Indiana Daily Student

The yuppification of nudist arson

There are a few things in life that I'd like to do.\nI'd like to convince the editors at the Village Voice to allow me to report on the Mets. I'd like to discover a cure for sickle cell anemia, feed and clothe the homeless, find inner peace and come up with a really great recipe for beef cannelloni.\nYes, I'd like to eliminate all needless human suffering, including exposure to really bad pasta casserole. And the next time I'm waiting in line behind some schmuck paying for a $1.29 fountain drink with a credit card, that's exactly why I'd like to take a brick to his skull ' again and again and again and again...\nNo wait, scratch that one. I'm already on probation.\nSomething I've yet to get around to doing is to attend the Burning Man Festival, an annual event held amid the wilderness of Nevada during the week of Labor Day. Culminating in the ceremonial burning of a 52-foot wooden man, it's part arts festival, part anarchy. It's all bacchanal.\nTyping away at my word processor, I can already hear my editor clucking over my use of bacchanal, which is known in the journalism business as a $10 word. Well, it's Greek in origin. Bacchus is another name of Dionysus, the god of wine and high spirits. In modern-day English, bacchanal loosely translates into "getting seriously sloshed with, like, a bunch of other people. And stuff."\nBasically, at Burning Man a slew of iconoclastic freaks go out to the desert, where they can't really bathe or attend to other matters of personal hygiene for more than a week. Money is altogether useless at the communal event, and the only things you can barter for are ice and gasoline.\nAdmittedly, it doesn't sound like fun. It sounds like vacationing at some Super 8 in the rolling hills of Kentucky.\nAh, but it's so much more, and the attendees aren't functionally illiterate.\nOn the contrary, they're artistically inclined, filling the Nevada wasteland with sculpture, as well as conceptual and performance art.\nAnd it's not the sort of art you'd see on display at the Louvre. In fact, much of it would make a Francis Bacon exhibit look like an arts and crafts festival in Akron, Ohio. We're talking about art installations like an artificial tree made entirely of animal bones and a "Costco Soul Mate Trading Outlet," which features life partners at bulk rates. Costco encourages patrons to "trade in their old loved ones for fresh, new ones."\nThat, and a good many of the attendees are naked.\nThe proverbial ball for Burning Man got rolling when founder Larry Harvey spontaneously burned a generic effigy in San Francisco Bay back in 1985. It's rumored that he was pissed off about a nasty breakup.\nHe took to doing it every year, inviting some of his friends along. Since the Reagan administration, it's ballooned from a few dozen people to more than 30,000. Harvey even had to found a Burning Man Limited Liability Corporation to grapple legally with the insurance risks.\nI hear the monthly rates for wide-scale arson are fairly unreasonable.\nBut that's basically why I declined to attend. Tickets now run at $200 a pop.\nWhat's still worse is that the Burning Man has become a haven for Silicon Valley yuppies. Wired magazine even reports that "low-key networking" goes on. That's right, you heard it here first ' Burning Man has sold out to the man.\nActually, you probably already heard it from the San Francisco Chronicle. But I'll officially ring its death knell. Burning Man was once a pure, unadulterated expression of rage ' gloriously homicidal rage.\nWe're talking about a festival that has relentlessly mocked and chided the vapid consumerism of our day and age. Once a bastion of scathing contempt for the evils of commercialism, Burning Man is now overrun by dot-comers. The event's organizers have even had to ban Internet access to prevent attendees from neurotically checking their e-mail every five minutes.\nSomething so noble, so pure, has been corrupted.\nSomewhere, doubtless out in the Nevada desert, an Indian is shedding a single tear.

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