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Gentrification on the Playa
by Christopher Strider Cook

With the spate of ticket price increases, one is lead to wonder, "Just who is Burning Man for anyway?"

It's obvious that Burning Man has been changing people have been saying it for years now. "I remember when" has become this year especially an oft overheard conversational prefix. As the size of Burning Man has changed, so have its inhabitants. Where are the struggling artists of yore? Gone or at the very least, their numbers have weakend. This will be the second year without veteran and former head of public works, Chicken John. (Okay, so he might be here this year, but that's just so he can criticize it.)

Yes, I'm here to tell you that Black Rock City is being gentrified. Rising ticket costs and increased attendance have dramatically changed the quality of life in our city on the playa. Not only has the 'rent' gotten higher, but my space has gotten smaller as well. My campsite gets progressively more diminutive with each new attendee. Come Thursday or Friday night, I'm lucky if I still have a place to park my bike, let alone put up a dining canopy. This year, I've had to let my guest tent go unpacked.

With this influx of new developments being put up all around my humble desert dwelling, along with their associated pollution (noise, light, and what's that smell?) it's starting to look like I might just want to move back to San Francisco.

And with this new breed of burner comes a baser, less creative element: Men who just want to get laid. Creativity for intellectual pursuit be damned. Pretty lights and loud must surely attract women, no? Large scale installations for the enjoyment of all, for us to bask in the glow of a great achievement? Nope, but it sure does impress the chicks.

The lower rent side (formerly known as "the Loud Side") of Black Rock City is slowly but surely being retrofitted with "Antarctic" camps, offering the largest BTU cooling of any other theme camps. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of town, the RVs are only getting bigger and the generators louder. Other obvious signs of the encroaching masses are the extensive sight and sound extravaganzas that the "Theme Camp Row" camps are tossing their dot.com money into.

The cultural Everyman is being pushed aside for the affluently attached. Who gets the "Inner Circle" Central Camp placement? Big money, that's who. You'll have trouble finding the breakthrough ideas this year, as they'll be hidden somewhere behind the massive Zardoz-themed dance club or the towering streetlight flowers. There was a time when this humble publication, Piss Clear certainly a community staple was given such a prime location. But no more. In these times of economic boom, the alternative paper is relegated out to the avenues.

Burning Man has long held to the notion of building a community, but throughout the years, it has done less and less to foster such a feeling. Take for instance the main stage. What main stage? You'd have to look back several years before you could see a city-run location for the community's budding musicians. Nowadays, you can only find music at theme camp (Black Rock City's version of "corporate") sponsored stages. This leaves a gap. Where are the non-sponsored musicians to play? I guess it doesn't really matter anyway, since those musicians can't afford the gate fees anyway.

Whether we like it or not, the new economy of Black Rock City is here. Considering the money lost to a week away from work, the $200 gate fees, the travel expenses, the possible vehicle rental, along with the cash outlay for various "art" projects, theme camp building materials, and the implied mandate that one must participate, Burning Man has turned into a rather expensive undertaking. And due to the cost and the economies of scale, more and more Burning Man veterans who made this event what it used to be have simply chosen not to attend. It won't be long now before the only ones left are the dot.com ravers. And won't that be fun.

2002 Piss Clear
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