Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Burning Man and Modern Primitives

Similarly to the feelings of many in the class, I am slightly torn on my opinions of Burning Man and the culture that surrounds it. I understand its origins, specifically with the modern primitives movement, but I definitely feel like Burning Man no longer has the same meaning for everyone. Whereas, initially, this was a time for people to escape from society and material items, it has now become a highly commercialized and rather expensive event.
Yes, I feel that there are still individuals who go to Burning Man for the spiritual experience it presents. Although this is true, it is important to keep in mind the popularity and the prominence of "music festivals" in today's society. I, myself, attended a large scale music festival last summer, camping in tents and unnecessarily lacking showers for several days. My generation, specifically, seems to find this slight obsession in music festivals such as Ultra, Coachella, Governor's Ball, etc. Even Syracuse has its own form of music festival seen in Juice Jam in the Fall and Mayfest and Block Party in the Spring time. Although Burning Man's origin is not that of a music festival, it is now heavily advertised and commercialized, specifically for today's young adults. Burning Man brings in desirable musical acts, flooding in young adults who have very little understanding of the spiritual and freeing origins this event contains. Also, these events have an overflow of recreational drug and alcohol use. Not that this is very different than many who have attended Burning Man in the past, it is still important to recognize the differences that these few items make in the meaning of Burning Man overall. I guess I just have a hard time still believing that an event like this can be as commercialized as it is, yet still have the same great cultural origins and meanings.
Personally, I know that Burning Man entices me, but not for the reasons I know it should. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015


During our last class discussion, there was a brief discussion about tattoos and whether or not they serve as a community or individual experience. In accordance with the individualization of our society, I believe that in the United States, at least, getting tattooed has become more of an intrapersonal experience, rather than an interpersonal one. 

Of course, tattoos as a community experience can be seen through tattoos that are meant to designate some sort of affiliation or inclusion into a group or organization such as anchors or ships that would represent the navy or the Olympic Games rings to represent athletic success and participation in the games. Nevertheless, many would agree that tattoos have become very internally drive, like Erika said. Like many have pointed out thus far, we have experienced a cultural shift where there is an emphasis and focus on maximizing and exposing the true inner self. For this reason, some of the principles of burning man probably seem so bizarre or even illogical. Like many, my tattoo was also internally driven and chose a semi-discreet location so that I wouldn’t be asked about it all the time. Even at the tattoo partlour it seems as though there exists a new wave of tattooists that are deeply invested in the quality of their product that they end up sacrifice the shared experience and storytelling of that intimate moment. 

Modern Primitives and Burning Man

We continued to talking about modern primitives in class, and the more we touch on the subject, the less unusual or out-of-the-norm it becomes. Online sources describe modern primitives as people in developed nations who engage in body modification rituals and practices while making reference or homage to the rite of passage practices in primitive cultures. The people in this culture tend to have some practices that many find disapproving and are often judged or misinterpreted by what they do rather than by who they are.For example, when I first heard of suspensions (as a body modification practice) several years ago, I thought it was a horrific and painful practice that only brought immense pain and uncomfort, but after all the readings, videos, and discussions in class, I can look at it with a different perspective. I now see that suspensions, or any other practice done by modern primitives, can be as liberating and satisfying to some people as some practices that the majority would considered more common or usual such as meditating, working out, or even having sex can be to others. We touched upon the Burning Man festival, which from my perspective seems like an ideal place for modern primitives to show their real identity since absolutely everyone is welcomed to the event. I think the importance of rituals practiced at Burning Man, also known as the ten principles, shapes reasoning for having the event and who attempts to it. Although the event welcomes and encourages everyone to participate, we discussed in class that Burning Man tends to be more favorable for wealthy people. Even though the tickets can be a little expensive, they can still be affordable, but the fact that you must stay and live in the middle of the desert for a full week is probably what makes it more preferable for people with a stronger financial status since they’ll be able to bring adequate and sufficient supplies to last and enjoy the whole week. I have nothing against wealthy people having an advantage in attending the event, but I also think that it limits the attendance by a vast number and people who have much to offer and contribute (not materialistic) towards the event might not have the opportunity to do so. We also talked about the drug culture for a little bit, and after reading a few articles on drug consumption at Burning Man, I was actually surprised with the results. At large festivals you often expect the good majority of people to be under some sort of substance in order to “enjoy” the moment a little bit more. However, according to the articles I’ve read, not too many drugs, are consumed at Burning Man. One of the articles, Drugs At Burning Man?, even stated that Burning Man is possibly the best place to avoid drugs altogether. Another article, The Truth About Burning Man, quotes, “Coated in gypsum dust, and still high not on drugs but on the altered consciousness of radical creativity and community, I had just tried to describe what Burning Man is, somehow”. The articles describe the event and people (at the event) incredible and thus they do not find the need to consume drugs to enhance their experience. I do think some of what I’ve read from these blogs are true, but I also believe that the event is not completely drug free and you will be able to find certain people under the influence of some sort of substance, especially in today’s society where drugs are very common and encouraged.

