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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Boldly Going Nowhere

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Burning Man

We live in a world of rules made by men in suits and neckties. Free-spirited weirdoes have difficulty coping with the nonsense of conformity and have an overwhelming desire for self-expression, the weirder the better.

In 1986, a small group of free-spirited weirdoes burned an 8-foot-tall wooden structure of a man on Baker Beach in San Francisco, a city famous for free-spiritedness. They considered it "a spontaneous act of radical self-expression." This soon became an annual event and, in 1990, was moved to a more suitable location.

Burning Man is now a week-long festival, leading up to Labor Day weekend, that takes place on a barren, flat basin in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, about 90 miles north of Reno. On Saturday night, the sixth night of the event, a large wooden framework of a man is set ablaze as a non-spontaneous act of prior self-expression.

Each year, radical "artistic" weirdoes descend on the area to create a temporary community of self-reliance called Black Rock City, which gets bigger every year. In 2005, 36,500 weirdoes attended the festivities.

The participants are called "burners" and must have a high regard for creativity and a willingness to partake in a "gift-based" society. In other words, they must be unemployed social misfits with a propensity to frolic.

Black Rock City is confined within a circle with a 1.5 mile diameter. The wooden man, 80 feet tall (height varies from year to year), stands in the center and avenues extend from the structure to the perimeter of the circle.

Any gathering of thousands of self-expressive weirdoes would not be complete without merriment, music, street performances, interpretive dancing and guerrilla theater, which take place from dusk to dusk. It's basically a collection of exhibitionists showing off, with no one to watch because everyone else is too busy showing off too.

Even in a temporary society where freedom of expression reigns supreme, there are rules. Cash transactions are prohibited (no flea market action) and underground barter is discouraged. The only commerce allowed is the sale of coffee and ice at the center of camp, maintained by the organizers, which provides funds for the event, including the rental of portable toilets and a contract bus shuttle service to the nearby town of Gerlach, Nevada.

Nudity, sexuality, profanity and weird behavior are all permitted. Fireworks, firearms and dogs are forbidden. The only vehicles allowed on the premises must be "art" cars (decorated up to weirdo-artistic standards).

A sample of the scheduled daily activities for the 2006 event includes:

7 a.m. -- Playa Tai Chi

7:30 a.m. -- Neuromuscular Integrative Action

8 a.m. -- Regenerative Yoga

8:30 a.m. -- Body Painting & Body Art

9 a.m. -- Osho Dynamic Meditation

9:30 a.m. -- Heavenly Yoga

10 a.m. -- Reiki Massage & Crystal Healing

10:30 a.m. -- Alternative Energy Walking

11 a.m. -- Traditional Thai Massage

And so forth. Obviously, there's something for everyone, unless you're a fuddy-duddy regular person.

The festival is meant to be a venue of freedom of expression and non-conformity, yet the participants must conform to the etiquette (rules) of the community and behave in a certain manner in order to fit in. Even in the land of the weirdo, the cost of freedom includes hypocrisy, just as it does in the real world.

As usual, I won't be attending the festivities this year. I think I'll be busy cleaning my oven that week. Besides, I don't have to go all the way to Nevada to mingle with weirdoes -- I live in Arkansas.

Non-conformity is just fine with me, but excessive weirdness is a lot like excessive insanity.

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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at bret@centurytel.net.