for $5,000 to $10,000 per week.

Some affluent capitalists have gone way upscale at the supposedly downscale event. In a costly game of “Can You Top This?” wealthy techies are hiring “sherpas” who serve them “like kings and queens (with) meals prepared by teams of chefs, including sushi, lobster boils and steak tartare.” But wait, there’s more. An imaginative Swiss company has announced a Burning Man Concierge Service “that seems more like a cruise liner vacation than a week in the dusty desert, including electricity, water, satellite wifi ... and fresh buffets for every meal.” Sign me up!

Well, that’s what’s going on at Burning Man these days, but we won’t be hearing anything about sherpas and luxury accommodations at Black Rock City from the Burners because, as Bilton wrote, “That would mean that the tech elite actually cared about money — which would just go against the entire Burning Man spirit.” Can you say “hypocrisy?”

Guy W. Farmer is a longtime critic of Burning Man.


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