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 other’s 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.