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.

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