Burning Man TV: Spectating a No Spectator Party

Well the man burned (again) this year and this time the the Borg (the Burning Man Organization) made sure that he went up with all the pomp, and precision one would expect from a multi-million dollar party in the middle of nowhere.

And thanks to the Current TV network, an independent media company led by former Vice President Al Gore, I could watch this year's burn from the comfort of my easy chair. I mean, who needs to endure blinding dust storms, sunburn and 100 degree weather for a week when you can just watch the whole thing with your fat ass parked in front of the good old boob tube?

Of course the whole idea of "TV Free Burning Man" goes against what used to be the single most paramount of edicts that echoed deep from within the very soul of the Burning Man community - that of no spectators. But since it appears that other previously written-in-stone paradigms have been tossed to the wayside like a poorly secured bag of trash on the way out of the event, what's one more fractured principal gonna hurt?

At one time the man used to be burned directly on the hard desert floor. Then it was decided that the figure should be elevated so that the growing number of attendees could see him, so they propped him up on a pyramid of hay bales. But then someone realized that the heat generated by this pyramid when the thing finally went up was so intense that it was literally fusing the ground into glass underneath it - and that was making a hell of a headache for the organization's "leave no trace" cleanup policy. So they built a big pedestal for the man to stand on and have done so ever since.

This year to coincide with their arguably laughable, politically correct "green" theme, select corporations were allowed to show off their environmentally conscious "emerging technologies" in a specially built 30,000 square foot pavilion directly under the man. A major change of direction from a group that used to spurn commercial vending of any sort. I suppose if Haliburton figured out a way to cash in on the green movement, they would have been there as well.

From the looks of it, this year's burn was pretty-much like all of the other ones I have attended in the past: There was the obligatory hundreds of people spinning fire for what seemed like several hours, fueled by the incessant quasi-tribal drumming by a lot of people that really shouldn't be banging on drums, followed by a truly ridiculous amount of fireworks and pyrotechnic devices (which I am SURE were all environmentally friendly) which then culminated in the ceremonial torching of "the stick" for a pre-determined amount of time until the fire crews pulled the structure down with cables. All carefully scripted, choreographed and executed like a super bowl halftime show.

And despite the fact that the man was a victim of arson early in the week by a long-time burner and prankster, the entire structure was rebuilt in about a day and a half by volunteers. The only difference being the head of the man that burned on Saturday - usually devoid of any features and resembling a Chinese paper lantern - had the image of a phoenix on its face. A fitting symbol for something that literally rose out of the ashes to burn again.

Back in its early days on the shores of Baker Beach in San Francisco, the reason the man was first burned was because it seemed like a cool thing to do. Now its evolved into the event having to have some kind of prom-like theme to it every year. I still to this day cant figure out why this is, and most of the people I know don't really follow the theme much with their camping and art anyway.

Despite all the nonsense, bureaucracy, and thousand upon thousand of picture snapping lookie-loos that go hoping only to catch a glimpse of some woman's tits, there are still pearls of genius to be found in the philosophy of culture that has been formed around this event. A record 47,000 people witnessed the ceremonial torching on Saturday night, (though its a safe bet that a lot of people likely split early to avoid the Sunday morning exodus off the desert floor.) and despite this many people living in one place, law enforcement agencies reported only six arrests for the entire week (up to Thursday). Really not a bad percentage when you think about it.

The little desert camping trip I've been going to for close to ten years gives me hope that with teamwork of hard-working like-minded individuals, anything is achievable. Even changing the world for something better.

But watching it on TV has GOT to go. Seriously. There are so many amazing things out there that just need to be experienced. Not just watched.

If you care to live your debauchery vicariously, here is ten minutes from this year's big night. There's a pretty-impressive fireball at the 7:42 mark if you're interested.

Clip courtesy of Current TV and someone who stole it and put it on YouTube:

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