Burning Man

I'm not sure I'm buying what Burning Man is selling. Color me skeptical. I understand what the festival's purpose is, and I have no issue believing that. It's an effort to get back to a personal society where we aren't so concerned about material items, but instead we appreciate people and nature and ourselves for what we really are. Society isn't telling us to do certain things. We're not influenced by commercial expenses. We can express ourselves freely or collaborate with others on art and music. It's an opportunity to experience a bonding culture. Larry Harvey tells Charlie Rose in an interview that it provides people with a sense of authenticity and purpose they can't find in the modern world anymore.
But my skepticism comes into play when we think about what they actually do during Burning Man. You can drink, take drugs, wear whatever you want, give, share, dance, etc. People who have attended described it as a "freeing" experience. As cathartic as that all may be, I have a hard time believing that the experience is as life changing as everyone describes. How do those activities help you find purpose in your life? The festival tries to invigorate a past culture of community building and respect for Earth. But I'm not convinced that dressing up and dancing, creating collaborative art, and setting fire to a giant figure of a man does the same things the past cultures did. I think people enjoy it more because its freeing from the constraints of society, not because they've actually discovered their true purpose in life. I think people are just so obsessed with feeling something different that normal society can't provide them and they're confusing that as finding purpose. In a way, all festivals are like that. In most of the music festivals today, you have to bring everything you could want with you. Everyone basks in the enjoyment of the music together and bonds that way. The only major differences I see in the philosophies of music festivals compared to Burning Man are the environment and commerciality. Individual participants of music festivals don't necessarily have the same respect for the land as Burners and they are more victim to advertisers. Yet, many people that attend these festivals also claim they are life changing and freeing and ultimately helped them find purpose in life. I personally don't see a huge difference in the community building and collaborative environments of Burning Man vs music festivals. I applaud what Burning Man is trying to do- provide a freeing experience that also appreciates the Earth. But while I'm sure some people do find purpose after attending Burning Man, I'm just not convinced it's a widespread experience.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Burning Man & Music Festivals

Burning Man began as a communal event, focusing on the spiritual connection between each person. The guidelines also emphasize radical self-expression and spiritual growth. These ideas reflect the event's pagan origins and resonates with Unitarian Universalism's third and seventh principles: "acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations" and "to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part," respectively.

In an increasingly self-centered world, some people yearn for this kind of connection to other people, strangers, even. While people can connect more easily than ever before, with letters being replaced phone calls then emails then text messages and other instant messaging. Yet despited this connectivity, many people, including myself, feel more isolated. In my experience, these new connections create an expectation of communication: I not only hope to receive some sort of message, but I expect it, and when it's missed I feel alone. These messages are hardly replacement for face-to-face conversation, but the assumption I'll be reached out to is the driving factor in my perceived isolation.

Burning Man acted as a refuge from this increasingly chaotic, connected yet isolated environment. Currency is replaced with 'gifting' where people exchange gifts to instead of 'buying' food or drinks or other things they need or want. This again reflects the counterculture the event hopes to emphasize. And yet... over the years, Burning Man seems to have turned into just another festival. Now, these events are enjoyable, of course, but they're no longer a concentration on spiritual growth and rejection of modern society like they used to be. Woodstock, for example, is listed as one of Rolling Stone's 50 Moments that Changed Rock and Roll History and is described as "the definitive nexus for the larger counterculture generation." It was an act of rebellion, a deviation from the goody-two-shoes society in place.

