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Mock Religion is the Opiate of the Masses
by Perry Lane

A lot of „experiencedš Burning Man veterans are annoyed by first-year attendees, who they derisively call „virginsš or „freshmen.š But to me, the most annoying people on the playa aren‚t the newbies, but the second-year crowd, many of whom I call „Zealots.š Like the rest of us, Zealots are folks who had their minds blown away their first year but, for some reason, never the perspective needed to see that the powerful energy that surged them was simply a fleeting element of collective human behavior. Instead, they continually confuse it with something supernatural, and most likely, religious. They feel that they, in some way, have been transformed, and they continually try to transform everyone around them ų in much the same way a new heroin junkie may try to turn-on all of their friends.

In Isreal, this form of hysteria is known as the „Jerusalem Syndrome,š and occurs when a tourist ų usually a Christian ų is overwhelmed by the sublime properties of that officially Holy City. Probably the most famous American victim of this syndrome changed his name to David, and put on one hell of a fire performance in Texas a few years back.

Getting their Burning Man fix
These Zealots are the worst kind of junkie. Sick for this Burning Man brand of endorphin rush, one week a year is simply not enough. They must find other ways to get their fix: attending post-parties, pre-parties, fund raisers, and film festivals. If none of these „mainlineš events are available, then they must find some other way to get their high. If they‚re lucky, they‚ll find a group of people at a bar or a cafe talking about Burning Man. They‚ll sneak up next to them, join the conversation, and get a contact high. If they‚re unlucky, they must skin-pop the experience, by perching themselves in a corner at a party, bus stop, or train, and ramble on superfically about the deep impact of the event to anyone willing to listen. Failing that, they‚ll re-read back issues of Piss Clear, which they‚ve secreted in their vest pocket in preparation for these hard-up times.

It‚s a depraved life that demands more and more. Fortunately, unlike heroin, it‚s very hard to overdose ų at least fatally. About the closest you can come is to become a glorified khaki motherfucker (see Playa Lingo), complete with khaki sun hat and walkie talkie. Or, if you don‚t like telling people what to do, you can always help out with the opera.

Did someone say opera?
An opera? In the desert? What a novel idea! Or at least that‚s what most people thought back in 1996, when City of Dis, Pepé Ozan‚s fire lingam opera production, took people‚s breaths away. Who knew then that it would become the new religion of the Burning Man festival? The Zealots, of course, will disagree with this, saying, „No, it‚s just a mock religion, not a real religion.š But hey, a mock religion filled with dogma, ritual, and mythology is still religion. Sounds like a pretty good paradox. But, as those exposed to the decadence and pretension of last year‚s spectacle know, there is no good paradox involved in the opera. In fact, this paradox is pretty much aesthetically bankrupt and should be tarred and feathered and run out of town as an example to any that may follow.

So what is this opera?
If you take away this fluke of logic, along with the inanely repetitive music, the painted titties and testes, and the quasi-religious endorphin rush, then what is Pepé‚s fire lingam opera? I‚ll tell you. It‚s something between an elementary school costume parade and a church candle lighting service, only longer. Much, much longer.

So which muse was it who told Pepé to transform his fire lingam into a stage? Was it that same muse who talked him into doing it over and over again? And what about that giant windsailer that crashed into the lingam last year? Was it because the driver was tanked up on twelve martinis? Or was it Fate‚s way of saying that maybe there should never be another fire lingam opera on the playa?

But perhaps Pepé is simply heeding the words that a bad artist once said to another: „Be creative, but if you can‚t be creative, at least bore people with your pretense of creativity.š

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