Gentrification on the Playa
by Christopher Strider Cook
spate of ticket price increases, one is lead to wonder, "Just who is
Burning Man for anyway?"
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.