Music festivals have since changed, however. I was tempted to say 'devolved' but I no longer think this word is fitting. It's not worse, necessarily, just different. The focus isn't on a spiritual connection or a rejection of the norm. In fact, it seems to focus on these mainstream aspects. The largest music festival in the world, Summerfest, drew a million people during its peak. Buzzfeed writes about stereotypical people seen at these festivals. Lineups are chosen based on the tastes of the mainstream. The festivals are now commercial industries, making lots of money and attracting more and more people each year, and Burning Man is becoming (if it hasn't already become) just like this. Despite all their ideas about 'gifting' and rejection of currency, at $390 a head for 65,000+ people, Burning Man is also commercial event and will continue to become more mainstream as new people are involved and want to join the party, leaving the original spiritual intent behind.

Burning Man: Inclusion & Equality

It has never been easy for people who choose to migrate. It is a new environment that they would have to get use to and try to assimilate into the community. It is often hard when the places you go speak a different language than you. For example, when Chinese and Puerto Ricans initially came to the United States. Those who migrated were mostly laborers of low-income family, coming to American hoping for a brighter future. The first wave of Chinese immigrants came to the United State working as cheap labor; what attract them to come here was because of the gold rush in California at the time. There were also merchants that would come to do trades but those are limited in number compare to the workers that came. Because Chinese workers lack the language skills, they had to result in doing hard working jobs such as mining and railroad building.
            Puerto Rican, on the other hand, even though they were U.S. citizens, there are still many people who didn’t know English; their home language was and still is Spanish due to being colonized by Spain before United States took over and made them a commonwealth. People of affluent families did not face the hardship of language barrier but those, which is made up of a large portion of the migrating population, face discrimination because they were “U.S. citizens” with no knowledge of English, American’s main language. It is essential to be accepted into the community; when one is being treated differently than others, it is often hard to integrate into the community.
Another factor that created barriers for these two minority groups is that they were willing to offer cheap labor, resulting in job loss or limited jobs for Americans. They both had to face many difficulties in the past and still are today. Employers love them for their source of cheap labor but people of the working class hate them because of it. Even with Chinese being labeled as “model minority,” they are constantly being judged and made fun of. As for Puerto Ricans, they may have had the easiest route in obtaining citizenships but it is also due to this that they are being discriminated by not only the whites but also other ethnic groups.
            Discrimination narrated above is thought infrequent in today’s society but it still occurs no matter how much we wish it didn’t. An event that is highlighted as nondiscriminatory and accepting of everyone is the Burning Man.

“A unique and distinctive culture emerges from the Burning Man experience. Rooted in the values expressed by the Ten Principles, this culture is manifested around the globe through art, communal effort, and innumerable individual acts of self-expression. To many, it is a way of life.” (Burning Man Website)

·      Radical Inclusion: Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
·      Gifting: Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift-giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
·      Decommodification: In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
·      Radical Self-reliance: Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise, and rely on his or her inner resources.
·      Radical Self-expression: Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
·      Communal Effort: Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote, and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
·      Civic Responsibility: We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state, and federal laws.
·      Leaving No Trace: Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
·      Participation: Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
·      Immediacy: Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our innerselves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

A few of the ten principles are based on inclusion of others, no matter race or ethnicity. If everyone in the event indeed does follow the principles then why they don’t incorporate it into their everyday interactions? Events such as the Burning Man provide many with the chance to experience fairness and be nonjudgmental but not everyone can afford to go but I do hope that those who go can not only employ the principles there but also engage in interactions with these principles in mind when they come back to reality, the society.

Too Cool for Togetherness

           During our discussion this week of the Modern Primitive Movement someone, I don’t recall who, said that tattoos have become less of a way to fit in and more of way to stand out. I think this idea of standing out; being a distinct individual has become a general part of our culture as young Americans. In the past tattoos and other historically primitive rituals were done in order to express your participation in a certain group or society. Olive Oatman was tattooed to formalize her acceptance into Mohave culture, naval officers in the 1940s were tattooed with anchors and American flags to represent their involvement with the armed forces. This concept of tattooing as a way to be part of something greater than ones self represented the culture of the past. However, today culture has shifted in a way that the individual triumphs over the whole, and being different is considered “trendy”. And often in the eyes of the American teenager, being considered “trendy” is way more important than being mainstream. 

            The mainstream, anything that the majority does, is ultimately exponentially less interesting than that which is different. This can be seen in the popularity of Burning Man. It began as a way to reconnect with spirituality, something greater than ones self, something unheard of by many, not mainstream. Thus, it was intriguing for individuals drawn to the trendy new thing. However, this draw as something new resulted in an unfortunate twist of irony in which the trendy became the mainstream through the desire to be different. The American teenage ideology that different is better has an inverse affect in which things that begin as different ultimately become mainstream.  Burning Man is no longer a tranquil escape to become one with nature and spirituality, but now a music festival laced with celebrities, billionaires, and beaucoup drugs. It is just a matter of time before Burning Man is no longer of interest to its attendees because of its introduction to mainstream culture. The Modern Primitive Movement is bound to become even less relevant as the idea of being part of a group is less attractive in modern society. However, there is a chance this primitive ideology of togetherness may return as it clashes with the idea that you have to be an individual to be “cool”. 

The Modern Primitive: A Reflection of Modern Culture?

The Modern Primitive Movement, perhaps characterized by "Burning Man" which we focused on in class, is an interesting movement in today's society. Such a movement looks to certain rituals, practices and body modifications from "primitive" societies to incorporate into modern society and to form community. From "radical" practices  (at least to modern western society) such as suspension, to simple ideas surrounding community, the rise of the modern primitive movement demonstrate the lack of some aspects in today's western society that clearly this community of people find missing.

Modern Western society is characterized by the normal "able-bodied" capitalist patriarchy. Such a society promotes a certain body, a certain state of being that is acceptable and the importance of the individual, perhaps because of the hierarchical associations that occur within such a system. The Modern primitive movement, I think, attempts to fight this system through its practices and rituals. Firstly, I think it attempts to attack the individualization of today's society by creating a community of like-minded people and by creating a space for people who may not fit into western society. Secondly, by including such rituals such as suspension, other body modifications that are reflective of other cultures, and aspects of paganism it is creating a certain spirituality that seems to not exist today in western society. Again, this spirituality and practicing of rituals again feeds into the creating of community that rebels against the individualism of the United States.

We can see these aspects of the modern primitive movement in less extreme forms of body modification as well. Aspects such as tattoos and piercings, which in today's society are becoming more and more mainstream, share some of these same associations. Fakir shares this belief and discusses this in his workshops. He asserts that the tattoo artist in today's society functions like a modern day shamaan. I find this concept interesting and I think we should pay more attention to practices we engage in our daily life that reach for these same values of spirituality and community that the Modern Primitive Movement works toward.

The Burning Man Shift

            Burning Man represents different things to different people.  Throughout its introductory years, Burning Man was a chance for people to get back in touch with nature and spirituality.  With modern consumerism running rampant, that connection to spirituality was lost on a grand scale.  Some people began to notice this lack of connection and wanted to do something to change it.  Part of this task of attaining a reconnection with spirituality dealt with connecting with our primal selves, which we often cannot identify until we challenge ourselves.  Creating a mini-civilization in the middle of a vast desert with unpredictable weather, circumstances, and people was considered a great way to get back into this primal space.
            One way that people challenge themselves is by enduring culture shock.  As discussed, Burning Man was designed to be a huge culture clash.  Being so used to living comfortably in an urban, suburban, or rural community makes it difficult for anyone to go to the Burning Man environment.  A strong sense of community forms at Burning Man through working together to build a miniature civilization, and also joining each others company through music and other recreational activities.  The formation of the community through hard work is in itself, very primal.

            There is an idea of Moving too fast, but going nowhere.  Modern primitives allow people to return their roots and get out of their strict cultural environments.  For instance, in urban environments, we have a created an extremely delicate, concrete, man-made environment.  If one traffic light goes out in a city, for instance, all hell would break loose for potentially hours on end.  This demonstrates a divorce that people have from the natural world and their primitive sides.  Burning Man is trying to re-create those links in an atypical environment where everyone is accepted.

            However, the purpose of Burning Man has started to shift.  Traditionally, there was more transition time for cultures.  Now, everything is fast paced.  If you do not adapt quickly, you are left behind.  While Burning Man was created to get back to that slow transition, primal culture, it has started to reflect more mainstream, fast-paced culture.  Billionaires now attend Burning Man, creating extensive camping grounds and bars.  Giant pyrotechnic displays, fireworks, and musical performances are starting to take over the Burning Man culture, to where it is now becoming more of a culture of a music festival that people can escape to for a short period of time.

            In essence, Burning Man is becoming more and more about the bottom line.  The exact consumer world that Burning Man was trying to escape from is now permeating the event.  This is not to say that Burning Man has completely lost what it once was; there is still a great forming of community through the organization and survival, and a lot of the original activities that were a part of the festivities, such as music and drug use, are still there today.  However, Burning Man has become a reflection of the society it was trying to change.